At the commissioning of command headquarters of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) in Owerri, Imo State, the minister of interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, revealed that the federal government will stop provision of food for prison inmates in the 244 correctional facilities. This action will begin on December 31, 2023 as state governments are required to begin feeding state offenders on the same day. It was said that about 90 percent of prisoners are state offenders which makes it essential for state governments to commence investment in corrections.
Less than 24 hours before the announcement was made, the federal government gave an estimated N22.4 billion to be spent feeding inmates nationwide, with allocation of the funds done under the 2023 Appropriation Act. Aregbesola argued that there would be more decongestion of custodial facilities across the country, adding that there have been a rising increase in the population of prisons in the country as over 80 percent of them await trial. He said that about 82 of the prisons are currently overcrowded.
Six mega custodial centers are being constructed.
As a means of addressing the alarmingly increasing number of inmates who are awaiting trail yet rotting in jail, the minister stressed the need to comprehensively review the Nigerian criminal justice system. So far, the Buhari-led administration has contributed immensely to ensuring the effectiveness of reform process in custodial centers through improved budgetary provisions, and upgrade and construction of old and new infrastructure respective in the facilities. A major challenge in the facilities is congestion.
Congestion is predominant in urban centers due to high population density and complexity of human relations which has led to increased crime rates and need to lock up some people. This challenge is being addressed by construction of six mega custodial centers in the country’s six geopolitical zones. Aregbesola hoped that state governments will properly make use of the recently amended constitution signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, which approves corrections as a concurrent affair, to their advantage.
State Governors & President can release inmates.
Currently, about 70 percent of inmates are awaiting trial and are assumed to be innocent. Their assumed innocence implies the impossibility of statutorily commencing their reformation process only if being voluntarily requested. The time the majority of them have spent in detention is much more than the actual sentence attached to their alleged offences. Resultantly, they become more violent, constituting the major challenge of discipline and control affecting custodial centers. Therefore, states should ensure reformation of justice administration system and swift justice of administration.
According to the minister, neither the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) nor the minister has the power to detain or release an inmate. They are brought into custody through a valid court warrant and are released through the same means. However, the president or a state governor has the power to release convicts while exercising an action known as prerogative of mercy. It is the duty of the NCoS to guarantee safe custody and ensure the society is safe from criminals that are being rehabilitated.
Inmates embrace educational system with achievements.
The government has robust educational programme for inmates which has yielded success over the years. National records has it that 23 prisoners are enrolled under post graduate programmes — one PhD, sixteen masters degree and six post graduate diploma programmes. Over 400 inmates are studying different degree programmes, 1,404 sat for SSCE and 634 passed having five credits including mathematics and English, 4,757 studied adult education courses and 1,162 graduated. The vocational education enrollment is also doing well and achieving these feats.