As Coronavirus pandemic lingers, awaiting trial inmates in prisons in Ondo State can only hope and pray for a drastic reversal of the current situation.
Following the outbreak of the deadly virus, courts across the country have remained shut to help curb the spread of the virus in the country.
SaharaReporters gathered that over 800 inmates are at the Olokuta Correctional facility in Akure, the Ondo State capital, with over 600 of them awaiting trial on different cases.
Findings revealed that the lack of logistics, frequent adjournments, inability to pay fines, the continued absence of both lawyers and judges in courts are some of the major causes of the delay in conclusion of some of the cases involving many inmates.
In separate interviews with SaharaReporters, some family members of those awaiting trial at the Olukuta Correctional Centre raised concerns on the delay in the cases of their loved ones at the facility.
One of them, Mrs Iyabo Adelaja, said the closure of the courts by the government had become worrisome since a magistrate court had remanded her uncle in prison custody since January 2019.
She explained that she had expected that by now her uncle would have become a free man since the lawyers handling his case had proved to the court that he’s innocent.
She said, “My uncle has been there since January last year over the case of two stolen vehicles and hearing in his case supposed to come up again last month but the courts are not sitting as a result of this lockdown. So, we are seriously worried as he suffers in prison.”
Reacting to the development, a rights lawyer, Ayodele Olomofe, said shutting down the courts might be a good move to stem the spread of Coronavirus.
He, however, noted that the inability of inmates awaiting trials to get prompt access to justice had continued to constitute a violation of their rights to personal liberty.
He said, “The best we could do now is for the court to order the release of minor offenders even if it is under stringent conditions on bail to decongest the prison in my own opinion.”
While the argument on the condition of inmates awaiting trial continues, the National Judicial Council announced guidelines for the use of technology for the speedy dispensation of justice for the period of COVID-19 pandemic.
The guideline was titled, “National Judicial Council COVID-19 Policy Report: Guidelines for Court Sittings and Related Matters in the COVID-19 Period.”
In a statement issued by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, in May 2020, the NJC approved virtual sittings for the head of courts using collaborative platforms such as Zoom, MS365, Google meetings and other tools with electronic recordings.
The NJC said social media channels would be used to live stream court proceedings to the public while the court shall publish every week the matters that would be heard remotely.
Yemi Aladetoyinbo, a lawyer based in Ondo State, said it was unfortunate that justice was being delayed in the cases of the inmates awaiting trials in the country.
He said some of the cases of the inmates would have been tried online as recommended by the NJC but noted that the country had yet to have a workable system that could help such initiative.
He stated, “What about the cost of online transactions for these counsels, the challenges of human and technology errors are there.
“It is going to be a very huge cost because, under normal circumstances, the counsels are supposed to be in the court to argue their submission orally.”
The spokesperson for the Nigerian Correctional Service at Olokuta in Akure, Babatunde Ogundare, couldn’t be reached when contacted on Monday for comments.