Prison custody is meant to remand convicts found guilty of misdemeanours and felonies. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act moved our criminal justice from punishment to restorative. In other words, instead of alienation and condemnation, inmates are to be reformed and integrated into society after the expiration of their sentence.
The congestion in Afara prison has made it more of a breeding ground for criminals than reformation. Reason being that persons convicted for drug-related offences, armed robbery, rape, murder, child-trafficking and kidnap share the same cell with those convicted for common misdemeanours.
Even the approximately 80 per cent innocent inmates awaiting trial could also be influenced negatively out of frustration of decades of abandonment in prison. For example, some convicted Boko Haram terrorists captured in Maiduguri are serving their life jail sentence in Afara prison, Umuahia. They are locked up in the same cell with a detainee; a boy from Ikwuano who was 16-year-old as at the time of his remand.
The minor, 21, has spent five years, still counting socialising with terrorists and others in prison. He can only regain his freedom through the governor’s consent which hasn’t happened yet. So who would we have in our society when finally, he regains his freedom? Your guess is as good as mine.
While we have this case and several other innocent inmates languishing in prison for years pending, criminal elements who are buoyant enough to buy their way out of prison are set free.
There was a case of “Yahoo boys” arrested and remanded in Afara prison. Their offence was the inability to give a satisfactory explanation of the expensive cars and items in their possession. They were released after they parted with N3 million. So the so-called suspects were washed clean by their N3 million cash. What would have been their fate if they had no such money?
The rate at which Abia State police indiscriminately arrest Abians and lay allegations on them is alarming. The trend has become a source of livelihood for some police prosecutors, some DPP staff and their cronies on wigs who have no history of winning cases except petition writing.
Abia is the only state where people are remanded in prison custody for up to six years and counting on mere petitions. Those who failed to secure their bails with the outrageous sum of N500,000 to N1 million are attached to case mates and charged with heinous crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping and murder to arm-twist the judges. They are arraigned before Magistrate Courts without jurisdiction on such cases to ensure they rot in jail.
To bolster their claims, here are the lists of few of these allegations:
1. Chimaobi Kalu – alleged robbery, Magistrate Court 7, Sine die, February 23, 2017, was the last date he appeared in court.
2. Darlington Osuigwe – alleged robbery, Magistrate Court 6, his father allegedly bundled him to Cameroon barracks police station for stealing his money. Three days later, he was asked to pay N100,000 as a bail condition. His father’s refusal to pay landed him in D7, Umuahia. He has been in prison since 2016.
3. Promise Ukandu has been in prison custody for eight-years (since 2011) for alleged armed robbery. His case is in Magistrate Court 1. His last appearance in court was in 2013.
4. Ahamefula Anya Orji was arrested with another lady at Ubakala after the vehicle they boarded to Umuahia was robbed. Without investigation, they were paraded alongside others before journalists as armed robbers. Fortunately for the lady, one of the journalists is related to her. She was released. Anya was arraigned and remanded in prison custody since November 22, 2016, by Magistrate Court 1.
5. Chinedum Ezike – alleged kidnapping, conspiracy and armed robbery. He is being remanded in prison custody since July 2018, by Magistrate Court 4.
Why arraign these suspects before Magistrate Courts without jurisdiction on criminal cases as heinous as kidnapping, robbery and murder?
When Anya pleaded with the police to take him to his residence in Port Harcourt for investigation, they declined. According to him, the IPO said to him, “E no go better for you. so you want your gang to ambush us there abi?”
Though it sounds funny, the truth is that it diminishes our police force. Fundamental human rights are sacrosanct and should be respected.
To be continued…