Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, made a very ambitious promise on October 2019. He promised that Nigerian prisons, now renamed correctional facilities, will be decongested.
Aregbesola’s statement is ambitious because every government in the last 20 years had instituted one prison reform or the other, with little or no result. From June 2001, for example, former President Olosegun Obasanjo set up six different inter-ministerial, presidential and working group committees on prison reform. The situation got so unwieldy that in 2007, the same government set up a committee to harmonise the reports of the various committees.
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According to Honourable Minister of Justice, there are 74,127 inmates in custody in the nation’s custodial centres. Out of that number, 52,226 are pre-trial inmates, 21,901 are convicts and those that are condemned.
Aregbesola has pointed out that our correctional centres are operating far beyond their capacities. United Nations has encouraged member countries to pay necessary attention to their prisons and correctional centres. The UN expects individual nations to carry out the decongestion exercise under internationally acceptable best practices as it suits the local environment.
The minister had called for immediate decongestion of correctional centres to prevent the spread of coronavirus. On March 28, President Buhari approved the decongestion of Correctional Service formations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The delay in the justice system has put Aregbesola and the pre-trial inmates in hard moment. The delay in justice system is putting pressure on the minister to release some of them.
I must blame the menace of correctional centres congestion on the nature of criminal justice system in Nigeria. The criminal justice system encompasses the police, court, correctional centres and other law enforcement agencies.
Investigation takes weeks or months to conclude and brought to court for trial. The other factor is the slow pace of justice dispensation in the country which is attributable to long and, sometimes, mischievous adjournment of cases which have led to non-dispensation of most cases thereby abandoning the inmates in prisons.
Also due to the inherent lapses in the system, the correctional centres, which are supposed to be reformatory have turned punitive, thereby defeating the true essence of sending convicts to prisons.
The implication of this reversed system of prison administration is that the inmates of our correctional centres come out more criminally minded than they were before conviction.
The time has come for the nation to do away with such stop-gaps. Of equal importance is the upward review of funding of the judiciary and the employment of right Judiciary personnel to do the job.
With adequate funding, the prison authorities would be able to bring inmates to and from the courts to the prisons. In the present situation, there are instances where the courts cannot sit because there are no vehicles to transport them to the courts.
The police also should be given the wherewithal to perform their constitutional role in justice dispensation. It is my candid view that when these are done, the justice delivery system would improve and this, in turn, would help to decongest our prisons for a saner society.
Inwalomhe Donald. (email@example.com)