order to prevent the dreaded Covid-19 from spreading into them. The
minister’s call has been backed by an Islamic human rights group, the
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC). This was revealed in a statement
circulated to pressmen by the director of the organization, Professor
Ishaq Akintola, on Saturday, 28th March, 2020.
According to MURIC, “Inmates of correctional centers are complete human
beings and Allah gave them fundamental human rights. They have the right
to live, except those that have been condemned to death. Therefore the
Nigerian government has no moral right to keep them in correctional
centers where they are gravely exposed to Corona virus.
“In the face of Covid-19’s palpable threat, the Federal Government will
be running foul of Section 33 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the
Federal Republic of Nigeria which guarantees right to life if it fails
to free inmates who have not been sentenced to death.
“We all know what is happening around the world today regarding the
devastating power of this virus. It is killing people in their thousands
on a daily basis. The United States now has more than 100,000 cases as
at Saturday 28th March, 2020. Death toll in Italy is now 9,134. There
are now 579,892 infections in the world with 26,504 deaths. We also know
the poor state of our correctional centres. They are not conducive to
human habitation. They are over-congested. Is it right to continue to
keep people in jail in such a situation?
“In particular, there are 54 Nigerian soldiers serving a ten-year
sentence in some of the centres. These 54 gallant soldiers were ordered
to confront Boko Haram fighters who were armed to the teeth. But our
soldiers had very poor weapons. They asked for better equipment and for
that they were promptly rounded up, prosecuted and sentenced to death.
Their death sentence was later commuted to ten years in jail. Yet it was
their demand for better weapons which exposed the $2.1 billion armsgate.
“MURIC regards this as a miscarriage of justice. We have made several
appeals on the issue of the 54 soldiers to President Muhammadu Buhari,
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and even the present Minister of Internal
Affairs, Rauf Aregbesola. Last month, we sent a petition to the National
Assembly for the intervention of our lawmakers. We are still waiting for
the Senate president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to
act on the petition.
“The interest shown by Aregbesola raises our hope. Inmates do not
deserve to die like chicken inside correctional centres over this
marauding virus, Covid-19. Something must be done urgently. We urge
governors, chief judges, etc to pay urgent visits to correctional
centres with a view to releasing inmates in large numbers before this
virus invades their poorly equipped abodes.
“We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to exercise his prerogative of
mercy to free all Nigerian prisoners except those on the death row.
Nigeria has 74,927 inmates in 244 centres spread around the country.
They are Nigerians and they have the right to live. Covid-19 is death
sentence for them because they have little or no access to testing
equipment or any form of medication.
“Already, 19 prisoners in 10 prisons have tested positive in British
jails. We do not know exactly if the virus is already in our jails
because we do not have the capacity to test our inmates yet. Nigeria
must emulate other countries of the world which have taken proactive
measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 by decongesting their prisons.
“New York is already warming up to release hundreds of inmates for fear
of the virus spreading among them. Iran took the lead a few days ago by
setting 80,000 prisoners free. Poland freed 12,000 inmates yesterday.
Nigeria should act now before it is too late. Let my people go. Set the
54 soldiers free.
“If Iran can loosen the chains around the waists of 80,000 prisoners, if
Poland can free 12,000 inmates, Nigeria should allow its 74,297 to go
home instead of tying them up for corona virus to swallow them (except
those who have been sentenced to death). The time to act is now. It is
dreadful already to be in any Nigerian jail. But it becomes worse when
subjected to thanatophobia courtesy of the dreaded Covid-19. Nigerian
inmates were coping with the horror of poor jail conditions but now it
is compounded by the fear of Corona virus. It is capable of resulting in
riots in our correctional centres.”