After years of complaints, the congestion of Owerri Prisons housing over 3000 inmates , with its attendant health and security challenges, has finally got the attention of the state government.
Even though the state governor, Rochas Okorocha had on different occasions raised the alarm over the poor state of the Owerri Prisons, especially the worrying issue of congestion, no practical step was taken to address the problem until now.
Penultimate Tuesday, the state chief judge, Hon Justice Paschal Obinna Nnadi released 24 Prison inmates in a major decongestion exercise. Twelve other Awaiting Trial. Men were referred to various high courts handling their cases.
The exercise was to commemorate the 2018 Jail Delivery Day.
One of the lucky inmates, Ifeanyi Atumonyegwu had been remanded in prison custody since 2015 for a minor offence and had overstayed his detention period of two years, according to the Chief Judge’s ruling.
Another freed inmate, Eric Iwu, was arraigned in 2014, while Nzeribe Nwankwo, another inmate had been in prison custody since 2010.
That was the pathetic state of the inmates who were dumped in prison over minor offences and were forgotten to rot away.
Twelve others were not so lucky, and were instead referred to respective courts where their suits were instituted, in accordance to the non prosequi signed by the Attorney General of the State, declining further prosecution of the cases.
Those referred to the Courts were Sylvanus Okeke, Okechukwu Odigbo, Stanley Amaefule, Dennis Nwauwa and a traditional ruler, Boniface Ihueze.
Others were Lucas Joseph, Linus Nlemedim, Emmanuel Onyewuchi, Paul Kio, Emmanuel Nwaokorie, Chukwuebuka Nkemjika and Chinweikpe Uwenwa.
Unfortunately, two of the inmates that were listed to benefit from the Jail Delivery, Onyebuchi Ejimkonye and Joseph Onyebuchi were said to have died two weeks before the CJ’s visit.
Speaking at the event, the Chief Judge said that the Prison visit was in line with the Jail delivery session.
He noted that in accordance to the Nigerian constitution, the CJ has the legal rights to visit and free prison inmates, especially those awaiting trials or have served for a long period of years without trails.
Justice Nnadi explained further that the exercise was also necessitated by the increasing level of congestion of the Owerri prison.
He said that the visit will help to decongest the prison for “the healthy living of the inmates, officials and the residents”.
The CJ reiterated the readiness of the Imo Judiciary in ensuring speedy fair hearing, equity and justice to those seeking justice and redress in the law Court.
He admonished the inmates not to be deterred by the environment they found themselves in, but to always approach the Court if they have stayed beyond five years without trial, adding that such step could help speed up their freedom.
According to him, the clerk has been mandated to issue production warrants immediately to High Courts for a speedy hearing and ruling on pending cases.
“All pending cases in the High Courts across the state should be looked into without further delay. Once there is a nolle having a pending case in the High Court, the CJ has no legal right to release or interfere, but if there is a direct nolle prosequi, any further detention becomes unlawful and unconstitutional,” he said
Standing for the accused persons include the Deputy Director of Public Prosecution, M.C Ijezie and colleagues, and the Legal Aid Counsel, led by Chukwuma Oliver alongside the members of the professional body.
Also present was the controller of Prisons, Chris Okoye, who lauded the CJ for remembering the prison inmates.
He pledged to work in tandem with the judiciary in upholding law.
Meanwhile, the state governor had earlier raised the alarm over ‘looming’ jailbreak at the Owerri Prison as a result of congestion, inadequate facilities. He had noted that the state is worried about the condition and location of the Prison, which is directly opposite the Government House.According to him, “the State is worried about the Owerri Prison congestion and the location of the prison. The site is bad, just opposite the Government House. We are concerned with the number of inmates in the prison without adequate facilities”.He continued that, “the Council is therefore calling on the Federal Government to do something as quickly as possible to relocate the Owerri Prison from where it is now to a suitable place for the purpose of ensuring that we don’t have a jailbreak in the State. The Judiciary also requires a lot of infrastructure and personnel to dispense justice speedily. This will equally help in decongesting the prisons”.