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As part of continuing efforts to decongest custodial centers across the country and make them humane for proper reformation and rehabilitation, a total of 4,068 inmates on option of fines worth N585 million have been set free.
Minister of interior, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, said that the inmates freed were those held on account of their inability to pay their fines as penalties for their crimes can now regained their freedom following payment of their fines by the minister and other corporate bodies.
He made this known at an event flagging off the payment of the fines and empowerment beneficiaries at the Kuje Medium Custodial Center, yesterday in Abuja.
He said “N585 million was raised by philanthropic individuals, groups and corporate bodies, as part of their corporate social responsibility, for this purpose.
“Today, we flag off the release of a total of 4,068 inmates who are serving different terms of imprisonment in lieu of fines and/or compensation. Most of the benefitting inmates at the verge of their freedom are indigents who cannot afford to pay their fines, and are languishing in custody.
“As at Friday, November 17, 2023, there were 80,804 inmates in 253 custodial facilities nationwide, the total installed capacity for the 253 Custodial Centres adds up to less than 50,000.
“This shows that our Custodial facilities are over-crowded; necessitating this initiative we are flagging off which is targeted at addressing overcrowding in our Custodial Centres and their reformatory function.
Tunji-Ojo adds that “Hence, all inmates in Custodial Centres who have fines and/or compensation not exceeding one million Naira are qualified, and would benefit from this gesture. In addition, we are also providing each of them a stipend to enable them return to their communities.
“Suffice it to mention at this point that we are not just releasing them to their fates; we have given them requisite training aimed at impacting their lives functionally and equipping them with the knowledge for their self-reliance upon discharge. The training also covers their civic duties and responsibilities as citizens, and strategies of refraining from reoffending.”
The minister urged the public not to stigmatize the ex-convicts in order to make their reintegration process easier and prevent cases of recidivism.
“We all have a stake in ensuring that offenders are properly reformed, rehabilitated and reintegrated back to their communities. By so doing, we will be promoting public safety and by extension, national security. It behoves on all of us therefore to ensure that we support offenders’ reformatory process.
“I also use this opportunity to call on the larger community to receive these returning citizens with open arms. They should refrain from stigmatizing against them as it can drive them back to offending the law, which will further endanger the society.
To the benefitting inmates, I implore you to see this as a second chance to make things right again. You are therefore advised to stay off crime and criminality.
One of 37 inmates at the Kuje Medium Custodial Center who benefited from the initiative, Mike Audi, a plumber, said they would remain ever grateful to government for helping pay their fines.
He said “We have never lost hope, we believe that one day we will be free.”