A senior lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, has accused the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) of failing to release 65 convicted soldiers who were granted presidential pardon by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Buhari had in April 2020 approved an amnesty for 2,600 inmates in different custodial centres, including the army officers.
He said, "For instance, 65 convicted soldiers who have met the conditions outlined in the Presidential Amnesty granted to certain categories of prison inmates in April 2020 are still languishing in prison custody. There were 66 of them but one of has been released from prison custody. No reason has been adduced by the prison authorities for not releasing the others.”
Falana, while reacting to the release of six convicts repatriated from Thailand to complete their prison terms in Nigeria but subsequently held in Kirikiri Maximum Prison many years beyond their release dates, called for a comprehensive audit of all inmates in the nation's correctional centres.
The released inmates are Azukaeme Henry Ejikeme, George Chibuike Onyeama, Kennedy Tanya, Yakubu Yahuza Mohammed, Mrs Gloria Ogbonna and Wasiu Amusan, alias John Smith.
He said, “Sometime in June 2020, we we were contacted by eight Nigerians who were convicted in Thailand and transferred to Nigeria on October 2, 2012 under a Prison Exchange Bilateral Programme. They alleged that they had been abandoned in the Kirikiri Maximum Correctional Centre after they had been granted Royal Pardon by the Thai King. We confirmed the allegation and decided to launch a legal battle for their release from prison custody.
“On July 2, 2020 our law firm requested the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Godfrey Onyeama, to direct the Nigerian Embassy in Thailand to furnish us with the warrant for the release of the convicts. The minister did and the embassy procured and sent six warrants to Nigeria. The warrants were promptly forwarded to us.
“On August 25, we wrote to the Honourable Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, urging him to direct the Kirikiri Maximum Correctional Centre to release the convicts from custody. As the request was subjected to bureaucratic hiccup we were compelled to file six applications at the Federal High Court for the immediate and unconstitutional release of the convicts. Even though the case has been adjourned to January 25, 2021 for definite hearing, the Minister of Interior granted our request last week for the release of the convicts. Accordingly, they were released on December 26, 2020. We are pursuing the case of the remaining two convicts.
“It is unfortunate that the convicts have been detained illegally since 2017 when the Thai King granted them amnesty. A few months ago, we also secured the release of an awaiting trial inmate who was charged with armed robbery and abandoned in the same correctional centre. The legal advice rendered by the Attorney-General of Lagos State to the effect that he had no case to answer, received by the police six years earlier, was not transmitted to the magistrate's court that had remanded him in prison custody.
“Both cases call for a comprehensive audit of all inmates in the nation's correctional centres."