By Christiana Nwaogu, Leadership Newspaper
The federal government is to stop feeding the over 75, 507 inmates in the 244 federal correctional facilities nationwide as from December 31, 2023, as state governments are expected to commence feeding of state offenders from then.
The decision was revealed yesterday by the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, at the commissioning of command headquarters of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) in Owerri, Imo State.
Aregbesola, who said more than 90 percent of inmates are state offenders, said it was important that state governments begin to invest in corrections.
This is coming less than 24 hours after the federal government revealed Thursday that it would spend N22.4 billion feeding inmates across the country, saying the fund was budgeted for in the 2023 Appropriation Act.
While arguing that the move would help to further decongest custodial facilities nationwide, Aregbesola said there had been a steady rise in the population of prisons with at least 80 per cent of the inmates awaiting trial.
He said there are 244 prisons nationwide with a 75,507-inmate population, thereby leading to 82 of them being overcrowded.
He reiterated the need for a comprehensive review of the nation’s criminal justice system to address the alarming figure of inmates who are awaiting trial languishing in jail.
He noted that so far, the Buhari-led administration had done a lot in making the reform process at custodial centers impactful through increased budgetary provisions as well as upgrade of old and the construction of new infrastructure at the facilities.
The Minister said, “One big challenge we have at corrections is congestion, especially at the urban centers where the population density is high and human relations are more complex, leading to higher crime rates and the need to keep some people behind bars.
“We are addressing this challenge with the construction of six mega custodial centers 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 percent of inmates in our facilities are state offenders. It is important therefore that state governments begin to invest in corrections.
“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 programs.
“Many of them have spent time in detention longer than the maximum sentence their alleged offense carries. This predisposes them to violent conduct and they are the biggest source of the challenge of discipline and control we have at the custodial centers.
“State governments should reform their justice administration system by putting a cap on the trial period and ensuring swift administration of justice. This will eliminate the long periods of trial and the perpetual detention of suspects and the injustice this constitutes,” he stated.
The Minister also said neither he 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 and reintegrate them into society when they complete their terms,” he added.
Aregbesola also said efforts of the federal government had continued to yield positive results with various feats recorded by inmates in detention, also declaring that President Muhammadu Buhari had signed into law a constitutional amendment removing the correctional service from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List in the Constitution.
The Minister further stated that custodial facilities across Nigeria are daily strengthened to contain various attempts by enemies of state to break into the vital national security arm.
He said; “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 contribute 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 program for inmates which has been very successful. From our records, 23 inmates are undergoing post graduate programs consisting of one PhD; 16 masters degree and six post graduate diploma programs.
“A total of 465 inmates are studying various degree programs.
“In addition, 1,404 wrote SSCE and 634 passed with five credits including English and Mathematics, while 4,757 enrolled for adult education programs and 1,162 graduated.
“Vocational education enrolment also soared as 280 inmates made up of 267 males and 13 females acquired trade test grades.”
The governor of Imo State who was represented at the event by his deputy, Prof. Placid Njoku, promised that the state government would rejig its budget to make adequate provision for her inmates henceforth.
“We will go back to the drawing board and accommodate the Nigerian Correctional Service and our inmates in custody in the 2024 budget,” he said.