Usman Baba, the acting Inspector General of Police, has ordered commissioners of police across the country to ensure that unnecessary arrests are avoided so as to maintain the minimum number of persons in cells.
This is coming as the industrial action of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) enters the second week.
The shutting down of courts has prevented the police and other law enforcement agencies from arraigning suspects thereby prolonging the number of hours spent in custody which ordinarily should not be more than 48 hours for fresh arrests.
The IGP, in a statement CP Frank Mba, the Force Public Relations Officer, CP Frank Mba, who described the strike as unfortunate said that his men should adopt alternative dispute resolution in certain cases while administrative bail should be given where possible.
The statement read: “Whenever the court system is paused, the police investigations processes suffer greatly. Our investigation processes also suffer based on the fact that certain orders, authorisations that are supposed to be processed from the court are either delayed or impossible to obtain.
“Consequently, the IG has already issued an internal directive to police commissioners and those heading specialised units to ensure that persons who are qualified to go on bail are granted administrative bail without delay.
“The IG also encouraged officers to explore the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to deal with cases that can be resolved using ADR without infringing on any law. He has also given express directive that conscious efforts should be made to decongest cells and avoid making frivolous arrests or arrests that are not very important in the advancement of the course of justice.”
Also reacting to the strike, Frank Enobore, spokesman for the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS), expressed hope that the strike would end in time, noting that the prolonged detention of inmates could increase tension and spark a prison riot.
He said 95 per cent of the time, prison riots were caused by persons awaiting trial or condemned inmates.
He added that the strike had also prevented new inmates from coming in.
He said: “In a way we are not too affected because we are not seeing an influx of persons coming into the correctional centres but the irony is that we get more concerned when people are not leaving our facilities than when they are coming in.
“This is because if those who are to go to court cannot go, it will create tension. It means those who have the hope of leaving the correctional centre will have to remain there till courts resume duty. It creates tension for us, it creates concern because when the yard is tensed up, anything can happen.
“If you look at the history of internal insurrection in our facilities all this while, I can say close to 95 per cent of them are engineered by either those awaiting trial or those that are condemned to death. So, these are the areas we are getting pressure. So, the courts being shut are of concern to us.”
Femi Falana (SAN), a human rights lawyer, called on the government to meet the demands of the striking workers.
Falana said it was unfortunate that last year, courts were shut for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic which affected several cases, adding that this time around the courts have been shut again but for another reason.
Consequently, cases would be adjourned indefinitely and this would mean that persons would be unjustly detained for longer than expected, according to the senior lawyer.
He said: “The courts were on break for almost a year because of COVID-19 challenge. Now that the courts should resume in earnest and the strike, ordinary people are affected. For those who are in prison, their case would have to be adjourned sine die which is not good.”
He, therefore, appealed to the state and federal government to address the demands of these workers.