A woman held at the Abakaliki Prisons for allegedly stealing cocoa yam worth N400 has been released on the order of Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State.
Umahi ordered her freedom after being briefed on Friday by the National Human Right Commission on the outcome of its investigation into the extra judicial killings of some inmates of the Abakaliki prisons during the August 18 attempted jail break.
A statement on Sunday by the governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Emma Anya, said the Chairman of the NHRC, Prof. Ben Angwe, had reeled out the pathetic condition of inmates of the prisons, saying some of them had suffered to the extent that no amount of compensation would assuage the sufferings they had passed through.
He mentioned some cases, including that of the woman, whom according to him, was in the prison with her two children apparently due to the fact that she had no one to cater for them.
Angwe said when the woman was arraigned in court, the judge granted her bail with two sureties who must be civil servants on Grade Level 16.
The NHRC boss said, “We saw very pathetic cases. We saw a woman with two children in the prison accused of stealing cocoa yam worth N400. They granted her bail on stiff condition. They gave her difficult bail condition which required two sureties who are on level 16 in the civil service.
‘You can imagine somebody who was accused of stealing N400 worth of cocoa yam. What access will she have to a grade 16 official of government?”
At this point, a visibly displeased Governor Umahi summoned the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Augustine Nwankwaegu, for a tete-a tete and thereafter directed him to ensure that the woman was let go same day.
“Holding that woman in prison is an unnecessary punishment. HAG (Honourable Attorney-General), you will have to follow the state Comptroller of Prisons and secure her release today(Friday). Send your people to surety the woman and let her leave the place.Get people on Level 16 to do so.”
Angwe, while reading the report of the investigative panel also mentioned the case of an old man on awaiting trial for 11 years, saying his case was heart rending.
“There is also a case of an old man who has stayed 11 years in that prison without trial . If the man is discharged what amount of compensation will be adequate for someone who is kept without trial for 11 years?,” he asked.
“In fact, the old man is not the only one awaiting trial, more than 80 percent of the inmates in that prison are awaiting trial,” Angwe stated.
He described the condition of the Abakaliki prisons as very poor but commended Gov. Umahi for his commitment to the promotion of human rights.
The NHRC noted that Umahi was the only governor in Nigeria that had rolled out welfare package for the elderly.
Responding, the governor expressed disgust over the dehumanising condition of the inmates and recalled that he had during his visit to the prisons after the botched jail break offered to partner the Federal Government in building a new prison in the state.
Expressing surprise that Abuja had not shown any commitment to the offer, he said he was giving the federal authorities seven days to bring a building plan after which the state would go ahead to construct a new prison to alleviate the suffering of the inmates.
His words: “The condition which the inmates are subjected to is very dehumanizing; it is so terrible and I had spoken to higher authorities. I said we jointly build a new prison. I was told that prison was built in 1913 or thereabout. And even if it was not 1913,it is looking like it was done in 18th century.
“So it is not where human beings can stay. Some of those that went mad could have been as a result of the condition of that place. I know that nobody will take a mad person to the prison. The condition of our prisons is enough to make a normal human being to have mental derangement.
“I am demanding that after seven days, if we don’t have a drawing plan, we will go to the land they (prisons) have and start building a new place for our people.”
Umahi who said he had settled the medical bills of some inmates wounded during the attempted jail break, directed that 15 inmates who the commission said were suffering from mental illness be given medical treatment provided they are not armed robbers, murderers, kidnappers, cult members.
He appealed to the NHRC to prevail on the United Nations to assist the state in the re settlement of displaced persons in the communities that had witnessed border crises and intra-communal wars.
The places are Ezza/Ezillo in Ishielu LGA ,Ochienyim in Ikwo LGA, Igbagu/Iyala in Izzi LGA and those displaced in the Centenary City in Abakaliki.