The Nigeria Correctional Service has said there was no case of COVID-19 in any of its custodial centres across the country.
It stated that certain preventive measures had been put in place before the index case of COVID-19 in the country, adding that all inmates were safe.
The NCS disclosed that it would not transfer or evacuate the high profile inmates on account of the pandemic, noting that individuals in custody were not given preferential treatment based on their political or economic status.
High profile persons serving various jail terms at the Kuje Custodial Centre, Abuja and other prison facilities include a former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Olisa Metuh; a former governor of Taraba State, Jolly Nyame; a former governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye and a former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu.
But speaking in a telephone interview with our correspondent in Abuja on Wednesday, the NCS spokesman, Chuks Njoku, noted that inmates could be transferred only to decongest a prison facility.
Responding to a question on the possible evacuation of the high profile inmates on account of the coronavirus pandemic, the NCS spokesman said, “There is no need for that once you are in the custodial centre. If those people had committed a crime and are in our facility, whether they are big men or poor men is not considered; they know where they are. Unless the Controller-General, Jafa’aru Ahmed, uses his discretion and feels that a custodial centre is congested, he can transfer one or two persons.”
Njoku explained that the NCS leadership was doing everything to prevent COVID-19 outbreak in custodial centres, adding that visits to inmates had been suspended.
He also revealed that new inmates were not being accepted following the suspension of court proceedings by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Muhammad, due to the pandemic.
Njoku added that contact between the correctional officers and the inmates was restricted, noting that the service was adhering strictly to procedures stipulated by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and the Federal Ministry of Health.
He said, “We have no record of COVID-19 in all our custodial centres in the country. Before the index case was recorded, the CG had already put in place mechanism to check any incident and that was what we also did during the outbreak of Lassa fever and Ebola.
“New admissions are no longer coming in and we have stopped visitors to the facilities. The suspension of court sittings has also made our work easier as new inmates are no longer coming in.
“We are doing everything possible to make sure there is no coronavirus infection in any of our facilities. We are seriously monitoring the custodial centres from the headquarters. We are assuring Nigerians that with the measures put in place, everyone should relax,” the service assured.
Giving an insight into the planned decongestion of the custodial centres, the NCS spokesman disclosed that the Presidential Committee on Prison Decongestion was expected to grant amnesty to inmates who are terminally ill; those aged 60 and above and inmates with less than six months to serve.
Others who may be released include inmates with mental health issues, inmates whose fine did not exceed N50,000; pregnant women and females with children.