DRUG trafficking, poor living condition, overcrowding, and other issues were considered by the Federal Government in 2019 to reform the Nigerian Prisons Service. The Nigerian Correctional Services Bill was signed into law on August 14, 2019, repealing the Prisons Act, Cap P29, Laws of the Federation, 2004. It enacted the Nigerian Correctional Services Act to address issues not covered under the repealed Act and to improve prisons administration. The Act emphasizes the orientation of rehabilitation instead of punishment. It discourages the perception of prisons as centres for retribution and shifts focus to a “correctional” facility dedicated to reformation, rehabilitation, reintegration, and better treatment of prisoners. The Act aims to address the stigmatization of inmates, and those trained and demonstrating competence are issued certificates to facilitate their reintegration into society.
FURTHERMORE, the Nigerian Correctional Service Act (2019) provides for medical, psychological, spiritual, and counselling services for offenders. It also allows for deploying educational and vocational skills training programmes to enhance human capacity. Section 34(1-2) promotes special care for female inmates to address their specific needs, such as medical and nutritional requirements, care for pregnant and nursing inmates, as well as the provision of a crèche in every female custodial centre for the well-being of babies in custody with their mothers. It also ensures prenatal and antenatal healthcare and sanitary provisions for female inmates.
FOUR years on, the story seems to have remained the same. Nigerian prisons are still breeding grounds for criminals rather than embodying the reformation principles outlined in the 2019 Act. Our recent investigation has revealed that vocational training for inmates is minimal, living conditions are poor, feeding falls below expectations, and prisons have become trading grounds for drugs. Several reports suggest that Nigerian prisons are fertile grounds for sodomy.
CURRENTLY, most of the correctional centres are congested. For instance, Olokuta Correctional Centre in Akure, which is supposed to house less than 300 inmates, now accommodates over 900. Nigeria ranks 27th among countries with the highest number of inmates globally and first in West Africa, according to World Prison Brief (WPB), an institution collating data on prisons worldwide. With a capacity for about 50,000 inmates, Nigeria’s correctional centres house over 70,000 inmates, and over 70% of them are awaiting trial.There are alleged misappropriations of funds meant for inmate rehabilitation. Most custodial homes are understaffed, and many available staff lack the relevant skills to train inmates in vocational studies. Our investigation also revealed that officers in charge of the centres are poorly remunerated and motivated, with many of their incentives withheld.
RATHER than being centres for reformation and rehabilitation, offenders have become hardened rather than corrected. Vocational training of inmates is mainly sponsored by non-governmental organizations, religious bodies, and interventionists visiting prisons to support the inmates in their rehabilitation process. We can authoritatively say that Nigerian correctional centres need correction before they can correct inmates. The 2019 reform is purely nomenclatural.
WE call on the Minister of Interior, Bunmi-Tunji Ojo, to bring his midas touch to bear on real reforms of the prisons service rather than the current pseudo-reform in the service. The Correctional Service, meant for reformation, rehabilitation, and reintegration of offenders, must be adequately funded, and funds allotted to the service must be judiciously utilized. Our investigation and many others have shown several indications of rot in the service. These issues must be addressed for the centres to serve their intended purposes. Fresh individuals with implementable ideas should be introduced into the service.
WHILE we acknowledge that some inmates have access to education, especially at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), we call for the establishment of equipped technical education and study centres in each facility. These centres will provide inmates with opportunities to undertake courses and acquire skills they can utilize when they are out of incarceration. We also urge the government to activate the non-custodial fund established under section 44 of the NCSA 2019. This fund will allow NGOs, organizations, and private individuals to contribute to the government’s efforts toward rehabilitating inmates. We equally recommend implementing non-custodial measures outlined under the ACJA/ACJL and NCSA 2019, which are effective alternatives to incarceration for the rehabilitation of inmates. Implementing these measures will decongest prisons and facilitate the proper rehabilitation of offenders at custodial homes.
THE 2019 Act is described as one of the best prisons policy documents in the world if properly implemented. The Federal Government should collaborate with private organizations to manage the implementation of the Act. Instead of leaving the administration and management of correction centres solely to the Federal Government, State Governments must also fulfil their responsibilities as outlined in the 2019 Act. We make bold to say that unless the spirit and letters of the 2019 Act are strictly followed and implemented, the Nigerian Correctional Services will continue to exist on paper with only name change from the former Prisons Service without any meaningful change from the old order.