NAN – The Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Ayotunde Phillips, on Tuesday freed a total of 233 inmates from the Kirikiri Medium and Maximum Security Prisons in Lagos, during her visit to the facilities.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that while 130 inmates were released at the maximum facility, 103 were set free at the medium prison.
Phillips, however, admonished the pardoned inmates to “go and sin no more.”
NAN reports that the prison visit was part of activities marking the commencement of the 2012/2013 Legal Year of the Lagos State Judiciary.
The chief judge said the gesture was aimed at reducing congestion at the prisons, as well as releasing some of the inmates who had been awaiting trial for many years.
“This is our own little way of reducing congestion in our prisons.
“There is a maxim we have in law that it is better for ten guilty persons to go free than for one innocent person to be unjustly incarcerated.
“For those of you who are lucky to be released today, I admonish you to go and sin no more.
“I want you to go and make your mark positively in the society”, the chief judge advised the elated inmates.
Phillips, however, cautioned against the arbitrary release of prisoners, stressing that a thorough screening must be done before any such act of clemency could be implemented.
Earlier in his address of welcome, the Deputy Controller, Maximum Security Prison, Mr. Tinu Oye, said the prison, which had a capacity to accommodate 1,056 prisoners, was home to only 763.
Oye said some of the inmates had spent over 12 years in the prison awaiting trial, even for minor offences.
He urged the Prerogative of Mercy Committee, which was set up by the Federal Government, to visit the prisons regularly to address such cases.
Oye said, “My Lord, please give this people a second chance.
”A lot of our inmates are doing their General Certificate Examinations. Some are students of the National Open University and need scholarships to complete their studies.”
The deputy controller of the medium prison, DCP Tunde Ladipo, said the number of inmates released was unprecedented.
Ladipo said 2,370 out of the 2,502 inmates of the prison were awaiting trial.
Betram Anwagu, 54, who was one of the freed inmates, told NAN that he was remanded in the prison on July 20, 2005, after he was arrested for alleged armed robbery.
Anwagu said, “I was selling provisions at CMS and one day I fought with another trader and the police came to arrest us.
“The next day, they brought two other men to the cell and later took the four of us to court for robbery.
”That is how I found myself here and even the woman I was planning to marry abandoned me.”
NAN reports that the clemency is pursuant to the provisions of Section 1(1) of the Criminal Justice Release from Custody Special Provision Act, CAP C40, 2007, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.
The law empowers the chief judge to release inmates awaiting trial for a long duration and others that have shown genuine remorse for their alleged offences.