Lagos court to decide fate of 33 awaiting-trial inmates

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]About 33 awaiting trial inmates at the Kirikiri Prisons would know their fate next month, according to a Lagos High Court.

The inmates, whose offence ranged from robbery to murder, have been on the awaiting trial list for between four and ten years.

Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem, who filed the suit on behalf of the inmates, told the court, on Wednesday, that the case files of the inmates had gone missing; a claim which the counsel to the Attorney General of Lagos State quickly rejected.

Deborah Oluwayemi, the judge, adjourned till February 5 to allow the state’s Attorney General’s office produce a list of those “who have cases to answer.”

Thousands of inmates who are awaiting trial have continued to be the major cause of congestion in Nigerian prisons.

Authorities blame the country’s criminal justice system which, in some cases, leads to inmates staying for up to 20 years in prison without a single appearance in court.

In February last year, Mr. Adetola-Kazeem’s non governmental organization, Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative, approached the office of the Attorney General of Lagos State with a list of 131 prison inmates who had been awaiting trial for more than four years.

As a result, the state’s Attorney General office wrote an “urgent” letter to the Police State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, requesting for the “status” of 74 of the inmates.

“After reviewing the list, my staff have identified 74 cases that do not appear on any of our records,” Ade Ipaye, the state’s Attorney General and Justice Commissioner, said in the letter dated March 23, 2012.

“I would first like you to verify whether or not you have requested legal advice in any of the 74 listed cases,” Mr. Ipaye added.

Some of the suspects, whose case files the police never forwarded to the office of the Directorate of Public Prosecution, DPP, had been in remand since 2002, according to the inmates’ list seen by PREMIUM TIMES.

Another list displayed the names of 32 inmates whose files had been forwarded by the police but cannot be found in the DPP’s office.

Setting them free

In July 2012, Mr. Adetola-Kazeem instituted a suit seeking the unconditional release or prompt prosecution of 106 of the inmates who were still awaiting trial.

During the court’s vacation last year, Justice Ibironke Harrison freed eight of the inmates on the basis that the DPP’s advice said so.

54 other inmates were released by Ayotunde Philips, the Chief Judge of Lagos State, during her visit to the Kirikiri Prison last September.

Mr. Adetola-Kazeem said that the state’s Attorney General office had said in affidavit filed on July 12, 2012, that 11 of the inmates have cases to answer.

“So now we have to deal with the remaining 33 who don’t have cases to answer but are still languishing in prison,” he told the court on Wednesday.

C.R Odutola, representing the Attorney General of Lagos State, while asking for time to file her response, stated that claims that files of the inmates were missing is “not the correct position” of events.

“I don’t know how he (Adetola-Kazeem) got the information that the files were missing. Some of the files were in my office as at this morning and some are awaiting to be heard in various courts,” Ms. Odutola added.

Mr. Adetola-Kazeem insisted that there was nothing to show that the inmates have cases to answer.

“This matter has been in court since July. This matter also came up in September. Counsel had the opportunity to set the records straight during the various adjournments,” Mr. Adetola-Kazeem said.

The judge said that the adjournment is necessary in the interest of justice.

“She is entitled to 48 hours…. Let’s give her the benefit of doubt. Justice is a two way traffic,” said Ms. Oluwayemi.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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