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COVID-19: Remedies in Prerogative Pardon, Post-conviction Bail, Parole, and Others

By Noble Uche Agbaeze


While, without equivocations, gratefully commending the unflinching commitments and efforts of the Federal Government of Nigeria pursuant to the fulfillment of her constitutional obligation regarding the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy under Chapter II, Section 14(1)(b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria As (Amended) in combating the deadly global pandemic, the novel covid-19, with most profound respect, I wish to reiterate the very sacrosanct and germane need not to spare even the least and modicum opportunity towards covering all possible loopholes and leaving no stone unturned to curb the spread of this deadly virus in all nooks and crannies of this nation to save as many lives as we can as a nation, hence the decongestion of our “prisons” now correctional centers should be considered immediately without further hesitations.

Referencing Section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria As (Amended) “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria” this section unambiguously denotes that, it is the Right of even those Nigerians that are in correctional centers today to live, except when the punishment imposed on them in accordance with the applicable punitive laws are to the extents that the courts ordered their executions, that is, the taking of the lives of such persons, then at this point it shall not be regarded as unlawfully done and the courts always prescribe the modalities for the executions of such judgments.

Therefore anything to the contrary regarding the above, such as not extensively, passionately and humanely considering those Nigerians that are currently incarcerated at the correctional centers at this noxious and deadly period challenging the world, is in itself unlawful and most unconscionable, repugnant to equity, natural justice and good conscience at the same time at variance with our laws in force at this material time and should never be, as this shall be tantamount to the state undermining its own laws regarding the Fundamental Right to life of her citizens that ought to be highly held.

Outside of the fact that Fundamental Right to Life was enshrined under Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria As (Amended), Right to life is a universal natural law provided by no other than God Almighty himself, the human- legal positivism only corroborated to this and no nation of the world undermines this Right as it is collectively understood as very sacrosanct, hence this was also an intrinsic provision of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) 1948, under Article 3 by the United Nations.

The sanctity, divinity, sacredness and mystery surrounding the breathe of life present huge and never-demystified phenomenon, a question which the scientific big bang theory sounded only absurd, the philosophers and religious scholars globally had been and shall always fail to riposte till eternity.

The lives of incarcerated Nigerians should please be considered significant at this time, this deadly pandemic is ravaging and inflicting havocs in almost every nation of the world, we should remember our loved ones especially those who had at one time or the other served or currently serving our dear nation, especially those that the punishments imposed on them by way of judgments of courts of competent jurisdictions are not to the extent of death sentences.

I have visited the Nigerian correctional service centers frequently in recent times, while acknowledging the positive changes being put in place by the current government it is my sincere opinion that a lot still need to be done in terms of standards of care.

Nations with ultramodern and hi-tech facilities within their prisons are fast releasing their convicted citizens pursuant to saving their lives, the authorities in the United States of America having discovered that over 200 inmates and correctional staff have tested positive to the virus, mainly infected through health workers who are obligated to attend to them for one reason or the other, in order to contain this situation, have authorized the release of thousands of inmates, Ghana just released approximately 1000 inmates through presidential pardon, Iran released 85,000 prisoners from jail, Indonesia freed 18,000 inmates, this is the trend all over the world to save lives and Nigeria should effectuate same especially as our laws already captured similar provisions, so this is not alien to the laws here in Nigeria although not exactly for Covid-19 off course we all know that the virus is new.

Almost the whole world is currently hazardous and risky, even nations with the presumption of prima facie sophisticated scientific knowledge are recording very scary death rates, however at present the effect of this deadly pandemic has not been geometrically fatal in Nigeria like the news from other parts of the world and we should do everything possible not to truncate this narrative

With most profound respect, I humbly call on President Muhammadu Buhari to invoke the constitutional powers conferred on him under Section 175 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria As (Amended) as a prerogative of mercy to grant Pardon to non-dangerous and useful Nigerians currently remanded at the Correctional centers.

It is also my opinion that the foundation laid under part 44, Sections 453-467 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 for probation and non-custodial alternatives become very instructive for us as a nation at this time, I humbly opine that this provision where the court inter alia may order the release from lawful custody by dismissal of charges or discharge the defendant conditionally or order the payment of damages or compensation or for reinvesting or restoration of property and restitution be invoked and that the authorities should find it worthy to extend this to all inmates who do not pose any danger to our society also considering character, antecedent, age, health, or mental conditions of defendants, Non-custodial may also be in form of suspension of sentences and community services with or without conditions as provided under section 460 of the same Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015. It is worthy of note that the Correctional Service Act 2019 is also expressly in support of these practices.

Post-conviction bail, which is as of discretion of the court is also another legal remedy that could be effectively set in motion to those that are not posing any risk to the society also without the risk of flight to decongest our correctional centers.

Part 45, Section 468 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 also makes an express provision for Parole where the Comptroller-General of the Correctional Services makes a report to the court recommending that an inmate sentenced and serving his sentences is of good behavior and based on this, the court may order for the suspension of the sentence and for his release from custody as the court thinks fit.

The foregoing are different ways government could decongest the correctional centers without legal infractions to save the precious lives of useful Nigerians remanded currently in custody.

The world has suspended almost all stringent orders including altering important issues within legal regimes for this virus not to defeat humanity.

It will not be good that we lose our dear ones who are currently incarcerated for correctional purposes to covd-19 because we want to correct them, one must be alive first before being corrected and those awaiting trials and those who have not exhausted their legal options for appeal must be alive to face trials.

I sincerely salute all Nigerians, Covid-19 shall not succeed here, if we all, both the government and the governed continue to be proactive and diligent, being a nation already loved by the Almighty God.

Let’s remain resolute in this challenge, wash our hands, avoid large crowds and maintain social distancing.

(Agbaeze wrote in from Abuja)

Written by ExpressDay

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