On the 29th of April, we held our #OpenTheGatesNG project aimed at decongesting the Nigerian prisons. In collaboration with the Corps Legal Aid CDS FCT, we carried out an initiative to pay fines for inmates whose offences were misdemeanours but could not afford to pay minor fines and have been in prison for a long time.
The event took place at the Suleja Prison in Abuja starting by around midday. With over 30 people in attendance, we were quite a crowd, particularly of young lawyers who were eager to witness a Nigerian prison, some for the very first time.
We were all gathered together as we were given the opportunity to address a number of inmates who were awaiting trial. A few participants gave a speech of hope and encouragement to the inmates. We were aware that our impact was unfortunately limited as we were only able to release 5 inmates while a handful of them are still in prison because they haven’t been able to contact their family. With the little we could do, we provided a platform for those who may want to contact their relatives or friends outside of the prison walls. A majority of them used the opportunity and were very grateful to us. They were thankful that “today they were remembered”.
Some of the female participants were also privileged to visit the female section of the prison.
The most elating part of the event was the moment we were able to leave the prison premises in hand with five of the ex in-mates we were able to release. Some of them had spent time in prison for as low as a N15,000 as fine that they were unable to pay. The smile on their faces was evidence of their gratitude.
It is almost hard to believe that some people can spend up to 8 months in prison for as little as N15, 000 for petty crimes. With the state of the Nigerian prisons that are aimed at punishment rather than rehabilitation, this could cause more harm than good to society. It is now in our hands to do the little we can. Remember N15, 000 can free a man!
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