ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has asked the chief judge to free prison inmates who have been awaiting trial for six years or more to ease overcrowding as the novel coronavirus spreads, a spokesman said on Tuesday.
A statement quoted Buhari as saying 42% of Nigeria’s 74,000 or so prisoners were awaiting trial. He urged Chief Judge Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad to reduce that number “since physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible”.
Buhari said inmates with no confirmed criminal cases against them, elderly prisoners and those who were terminally ill could be discharged.
“Most of these custodial centres are presently housing inmates beyond their capacities and the overcrowded facilities pose a potent threat to the health of the inmates and the public in general in view of the present circumstances, hence the need for urgent steps to bring the situation under control,” he said.
Two weeks ago, Buhari pardoned 2,600 prisoners who were either 60 or older, terminally ill, or had less than six months left to serve of sentences of three years or more.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with some 200 million people. On Monday it said it had registered 665 cases of the coronavirus and 22 deaths.
Its measures to stop the spread of the virus include closing its borders and locking down the capital Abuja, the commercial hub, Lagos, and the adjacent state, Ogun.
(Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Kevin Liffey)