Six inmates will remain eternally grateful to the Patriotic Citizens of Nigeria (PACON). They recently regained their freedom from Okaka Prisons in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. PACON made it possible for them to breath healthy air again.
Their freedom came following the drive by PACON, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), to decongest the hot and sultry prisons in the state capital. On August 21, the convener of the group, Mr. Aluzu Ebikebuna and PACON’s Head, Legal, Mr. Nehemiah Ayogoi visited the prison.
They had a nasty experience at the prison, which was opened in April 2013 by former Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, to accommodate 300 inmates. The detention facility was already occupied by over 588 inmates. Of the number, 550 were awaiting trial inmates while only 38 persons were convicted.
Besides, the five-year-old prison lacked facilities for sporting , training, and skills acquisition , among others, for the inmates. PACON officials were sad at the development and immediately started working round the clocks to play a key role in decongesting the facility.
They also saw the suffering of the inmates especially as most of them lacked basic provisions. In fact, PACON visited the prison again, this time in partnership with Ijaw Women Connect (IWC), Heritage Magazine (HM), Nigerian Union of Journalist (NUJ) Bayelsa State Chapter, African Children And Education Development Foundation (ACAEDF), Ijaw People’s Development Initiative (IPDI), and Partners 4 Peace (P4P).
They donated gift items worth thousands of naira to inmates. The prison authority received the items and described the gesture as “noble and worthy of emulation”. Offic land of PACON were, however, moved with pity when one of the inmates narrated how he landed himself at the prisons.
The prisoner said he came from Rivers State for a manual job in Bayelsa. He said he was involved in a brawl and was later charged with affray. He was then remanded at Okaka Prison since May 5, 2016 despite that the Magistrate granted him bail.
He lamented his inability to perfect his bail condition. He said though his offence upon conviction attracted about six months in prisons, his inability to satisfy his bail conditions kept him within prison walls for a year and five months.
Moved by their findings, officials of PACON demanded for the list of inmates that had already been granted bail for simple offences such as misdemeanor and felony. Their intention was to perfect such inmates’ bails to decongest the prisons. Aluzu said his organisation was able to keep to its promise.
He also called for a better working relationship with judiciary employees and alleged that some of them deliberately wanted to frustrate the release of the inmates.
He said: We are happy to be here today. We are taking three inmates out, this brings the total number of inmates released by us to six. Four was taken on bail while two had been discharged and acquitted.
“Upon our request, we were given a list of inmates charged with simple offenses at different magistrate courts by the prison authorities. We went further to ascertain their bail statuses after which we perfected same for deserving inmates and proceeded to settle some matters out of court.
“It was difficult getting sureties for them so we used professional sureties. We would have released more than this but some court staffs are deliberating frustrating our efforts because we refused to compensate them for carrying out their lawful duty”.
On why they are decongesting the prisons, he said: “Sequel to our recent visit to the Okaka medium security prison specifically on the 21st of August, 2017, where we donated items to inmates, we unearthed the cram condition of the prison.
“The prison was built with a capacity to accommodate 300 inmates but as at August 21, 2017, it was boasting of almost 600 inmates in it (twice its size) with only 38 of them convicted and over 550 inmates were awaiting trial. The overcrowded nature of the prison rendered it unfit and dangerous for human inhabitants.
“Also, the number of cases awaiting trial gave us a worrying cause for concern as it portends something sinister in the offing. An occurrence we hope to forestall was something that might put the inmates or warders in a perilous situation.
“Our interaction with inmates and complainants have shown in most cases that some inmates are only being oppressed.
“Some prisoners are often locked up without trial for years and half of the inmates had never been legally sentenced. Some inmates had sat in their cells for ten years without ever seeing a judge. Innocent prisoners are people’s loved ones. We want to help reconcile them back with their family”.
He added: “During our meeting with the state’s Controller of Prisons, it was unearthed that despite the slow justice system in the country, the prison is overcrowded because most of the inmates are unable to meet their bail conditions having been granted bail by their respective courts.
“So PACON undertook to help indigent and deserving inmates meet their bail conditions and recommending deserving cases to Legal Aid Council of Nigeria for pro bono service, the Attorney General of Bayelsa State to exercise his powers of nolle prosequi and the Bayelsa State Advisory Council on the Prerogative of Mercy.
“PACON in collaboration with its legal team also volunteered to provide legal representation for selected inmates.
“We went further to engage the services of professional sureties for a fee of N20,000 to N30,000 for each inmate, depending on the amount contained in the bail bond and the level of such surety.
“This amount charged by sureties is thought to be reasonable considering that the bail bond of some inmates goes as high as N2million. The risk is being borne by the sureties in case inmates jumps bail, they will be held responsible”.
But Aluzu said PACON was not done yet. He said decongesting the prison required the help of members of the public. He appealed for financial assistance to enable PACON help more inmates regain their freedom, he, however, thanked persons, who contributed to take the six inmates out of the prison.
He said: “We thank all those who have contributed to this cause. We are however, appealing to the general public and those sympathetic to humanity to make voluntary donations with respect to decongesting Okaka prison.
“The list given to us contained 31 names but was reduced to 11 names after going through some considerations. We have so far gotten six out of the 11 out of Okaka prison and we hope to get the remaining five out very soon.
“No amount is too small as every kobo counts. There is a glimmer of hope for those who have sat in their cells without trial. Support the works of PACON. Let’s start to reach out to those deserving inmates and send them back to their families”.