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(Opinion): Judiciary Workers’ Strike and Correctional Centres

Lawyers and other court users are not the only ones bearing the brunt of the ongoing nationwide strike of judiciary workers; others who are not readily thought of are also groaning. The strike is putting pressure on the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola over the safety of 47,000 inmates whose trial has been stalled and Nigerians are expecting him to offer maximum protection in the face of frequent attacks on the correctional centres. Going by the latest statistics published by the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) on its website on April 6, 2021, there are over 47,416 awaiting trial inmates in its facilities in the country. Aregbesola is facing dilemma over judiciary workers’ strike and providing security for correctional centres across Nigeria due to recent attacks on the police.

This figure constitutes about 72 per cent of the total 65,781 inmates in the country’s correctional facilities. It speaks volume about the contribution of awaiting trial inmates to the vexed issue of prison congestion in the country. Of the 65, 781 total inmates, only 18,365, about 28 per cent, are convicts who are serving jail terms.

The courts shut down across the country will definitely compound the woes of the prisons which are poorly funded by the federal government due to shortage of funds, and prisons’ overcrowded conditions will only make them more vulnerable to jailbreaks.

The Nigerian Correctional Service has warned that if the nationwide strike embarked by judiciary workers is allowed to continue, it could provoke inmates into rebellion. Spokesman for the Nigerian Correctional Service, Frank Enobore said that prolonged detention of inmates could increase tension and spark a prison riot. Enobore said that 95 per cent of the time, prison riots were caused by persons awaiting trial or condemned inmates. He, however, said the strike had also made sure that new inmates were not coming in since the courts were shut. The NCoS spokesman said, “In a way we are not too affected because we are not seeing an influx of persons coming into the correctional centres but the irony is that we get more concerned when people are not leaving our facilities than when they are coming in. This is because if those who are to go to court cannot go, it will create tension. It means those who have the hope of leaving the correctional centre will have to remain there till courts resume duty.”

Judiciary workers had embarked on the indefinite nationwide strike in protest against the denial of the judiciary its constitutionally-guaranteed financial autonomy which was also affirmed by a Federal High Court in January 2014. The strike has prevented the police and other law enforcement agencies from arraigning suspects in courts, which have remained shut since last week.

Whenever the court system is paused, the police investigations processes suffer greatly. Our investigation processes also suffer based on the fact that certain orders, authorisations that are supposed to be processed from the court are either delayed or impossible to obtain.

Also, the spokesman for the Nigerian Correctional Service, Mr. Enobore, prayed the strike would end in time as prolonged detention of inmates could increase tension and spark a prison riot. He said 95 per cent of the time, prison riots were caused by persons awaiting trial or condemned inmates. He, however, said the strike had also made sure that new inmates were not coming in since courts were shut.

I am worried about the state of the nation’s judiciary and this has compelled me to add my voice on the need for those elected by the people, particularly the 36 state governors to respect the law as it concerns independence of the Judiciary.

It is on record that the governors for inexplicable reason(s) have refused to comply with extant laws, leaving the state of our judiciary in comatose. This is despite the fact that the administration of the justice system of the country has its own peculiar challenges that have over time resulted into the Nigerian people substantially losing confidence in the judiciary as the last hope of the common man.

The disastrous effect of the JUSUN strike can be best imagined. Thousands of Awaiting Trial Inmates who are languishing in our correctional centres have had their trials not only delayed, but their time in jail elongated unnecessarily.

Inwalomhe Donald, inwalomhe.donald@yahoo.com

About Younews Ng

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