The Federal Government has advised State Governments to fully optimise the recently signed constitutional amendment to improve the condition of inmates in custodial facilities across the country.
This appeal was made by Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, who argued that it will help to further decongest the custodial facilities which currently harbour state offenders who make up more than 90 percent of the total number of inmates nationwide.
Aregbesola also reiterated the need for a comprehensive review of the nation’s criminal justice system in a bid to addressing the alarming figure of inmates who are awaiting trial and languishing in jail.
The Minister stated this at the commissioning of the Command Headquarters of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) in Owerri, the Imo State capital.
He noted that so far, the Buhari-led administration has done a lot in making the reformation process at Custodial Centres impactful through increased budgetary provision as well as the upgrade of old and construction of new infrastructure at the facilities.
Aregbesola said: “One big challenge we have at Corrections is congestion, especially at the urban centres where the population density is high and human relations are more complex, leading to higher crime rate and the need to keep some people behind bars. But we are addressing this challenge with the construction of six mega custodial centres in the six geopolitical zones of the country. The ones in Kano and Abuja are ready and with regular funding, the remaining will be completed.
“It is also hoped that State Governments will take advantage of the constitution amendment recently signed by President Muhammadu Buhari which makes corrections a concurrent affair. It is on record that more than 90 per cent of inmates in our facilities are state offenders. It is important therefore that State Governments begin to invest in corrections.
For the Minister, “It is even more important to reform the criminal justice system. I have been making the case and I will continue to do so, that 70 per cent of inmates are awaiting trial and constitute the majority in our facilities. The sad thing about this is we cannot statutorily begin their process of reformation because they are assumed to be innocent, except for those who voluntarily wish to participate in any of our programmes.
“Many of them have spent time in detention longer than the maximum sentence their alleged offence carries. This predispose them to violent conduct and they are the biggest source of the challenge of discipline and control we have at the custodial centres. State governments should reform their justice administration system by putting a cap on the trial period and ensure swift administration of justice. This will eliminate the long period of trial and the perpetual detention of suspects and the injustice this constitutes”
The Minister also stated that neither the Minister nor the NCoS can on their own release inmates. “Let me use this opportunity to clarify a misconception in the public. NCoS or the Minister have no power of detention or release of inmates. They are brought to our facilities through a valid court warrant and it is by the same process that they are released. Convicts can also be released by the president or a state governor exercising the prerogative of mercy. Our own responsibility therefore is to keep them in safe custody and keep society safe from them – while we rehabilitate them and reintegrate them back into society when they complete their terms.”
Aregbesola also added that efforts of the Federal Government have continued to yield positive results with various landmark feats recorded by inmates in detention, also declaring that since President Muhammadu Buhari has signed into law, a constitutional amendment removing the Correctional Service from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List in the Constitution, the Federal Government will stop feeding state inmates by December 31, 2023.
“Furthermore, by January 1, 2024, the Federal Government will stop feeding state inmates kept in federal facilities. State governments must now start budgeting for feeding their inmates in federal facilities while we wait for them to build their own facilities.”, Ogbeni Aregbesola said.
The Minister stressed further that custodial facilities across Nigeria are daily strengthened to contain various attempts by enemies of state to break into the vital national security arm.
“On the later, we have been successful. While there have been unfortunate cases of recidivism, the overwhelming number of our inmates have returned to society to be better citizens and contributing their own quota to national development.
“For instance, we were treated to sublime entertainment at Ilesa by a musical band of inmates whose performance will dwarf most of the bands we have in our society. Hopefully they will continue and become great in the land upon their release.
“We also have a robust educational programme for inmates which has been very successful. From our record, 23 inmates are undergoing Post Graduate Programmes comprising of One PhD; 16 Masters Degree; and six Post Graduate Diploma Programmes.
“A total of 465 inmates are studying various Degree Programmes such as Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution; Criminology and Security Studies, Political Science, Law, etc.
In addition, 1,404 wrote SSCE and 634 passed with five credits, including English and Mathematics, while 4,757 enrolled for Adult Education programme and 1,162 graduated. These are just a few.
“Vocational education enrolment also soared as 280 inmates made up of 267 males and 13 females acquired Trade Test Grades III, II and I in sundry vocations like woodwork, welding, shoe-making, barbing, dress-making, etc.
The Minister reiterated the need for officers to guard the custodial facilities very well and prevent any security breach as had happened in the recent past. “I was last in Owerri in the wake of the attack on our facility here, emanating from the #endsars riots nationwide and sporadic attacks on custodial centres across the country.
“Thankfully that sad era is behind us. Our facilities have been fortified and such attempts again have been well contained. I will therefore like to charge our personnel to be thoroughly professional and courageous at all times. They should maintain the conception of the custodial centres as an inviolable red zone.”
He commended the leadership of the NCoS under the Comptroller General, Haliru Nababa, urging officers to continue to display the highest sense of professionalism in the discharge of their duties.
The Governor of Imo State who was represented at the event by his Deputy, Prof. Placid Njoku, eulogized the Minister for his passion for the job and especially his humanitarian nature which has shown through all the innovations he brought to Corrections, stating that the state government will rejig its budget to make adequate provision for her inmates going forward.
“We would go back to the drawing board and accommodate the Nigerian Correctional Service and our inmates in custody in the 2024 budget.
“I must also commend you for your humanitarian nature and plea for the release of inmates who are languishing in the custodial facilities in the state because they couldn’t pay their option of fine. We would look into your request and continue to support the service in the discharge of its constitutional duty,” Deputy Governor Njoku stated.
Also speaking at the event, the Controller General of the Nigerian Correctional Centre, Haliru Nababa, noted that the office complex being commissioned signifies the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration commitment to providing conducive working environment for the staff of the service.
“This edifice is another clear manifestation of the golden footprints of the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, in the NCoS. No doubt the Correctional Service now stands transformed and poised to answer its name anywhere among its equal,” the CG noted.
Also at the event were the Chief Judge of Imo State represented by Justice Chinyere Okereke; the traditional ruler of Avu Community represented by Chief Dr. Fidel Onyere, NCoS DG Works and Logistics, Tosin Akinrujomu; heads of security agencies in the state amongst other invited guests.