Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Nigerian Correctional Service Bill into law. The bill, among other things, changes the name of the Nigerian Prison Service to Nigerian Correctional Service. Will it breed the desired reform in prison administration, KEHINDE OSASONA asks?
Globally, the main aim of establishing prison institution is to provide a rehabilitation and correctional facility for those who have violated the law. Nevertheless, the extent to which this dictum is true in practice has been a subject of debate over the years.
Now, coming to Nigeria, the prison service was established on the basis of imprisonment policy, to manage criminals in prison yards.
This statutory function empowers the Nigerian prison operatives to among other functions keep convicted prisoners or offenders as the case may be for safe custody.
With the implementation of this imprisonment policy over the years in the country, many believed that the name of the Nigerian prison itself glues a negative label on anyone that finds his way there and that it is even not as correctional as it should be. There have, therefore, been agitations by stakeholders in Nigeria on the need to reform the Nigerian Prisons in order to make its service conform to what is obtainable in other climes.
Blueprint recalls that in response to the agitation against the de-humanizing condition of prison inmates across the country, the federal government had through the Attorney General Federation set up a committee in 2017 to carry out necessary reforms.
Inauguration of National Stakeholders’ Committee on Prison Reforms
Early this year, the National Stakeholders’ Committee on Prison Reforms was inaugurated and has carried out tour of prisons formations in the country with a view to decongesting the over-populated facilities across the country.
The process started late 2017 with a visit to Kuje Maximum Prisons, Abuja, where the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), secured the release of some inmates, particularly those on awaiting trial over minor offences.
The committee, led by Malami, was in Kaduna and Kano States, where about 810 inmates were released from various prisons across the states.
The committee which was led by the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Justice Ishaq Bello, was charged with the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of the Federal Executive Council’s directives towards fast tracking decongestion of prisons.
The committee was equally charged with the task of producing roadmaps, not only for the decongestion but also management of available facilities.
Other duties include development of strategy for deployment of technology and the implementation of Virtual Automated Case Management System.
Among other functions, the committee was also mandated to carry out periodic analysis of the number of detainees, including those discharged, granted bail or convicted; conduct audit of criminal cases pending in courts to ascertain causes of delay in prosecution, and to undertake an audit of prison facilities with a view to determining their capacities.
During one of its visits led by its chairman, Justice Bello and Secretary, Mrs Leticia Ayoola-Daniels, they took the first step by visiting Abuja prison, where it discovered that the facility originally meant for 500 inmates was overstretched to house 823 inmates.
The visit however facilitated the release of 126 inmates of Kuje prisons and those of other neighbouring states, including Niger and Nassarawa.
President’s Assent on Change of Name for Nigerian Prisons
President Buhari had previously declined to sign the bill when lawmakers first passed and sent it to him in April this year.
Buhari declined on the grounds that the bill violates Sections 81 and 84 of the Nigerian Constitution, which guarantees the independence of the judiciary.
Following the rejection, the lawmakers amended the bill in May and resent it to the president for his assent.
The bill was first presented and read in the Senate in January 2008, 11 years ago, by a former senator and current chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Victor Ndoma-Egba, in the sixth assembly.
One of the key reforms in the bill was the plan to change the name of the, Nigerian Prisons Service to Nigeria Correctional Service. The Correctional Service is divided into two main areas which are the Custodial Service and Non-custodial Service.
The Custodial Service will, among other things, take control of persons legally interned in safe, secure and humane conditions and provide support to facilitate the speedy disposal of cases of persons awaiting trial.
In the same vein, the Non-custodial Service will tae care of administration of non-custodial measures like community service, probation, parole, restorative justice measures and such other measures as a court of competent jurisdiction may order.
Basically, the objective of the law is to focus on correction and promote reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders.
Not only that, the bill equally states that the Correctional Service must initiate behaviour modification of inmates through the provision of medical, psychological, spiritual and counselling services for all offenders including violent extremists.
Before the new development, many stakeholders have continually harped on the need to carry out holistic reform of the prisons as a way of enhancing the system.
One of them, Adetoro Olumuyiwa, a security expert was quoted recently in an interview with a Nigerian daily newspaper as saying accusing the Federal Government of paying lip service to prison reforms, alleging that government was more interested in securing the facilities than investing in programmes that would better the lives of the inmates once they serve out their sentences.
She deplored the fact that inmates are not only overcrowded in their unhygienic cells that are bereft of amenities, and these hostile environments only get them maladjusted.
Olumuyiwa maintained that Nigerian prisons are far from being reformation centres that they ought to be, and are now breeding grounds for hardened criminals, as confirmed by the dysfunctional conduct of former inmates, who sooner or later return to crime after release.
She also lamented a situation where prisons are now heavily populated by suspects that committed bailable offences, saying this is a reflection of the very poor justice delivery system that is in place.
She, therefore, said there must be renewed commitment to evolving a new prison order in the country, and agencies involved in the chain, right from the Nigeria Police, to the judiciary and the Nigeria Prison Service must be ready for a total overhaul of the system.
“It is also high time we realised that not all of those on death row would eventually be killed; some of them will get state pardon or might be set free after a retrial, so their rights should in no way be curtailed while they are still alive. It is very important that inmates are equipped with one form of skill or the other because they would need such for survival after serving their jail sentences.
At this juncture, it would not be out of place to state here that with Prison reform, there is likelihood in social reintegration and increase in compliance with relevant international standards and norms.
With the signing of the bill into law therefore, stakeholders are of the views that by changing the Nigerian prisons service to the Nigerian Correctional Service, the nation would experience the much-desired reforms in its prison system.No tags for this post.