Man jailed for 11 years over crime committed by neighbor, finally released

A Lagos State High Court has ordered the release of an inmate, Mr Maxwell Dele, who was incarcerated for over 11 years without trial.

Avocats Sans Frontières France (Lawyers without Borders France), who stated this in a statement on Monday, stated that the practice of charging suspects with serious offences in order to have them remanded in prison indefinitely with little or no effort to prosecute the case needed to stop.

The Country Director of ASF France in Nigeria, Angela Uzoma-Iwuchukwu, in a statement, said the Nigeria Correctional Service data on the summary of inmate population by convict and persons awaiting trial as of October 4, 2021, revealed that the facilities hold 37 per cent more inmates than they were designed to and that over 70 per cent of the prison population consisted of pre-trial detainees.

The report also revealed that the average period of pre-trial detention in Nigeria was nearly four years.

It said ASF research revealed that many detainees were held for much longer, as in this case of Dele, who was “arbitrarily detained for over 11 years, reflecting both an overburdened justice system and structural problems between Nigeria’s state and federal justice systems.”

According the organisation, in Dele’s case, officers of the Nigeria Police Force were on the hunt for a certain individual called Mr James Idem, whom they believed was responsible for an armed robbery operation.

Unfortunately, Dele happened to be a shop owner and neighbour to James in Ikorodu market, Lagos.

“During the search for Mr James, Dele was asked by the police officers to provide information on the whereabouts of Mr James and when Dele couldn’t provide those answers, he was arrested for armed robbery.

“Dele was handed over to the Sagamu Road Police Station, from where he was transferred to SARS Ikeja, Lagos, where he was hanged and tortured.

“Dele was also forced to sign an already written statement on October 16, 2011, the same day he was charged with armed robbery at the Magistrate Court 17, Ikeja, Lagos. Dele remained in the Medium Security Custodial Centre, Kirikiri, Lagos, and never appeared in court again for the next 11 years.

“ASF France tendered an application to the Lagos State High Court on behalf of the detainee, particularly seeking his unconditional or conditional release, citing instances of torture, violation of his fundamental human rights, rights to personal liberty and freedom of movement, provided under sections 35 and 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended. The application was successful at the High Court of Lagos State,” the statement added.

The ASF country director regretted that losing 11 years of one’s life to a “systemic irregularity was an unimaginable suffering”, adding nothing would make up for the loss.

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