As efforts to contain the spread of the Coronavirus otherwise known as Covid-19 continue across the country, the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Nigeria have called on the Inspector-General of Police, IGP Mohammed Adamu to order State Commissioners and Divisional Police Officers to ensure urgent decongestion of cells by ensuring immediate release of persons still held in custody for minor offences.
The CSOs in a statement signed by Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) and fifty others note with satisfaction the efforts by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) to ensure the observance of social distancing at police stations in Nigeria as part of measures to check the spread of COVID-19 at the police stations.
The groups noted, in particular, the IGP’s directives to State and Zonal commands to avoid unnecessary arrests and detention of persons in police cells except for serious (capital) offences.
They however observed with serious concern, that in some states, people were still held in police cells, some for bailable offences such as misdemeanors adding that for suspects held for serious offences such as capital offences, Police were not able to charge them to courts because the courts were currently shut down.
The CSOs also noted that most states had no functional testing laboratories and isolation centres, explaining that detainees in urgent need of medical attention in those states can’t access healthcare even as they argued that those ones were made vulnerable to more dangers than just the likely exposure to the deadly virus.
“We call on the Inspector-General of Police to order state commissioners and Divisional Police officers to ensure urgent decongestion of cells by ensuring immediate release of persons still held in custody for minor offences.
“We also call on the IGP to put in place mechanisms for effective monitoring of compliance with his directives against indiscriminate arrests and detentions and ensure consequences for non-compliance. If officers continue to make indiscriminate arrests after decongestion, the detention facilities will be congested again”, they opined.
The CSOs further called on Chief Magistrates in states, in fulfillment of their obligations under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, and in compliance with the 2019 Practice Direction of the Chief Justice of Nigeria on visits to police custody facilities to embark on inspection visits to police stations within their jurisdictions with a view to ensuring the immediate release of detainees based on established criteria, to decongest the cells and prevent likely infection and spread of Covid-19.
“We also recognise the need for Magistrates to be provided with protection kits to visit these places of detention” they added.
The groups continued, “We call on the Hon. Attorney- General and Minister of Justice, in liaison with State Attorneys General, to also initiate steps for audit of Police cells and correctional centres, including juvenile correctional facilities, to decongest them.
“We are particularly concerned about the recent riot by prisoners in Kaduna correctional centre which, as investigation reveals, was sparked by protests over conditions in the prison and fears by the inmates about possible exposure to Covid-19 infection. We are also worried about reports of brutal repression of the riots and of torture, injuries and deaths.
“If Kaduna’s prison situation is not properly handled, it could have a boomerang effect on other correctional centres. We call for a thorough, impartial and independent investigation into the incident and the immediate release of all persons unlawfully or unnecessarily still held in custody, in particular those held on minor offences.
“We call for the immediate provision for all detainees and prisoners, information on the spread of the virus, urgent disinfection and distribution of sanitary materials to all holding facilities, and provision and access to running water at each facility.”
Photo: Inspector General of Police, IGP Mohammed Adamu.
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