Group sues Fed Govt over custodial centre’s congestion

A non-governmental organisation, the Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative (PRAI), has asked the Federal High Court in Lagos to compel the Federal Government to build more custodial centres in Lagos.

It is praying for a declaration that the overcrowded state of the Ikoyi Medium Security Custodial Centre, where some inmates were electrocuted, is unconstitutional.

According to PRAI, congestion violates the inmates’ fundamental right to freedom from degrading treatment guaranteed by Section 34(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

The group said the Ikoyi Medium Security Custodial Centre was built in 1955 to accommodate 800 inmates, but held about 3,113 inmates as at December 3.

The Federal Government, Attorney-General of the Federation, Minister of Interior, Nigerian Correctional Service Controller-General, Lagos State Controller, Lagos Attorney-General and the Chief Judge of Lagos are the respondents.

The plaintiff said the overcrowding also violates Section 12(8) of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019, which prohibits keeping inmates in a custodial centre that has exceeded its capacity.

PRAI said the congestion breaches the Federal Government’s duties under Rules 1, 12 and 13 the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners (as revised in 2015) to maintain the minimum standard of accommodation of inmates, as well other statutes.

PRAI is seeking “a declaration that the arrest and continued remand, without proper arraignment and trial in a court of competent jurisdiction, of all inmates as of the day of judgment in this application, who have been in custody beyond the maximum imprisonment terms of the respective offences they have been charged is unlawful and unconstitutional as it violates their fundamental right to personal liberty and freedom of movement as guaranteed by Sections 35(1)(f) and 41 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended)”.

It wants the court to order the release of all such inmates.

PRAI urged the court to hold that the dearth of functional basic amenities, including vocational and recreational centres, health facilities, as well as failure to keep safe and conducive custody of inmates, which resulted in the electrocution incident, all breach the inmates’ rights.

PRAI sought an order compelling the Federal Government to keep the Ikoyi Medium Security Custodial Centre in the good shape by providing the necessary vocational, educational, recreational health facilities.

It further prayed the court to order the Federal Government to build more correctional facilities in the Lagos within 12 months from the date judgment is delivered.

The suit has been assigned to Justice Mohammed Liman and is fixed for January 13.

PRAI, in a December 11 letter to the Minister of Interior Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, called for a thorough investigation of the Ikoyi Custodial Centre electrocution incident.

It urged the Federal Government to pay at least N10million compensation to the verified next of kin.

At least five inmates were electrocuted at the centre last December 2; about 10 others were injured.

PRAI, through its Executive Director Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem, commended the minister for visiting the scene to personally assess the situation, and to suspend some officers to aid the investigation.

The non-governmental organisation, which advocates for prisoners’ rights, said the investigative findings should be made public.

It called for the sanctioning of those found culpable, to serve as a deterrent to others and to forestall a re-occurrence.

PRAI further urged the Federal Government to “disclose the identity of all the deceased and injured victims”.

It added: “This will ensure transparency and proper representation for those of them who may be lacking one at the moment.”

PRAI urged the Federal Government to “pay adequate compensation to families of the deceased inmates and those injured”.

“Nothing less than N10 million should be paid to verified next of kin of the deceased inmates as compensation for the loss of their loved ones.

“We shall be recommending payment of at least N3milion to the injured depending on the gravity of the injury.

“The injured should also be unconditionally released upon consideration of the offence they have been alleged to have committed and the gravity of the injury sustained.”

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