The Order of the Knights of Saint Mulumba (KSM), Lagos Metropolitan Council, has told Governor Babatunde Fashola and the Lagos State House of Assembly to review the criminal justice system in the state and ensure that traffic and environmental offences do not end offenders in prisons. The Metropolitan Grand Knight of the council, Sir Patrick Ikemefuna, gave the advice at a media briefing held at the Mulumba House, Surulere, Lagos yesterday ahead of the 2013 Prison Reforms Conference organised by the knights slated for May 23, this year.
Ikemefuna said the officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) and other agencies of the state had sent scores of people to the prisons. The offenders, he said, were convicted by the mobile courts either for traffic offences or loitering on environmental sanitation days. His words: “Majority of people in the Medium Security Prisons, Kirikiri are offenders of the environmental sanitation laws as well as traffic laws.
The court fined them N10, 000. They were not able to pay. So, they will be in prison for six months or one year. “Once they get into the prisons, it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to feed them and other inmates. But if the Lagos Sate Government is responsible for the welfare of the people its officials sent to the prisons, the state will think twice before they send anybody into prison.” The offenders, according to him, usually remained in prisons until rights activists, the Knights of Saint Mulumba and other humanitarian organisations, come to their aids by paying off their fines.
Ikemefuna cited the scenario as one of the examples for the urgent amendment of the criminal justice system in Nigeria. He noted that all people suspected to have violated criminal laws always go through the same process, irrespective of the gravity of the offences committed. Ikemefuna also noted that the council, over the years, focused part of its charity efforts on the prison system. In 2011, the council built and donated the St. Augustine’s Catholic Church at the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison in Lagos, valued at over N65 million to the Nigeria Prison Service.
While saying that the council, through its prison committee, had so far secured the release of more than 600 inmates awaiting-trial at various prisons in Lagos area, Ikemefuna disclosed that the council had also instituted an annual essay competition for award of scholarship to two inmates of Ikoyi Prison to the National Open University of Nigeria with cash values of N40, 000 and N20, 000.
The prison reforms conference tagged: Administration of Nigerian Criminal Justice and Reform of the Penal System, which will hold next Thursday at the Agip Recital Hall, MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos, will be chaired by the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Ayotunde Philips. Former attorney general and commissioner for justice in the state, Mr. Olasupo Shasore (SAN) is expected as the keynote speaker. Special guests of honours are Justice Kumai Bayang Akaahs of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and Bishop, Catholic Archdiocese of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah.
Ikemefuna stated that after the opening ceremony, the conference would break into two plenary sessions. He said the Chief Judge of Anambra State, Justice Peter Umeadi would moderate the first while the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of Ekiti State, Mr. Wale Fapohunda would moderate the second. “Panellists consisting of erudite judges, eminent lawyers, prison officials and rights activists, among others will make presentations and hold interactive group discussions based on areas of their expertise and in line with the conference theme.
“The details of the various presentations at the conference will be distilled into a communiqué which we will convey to the government in particular and the public in general, the stance of the Lagos Metropolitan Council of KSM on the vexed issue of prison reforms as well as proffer practical ways of ensuring effective and efficient reform of the prison system in Nigeria,” Ikemefuna stated. He described the conditions in various prisons as pitiable as innocent Nigerians had been languishing in prisons on flimsy reasons such as loitering and wandering.
He added: “There are other Nigerians languishing in prisons for misdemeanour due to their inability to pay minor fines or get legal representation. Worse still, instances abound of women getting pregnant and having babies in prisons as well as cases of children and minors also in prisons.”