In what appears a major step towards containing the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, President Muhammadu Buhari Thursday granted presidential pardon to 2,600 inmates of correctional centres nationwide.
The president also extended the clemency to Chief Anthony Enahoro, former governor of old Bendel state, Professor Ambrose Alli (both late) and several others.
While Ali was governor in the Second Republic (1978-1983) and a progressive elected on the platform of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Enahoro was a foremost nationalist said to have moved the motion for the nation’s independence.
Minister of Interior Rauf Aregbeshola, who announced this at a press conference in Abuja, also said, of the figure, 70 inmates would be released from Kuje Maximum Custodial Centre
“After the release of the first phase, the committee will continue to meet regularly to consider those who deserve the benefit,” he said.
He said after the release of the first batch, the committee would meet regularly to consider those deserving of the gesture.
The minister listed the criteria for the release to include; inmates that were 60 years’ old and above, those suffering from ill-health and likely to terminate in death, convicts serving three years and above and have less than six months to serve, inmates with mental health issues, and inmates with options of fines not exceeding N50, 000 and have no pending case.
“Using these criteria, a total number of 2,600 inmates spread across our various custodial centres qualify to benefit from the amnesty,” Aregbesola said.
“These include 885 convicts who could not pay their fines, totalling N21.4 million, which the government will pay on their behalf to enable them get their freedom. From this number, 41 inmates are federal convicts, two of which have been granted pardon,” he said
The minister further said: “We will proceed from here to Kuje custodial centre to release the 41 in a symbolic gesture of the freedom that have been given to 2,600 inmates across the federation. The governors of the 36 states under whose jurisdiction the inmates were incarcerated will complete the exercise in line with our federal principle.”
Apart from the late Bendel state governor and Enhaoro, the minister said Buhari also pardoned Mr. Moses Effiong, Mr. E.J. Olanrewaju, and Mr. Ajayi Olusola Babalola.
Speaking at the parley, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN, said the United Nations had called nations of the world to reduce the number of inmates in custodial centres in compliance with the social distancing occasioned by COVID-19.
Malami, who described the flag-off of the 2020 presidential pardon as historic, said the process of selecting beneficiaries started in 2018, even as he urged beneficiaries to stay off crimes and be of good conduct.
The minister, who noted that 70 per cent of inmates were awaiting trial, also called on relations and friends to receive the pardoned inmates with open arms into their folds.
How it started
He recalled that the process of generating the list of beneficiaries started way back in 2018 when, on August 28, 2018, sequel to Buhari’s approval, the Presidential Advisory Committee on Prerogative of Mercy (PACPM) was inaugurated.
The AGF said the committee was to advise the president on granting pardon/clemency to deserving inmates and ex-convicts in line with the provisions of section 175 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
On the modus operandi used by the committee, Malami said it adopted the use of visits, interviews, observations, consultation and relevant documents called for and received from each of the correctional centres across the country.
He said upon concluding its assignment, the committee’s report detailing the list of beneficiaries considered and recommended for pardon or clemency was submitted for the information and necessary action by the president.
The minister said: “Out of the 176 persons interviewed, Presidential Pardon has been granted to two inmates. Mr. President granted clemency to 39 inmates as recommended by the PACPM, out of which four inmates are from Kuje Correctional Centre,” he said.
“In addition, Mr. President has also graciously granted pardon to five Ex–Convicts. My office will take necessary steps to publish the names of these beneficiaries in the Federal Gazette in line with extant laws and Regulations.”
Further to this, the AGF said Buhari, in a bid to stem the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic, ordered appropriate authorities to embark on a visit to all correctional/custodial centres within their respective states to identify and release inmates deserving of the gesture.
In a brief, Comptroller General of Nigeria Correctional Service (NCoS) Ja’afaru Ahmed said the service was yet to record any COVID-19 case.
Ahmed said the exercise would go a long way in reducing the number of inmates in the service nationwide.
Kwara locked down
Meanwhile, the Kwara state government Thursday announced a total lockdown of the state in a renewed effort to contain the spread of coronavirus pandemic.
The decision came 48 hours after it took a similar step in Offa local government area, where a suspected case, now late, was believed to have been contacted during his burial in the town.
The case, who was rushed into the emergency unit of the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, has become a subject of major controversy, with the managing professor, AK Salami now being suspended for allegedly failing to disclose the case’s travelling history and ailment.
Announcing the state’s lockdown, the government said violators of the pronouncement risked prosecution in line with the state regulations on the pandemic – except vehicles carrying goods and services such as food and drugs and categories earlier exempted in a recent address by President Buhari.
The government however said a total lockdown was necessary to flatten the curve of transmission at this time.
“The government hereby bans all vehicular movements, including private and commercial vehicles, from 6p.m. tomorrow, Friday, 10 April, 2020,” Deputy Governor and Chairman of the Technical Committee on COVID-19 Kayode Alabi told a news briefing in Ilorin, the state capital.
“The only exceptions are commercial trucks carrying goods and services who would operate with absolute respect for social distancing and other COVID-19 safety protocols. All kinds of shops, bars, pubs, and markets are hereby shut until further notice. Markets where foods and medications are sold will open on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, between 10 a.m. and 2p.m.
“Contractors working on government projects are allowed to proceed to work with no more than 20 workers on site at one time.”
The total lockdown is for initial 14 days and may be reviewed as government monitors the situation, he added.
He said previous restrictions remained and would be enforced.
Commending the federal government and the WHO, Alabi said the NCDC had sent down a crack team of experts to strengthen its capabilities to combat the spread of the virus.
“The government also commends the World Health Organisation for the recent training of our health officials across the 16 local government areas on community-level COVID preparedness, response and surveillance. All our LGA Disease Surveillance and Notification Officers (DSNOs) are now back in their localities to do a step down training for community informants and focal persons,” he said.
Alabi also expressed strong disapproval of the alleged stigmatisation of COVID-19 patients or other persons and communities on account of their contacts with any patient.
He warned that anyone caught doing so may be prosecuted in line with the regulation and relevant laws.
“The government is dismayed by reports of some people stigmatising the families, relations and acquaintances of persons who have tested positive for COVID-19. This development is not only unhealthy but it is in fact inimical to the efforts to trace contacts and flatten the curve of transmission of the virus.
“As was aptly observed by His Excellency in his live press briefing of Tuesday, April 8, the government repeats clearly that contracting COVID-19 is neither a death sentence nor a crime. Anyone who has contracted it is a victim of an unknown enemy. They are not villains to be stigmatised. Just anyone can be victim of the deadly virus. All the patients and their families are persons to be catered for at this time. This is a tough time for them and nobody will be allowed to add to their worries!
“We state also that the government has carefully refused to mention the names of patients or their families. It has accorded the patients and their families all the rights, privileges and confidentiality due to them under relevant laws and ethics. The government will not hesitate to prosecute anyone found guilty of stigmatising patients and communities, or robbing them of their dignity. We warn that sharing of the picture of any COVID-19 patient qualifies as a crime and government will treat the despicable characters behind it as suspected criminals going forward.
“We assure the public that everything is being done to prevent community transmission and there is no use destroying years of community peace and relationships in the guise of identifying (COVID-19) contacts, whether primary or secondary. The cases at the isolation centre are stable and without any symptoms, and are getting the right care and support every step of the way.
“Fellow Kwarans, we repeat that this is no time to panic. Please stay calm. The government will do everything to keep you safe. But we also need you to play your own role. Stay at home. Keep social distancing. Avoid crowd. Prioritise personal hygiene. And please do not spread unverified news. Once again, we pray for all those infected to get well soon. We assure them of getting the best care possible. We also thank all our healthcare givers for their priceless contribution to humanity. We are grateful to all of you and we urge you to do your best for us at this time and always,” Alabi said.
In a related development, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) has set up a team to guard against the mismanagement of the COVID-19 special intervention funds.
The agency said this was in line with execution of its preventive mandate in Section 6 (b)-(d) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000.
In a statement sourced from its website Thursday, the agency said: “The Team will deploy appropriate strategy to prevent incidences of corruption that may have negative impact on the efforts of government to deal effectively with the pandemic and its work will complement the efforts of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 with regard to transparency and accountability in the management of the funds.
“While the Commission salutes all those in the frontline of battling the outbreak and everyone facilitating the national effort behind the scene, it hereby reiterates its earlier advisory to all actors in the management chain of the COVID-19 response to steer clear of all unethical and corrupt acts that could result in criminal investigation and consequences.”
Providing an update Thursday evening, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) announced 14 new cases bringing the total to 288.
Lagos, which earlier Thursday discharged 7 cases, now has 13, with Delta state having one.
Also, Bauchi state Governor Senator Bala Mohammed has tested negative for the virus.
The governor confirmed his health status in tweets posted via his verified Twitter handle Thursday.
Alhamdulillah. I just received the green light. My second test for #COVID19 returned negative. I thank you all for your prayers & support even while I was in isolation. Most importantly, all the praises & thanks be to Allah – the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. #GreaterBauchi, the tweet reads.
Governor Mohammed announced his recovery from the disease about two weeks after he tested positive for COVID-19.