By Patience Ogbo
Controversy continues to trail correctional centres’ refusal to remand about 1000 suspects in their facilities.
Already, Police and Child Rights Activists are confused and are in dilemma as their cases suffer setbacks, leading to release of suspects due to the insistence on producing COVID-19 test results before accused could be remanded in correctional facilities.
According to investigation, the Lagos State Police Command has raided several clubs and event centres since the COVID-19 lockdown enforcement last year and ban on public gathering by the Federal and State governments with well over 1,000 suspected violators arrested and charged accordingly.
It was gathered that some suspects are being returned to police cells as these correctional facilities are short of spaces and insisting on COVID-19 test results.
Some Warders said their facilities lack regular running water, hand sanitisers and disposables thereby hampering safety of inmates and prisoners, and with suspects whose COVID-19 status are unknown could spell doom for inmates, and other workers in the prison facilities.
The Lagos State Police Command had paraded over 170 club attendees for allegedly violating the ban on large public gathering, on Monday.
However, investigation showed that the suspects were appealing to rights groups to come assist them pay for the COVID-19 tests.
Mr Ebeneezer Omejalile, Coordinator of Advocates For Children And Vulnerable Persons Network (ACVPN), lamented that rights groups were receiving phone calls to help the suspects pay N52, 000 each as fees for COVID-19 test.
According to him, ” ACVPN is a network of human rights groups and we have been getting several calls from suspects and accused to help them pay for COVID-19 tests.
” The Correctional Centres Warders are the ones demanding for COVID-19 test results.
” The test is free for suspects, but it is compulsory and failure to produce it means that Correctional centers will not receive the suspects from Police. Then, it becomes police problem. “Cost of transportation of suspects to correctional facilities is not free. Also, the test result won’t be ready in a day. You have to go there and queue for the test.
“Most police cells are filled up with suspects remanded by the courts due to failure to provide COVID-19 test results. Are the Police immune against COVID-19?
“Every police officer’s life is not safe including that of their families. Aside from the hazards of the job, they are being exposed to COVID-19 in the course of their job”, Omejalile said.
Investigations revealed that there were centers where COVID -19 test are carried out for free if the test results are not for travel purposes. One of such centres are the Nigerian Institute of Medical research. Further investigations showed, however, that these centers do not have enough testing kits. Hence, the accused has to patronise the accredited private testing centers which charges between N52,000 and N56,000 per test result.
Speaking on this development, another Rights Advocate, Lilian Paul said, ” The test as at this moment is N52,000 for suspects remanded by the courts in police custody. This is hampering prosecution of cases. COVID-19 test for suspect is the beginning of wisdom. “Another ugly dimension is that accused were being allowed to walk free of charges as policemen could not continue to hold them in their cells over COVID-19 test results,” she said.
Investigation also revealed that Police stations where these accused were remanded feed the inmates and care for their welfare. In one of the Police Stations visited, officers there said they contributed money to cater for their remanded suspects. One of the policemen said, ” Since the inception of COVID-19 in Nigeria, Policemen are facing more problems of arresting violators and prosecuting them. ” After we have arraigned them, the Correctional facilities usually turn them back to us over request for COVID-19 test results. The magistrates also end up remanding them in police cells which are already filled up. ” Who pays for the feeding and welfare of these remanded accused in our cells? A lot of those remanded with the police cannot afford the fee of N52,000 for the COVID-19 tests. ” Some of them they do not have any one coming to check on them so who feeds them while they are with the police? ”
Buttressing this, Mr. Omejalile said criminals were being returned to the society to wreck more havoc especially those arrested for sexual offences. ” Cases are already jeopardised because of COVID–19 test. One of such cases is a 10-year-old girl who was gang-raped by eight men. The main perpetrator was initially arrested by Lagbansa Police Station. He made confessional statement but the police, in trying to avoid him being remanded back to the station, released him. The IPO in question decided to act as not just the police, he literally determined the case without issuing medical paper.