By: David Peter

In accordance with the Federal Government's directive to de-congest Correctional Facilities across the country as a measure of containing the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic, 137 inmates heaved a sigh of relief, with renewed hope, as Cross River State Acting Chief Judge, Justice Maurice Eneji orchestrated their release recently at the Calabar Correctional Centre, Afokang, Calabar.

The 2-day long exercise at the Correctional Centre, Afokang, after a thorough review of cases by Justice Eneji and other stakeholders, saw 37 inmates freed on day one, while another 92 were discharged the second day.

According to the ACJ, "the inmates' release was in accordance to the directives of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, as part of efforts to stem the spread of the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic."

Speaking during an interview, on the number of inmates released at the Calabar Correctional Centre, The Cross River State Acting Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Maurice Eneji stated that, This is one centre in Calabar Cross river State, which is the biggest and the oldest. 

On the yardsticks for release, Justice Eneji stated: "We concentrated on under aged children, the very sickly ones who cannot receive better medical attentions, the aged, and those who have been awaiting trial without going to court, as well as those who were attending court, but have over-stayed their period of trial." 

The ACJ, said valuable inputs were made by the Ministry of Justice, Human Right Groups and the Private Bar were all considered. He added that, The Chief Justice of Nigeria, His Lordship, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, sent a circular that convicts with two, three month to go should be release.

Following the directives of the Chief Justice of Nigeria to release those whose jail terms expire in two or three months time, 21 inmate fell under such consideration, as part of the 137 who were released. 

He further hinted that, those with health challenges such as Anemia, Tuberculosis, HIV, etcetera, regained freedom, so as to safeguard the convicts and those awaiting for trial from the already ravaging covid-19 pandemic.

The Acting CJ, cautioned the freed persons to be of good behaviour, he further urged them to integrate productively into the society.

Justice Maurice, convey gratitude to the Governor Benedict Ayade, for facilitating the prison visit, He stated: "I thank the Governor of Cross River State, Professor, Senator, Benedict Ayade, for facilitating this prison visit especially because without his help, we wouldn't have made it. We have come and we've done our best. We thank him for sending us here and we look forward to his continuous support". The ACJ, thanked.

He also commended the Controller In-charge of the Calabar Correctional Centre, ABC Emuchay, for proactively keeping the environment clean and habitable. The ACJ, also specially appreciated the Ministry of Justice, Human Right Commission and, the Director of Public Persecution (DPP) on their diligent contributions in the exercise.

Reacting, the Secretary to the Cross River Chapter of the Nigerian Bar Association and Human Right Commission, Barr. Cletus Agogo, lauded the Acting Chief Judge for the  successful exercise, which he described as "fair and devoid of improprieties."

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