The Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola said inmates awaiting trial have constituted a huge nuisance to the effective management and operations of custodial centres in the country.
Aregbesola said this while speaking at a two-day High-Level Conference on Decongestion and Corrections Management, on Thursday in Abuja.
He said that the awaiting trial inmates have also become a serious security threat in the country.
According to him, they instigate riots and disrupt the peace of custodial centres.
The minister said it was imperative to find solutions to the high number of such inmates, who constituted more than 70 percent of the inmates in all custodial facilities in the country.
He urged participants at the conference to find ways in which the justice system will handle the problem.
“The worst part is that we cannot begin any work of reformation and rehabilitation on them, except they willingly choose to be part of our effort.
“This is because they are still deemed innocent and we cannot assume they are convicts and therefore begin to treat them like one, no matter how well intentioned we are,” he added.
Aregbesola said apart from the nuisance value and security risk posed by the awaiting trial inmates, they also constitute a huge drain on government finances.
The minister said that quick and timely dispensation of justice would help to address the issue.
“If we eliminate half of the awaiting trial population in our facilities, there may not even be congestion again.
“This is why it has become imperative for the health of the custodial system, to urgently address the challenge of awaiting trial inmates that have swamped our facilities,” he said.
Aregbesola said there should be judicial reform that would put a cap on trial period.
He noted that there were many inmates who have been behind bars for a period longer than the maximum sentence they would have served if convicted.
“This is a miscarriage of justice and makes them to be bitter, angry and predisposed to violence, especially when they believe they are innocent.”
The minister therefore, urged stakeholders in the criminal justice sector to develop a roadmap for effective management of custodial population and pre-trial detention.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola described the country’s custodial centers as dilapidated, adding that congestion was responsible for its poor state and frequent jailbreaks.
He said that the criminal justice system must reflect contemporary realities.
“In order to enthrone a seamless dispensation of justice, the issue of congestion and reform has always occupied the front burner of discussion.
“This has been since the advent of this democratic dispensation and we have been waiting with bated breath to see the reform truly happen in our lifetime.
“Successive governments have lamented but without any viable action or blueprint to ameliorate the unacceptable and inhumane conditions of our prisons.
“This trend will not change until we begin to match words with actions,” he said.
Ariwoola called on judicary officers to be upright and distance themselves from primordial sentiments. (NAN)