4 YEARS AFTER LAW WAS ENACTED, STATES YET TO BUILD THEIR OWN PRISONS

Four years after the amendment of the 1999 Constitution which removed the Nigerian Correctional Service(NCoS) from the Exclusive to the Concurrent Legislative list, states across the federation have shied away from taking advantage of the new provisions to build, own and manage correctional facilities in their domain, Blueprint investigation has revealed.

Our findings in 27 of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, showed except for Imo and Edo states that took some initiatives, others have largely seemed unmindful of their constitutional rights in that regard.

The Bill

Blueprint recalls that the bill for the amendment of the extant Act was first presented and read in the Senate January 2008, and dragged on for 11 years until it was eventually signed into law July 29, 2019 as the Nigerian Correctional Service Act of 2019 by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The 2019 Act  altered some provisions in the 2004 version including the nomenclature “Prison” that was said to have a stigmatising effect and reflected a punitive philosophy, while in the amended Act, “Prison”  is replaced with the term “Correctional” that reflects a philosophy of true reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration.

Accordingly, the system is said to have graduated from being punitive and retributive to that which employs treatment and psychological mechanisms to modify the criminal behaviour of offenders.

With the coming into effect of the new 2019 Act, state governments were to either build and manage their correctional facilities or pay the cost of keeping their inmates at facilities built by the federal government.

FG urges states on custodial responsibilities

Sometime in May this year, the then Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, at a two-day High Level Conference on Decongestion and Corrections Administration in Abuja, said the 2019 Act clearly segments states and federal offenders, noting that the federal government is responsible for federal offenders and rightly manages custodial facilities for such inmates while the states are to bear the financial and other burdens of inmates whose offences were local in line with available justice system.

Aregbesola pointedly told the states that the federal government could no longer be responsible for correctional management of state offenders, and therefore directed state governments to build and manage their own custodial facilities as empowered in the newly amended Nigerian Correctional Service Act of 2019.

According to him, as at May this year, Nigeria had 244 custodial centres with capacity for 52,278 inmates, but lamented that currently they have exceeded their limit by over 23,000.

”These facilities are being run by the federal government but it should be noted that the criminal justice system of Nigeria makes provision for state and federal offences, however, until the amendment of the Constitution, only the federal government was in charge of custodial centres.

”With the amendment of the Constitution in this regard, states are now empowered to build correctional centres and facilities to house offenders who are convicted and sentenced for committing state offences. Where states are unable to build custodial centres, it is believed that they can suggest ways to collaborate with the federal government in feeding and housing these state offenders,” he had said.

Aregbesola had further disclosed that the burden of catering for the welfare of the more than 52,000 inmates was too cumbersome for the federal government alone to bear, adding that “at the moment, the federal government spends over N22.9 billion to feed inmates across 244 correctional facilities in the country annually.”

Findings

However, in 10 of the facilities carefully looked into by Blueprint, the amount expended on the feeding of inmates varies from one centre to another.

We learnt, for instance, in the facilities in Lagos and Abuja, N1, 500 is recorded as the feeding amount per day per inmate while in Kaduna N850 is the uniform amount for both inmates awaiting trial and those convicted.

The story is, however, different in Benue, Edo, Imo, Niger, Rivers and Oyo states custodial centres where, though the sum varies between N750 to N1200, a good number of former inmates who spoke to our reporter claimed they never received any feeding from the correctional officers.

”We depended on supplies from our relatives who visited and were even in fact mostly extorted by correctional officers and the police personnel. Some inmates are fed only when a judge or some other officials tour these facilities just for official purposes”, said Umar, one of the inmates, who served his term in Minna, Niger state said.

Apart from being a drain on the scale of revenue of the federal government, even the meager funds it could have generated from fines imposed on inmates hardly come. Our investigation also revealed that some 4,067 inmates remained in custody for being unable to pay fines of N1 million and below.

It was further discovered that on the average, in all the custodial centers across the country, especially at the medium custodial centres, inmates awaiting trial make up over 80% of the total inmates while the remaining 20% are the inmates convicted, either those sentenced to life imprisonment, those sentenced to a number of years behind bars or those condemned to be executed.

For example, in the Kaduna Medium Custodial Centre, there are over 1,950 inmates, out of which only slightly above 400 inmates were sentenced or condemned, while over 1,500 inmates are awaiting trial.

This huge number of inmates awaiting trial include those suspected of stealing chicken, or foodstuff, those who stole a phone, and those who had engaged in fighting.

Imo, Edo show interest

In 2019, the Edo state government had in response to the federal government’s prison and decongestion reform, earmarked 50-hectare correctional centres to strengthen the justice system in the state.

Nothing was heard again until July, 2023 when Governor Godwin Obaseki disclosed that the state had allocated “100 hectares of land in Orhionmwon local government area for the development of a state-run correctional facility.”

The governor had said: “The proposed correctional centre design is ready. But we can’t proceed to award the contract to build without seeking clarification, assistance and support from the Chief Justice of the state.”

However, when contacted for further clarification, the state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Chris Nehikhare, said the state Ministry of Justice would provide an update on the proposed project. For two weeks thereafter, there was no response from the ministry.

In the case of Imo state, erstwhile governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, had in 2019, at Avu, along Port Harcourt Road, Owerri constructed a Correctional Service Centre for the federal government to enable them relocate from the present location in the Owerri metropolis.

But this facility remained unoccupied as at the time of this report, just like the newly constructed Imo state Police Command headquarters which has suffered same fate.

When contacted, the covering Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Homeland Security who did not mention her name, made it clear that she had no other knowledge of a Correctional Service Centre being constructed by the state government.

Benue, Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Niger

Also, findings on the position of the Benue state government showed the state was yet to domesticate the 2019 Act.

“However, the Benue State Government is yet to domesticate the law and establish its correctional Centres. The problem is building such facilities like a Correctional Centre is capital intensive and the state may not be willing at the moment to venture into construction of the centres.

“The former Governor of the state, Samuel Ortom, had in his little way only built some structures and donated to the already existing correctional centre in Makurdi, the state capital and assisted the centre with other things,” the Deputy Superintendent of Correctional Center, Nwanchor Stephen, said.

Though the Akwa Ibom state government has yet to make any move to build, own and manage its custodial facility, we learnt the new administration may consider doing so, according to the Public Relations Officer of Correctional Service in the state, Mr Richard Metong.

“Since the federal government has moved correctional matters from the exclusive to the concurrent list, states will begin to make legislations on correctional matters,” he said.

Though Lagos state is yet to tinker with the idea of building correctional facilities for the state offenders, but there exists a proactive partnership and synergy between the NCoS and the state government to ensure an effective administration of criminal justice in the state.

It seems Lagos government tends to be content with the federal government facilities at Kirikiri and Alagbon.

The Lagos state Command Public Relation Officer, CSC O.O Oladokun informed one of our correspondents of an intervention in infrastructural development with new cell blocks being built in the Command.

Blueprint recalls that in 2018, the United Kingdom had made a plan to build a correctional facility- a 112-bed wing inside the Kirikiri prison- to enable the British government transfer some prisoners to Nigeria.

The facility was planned to be built according to United Nations specifications at an estimated cost of £700,000 then, according to a statement submitted to Parliament by then Foreign Secretary, Mr. Boris Johnson. This followed an initial agreement reached between Britain and Nigeria in 2014, but it has remained a mirage.

In Niger state, the idea of building and managing a correctional facility seems strange, according to an official in the Government House who said he had no authority to speak on the issue. “No such plan for now. It is not a priority.”

But the Command Public Relations Officer (CPRO) of the Nigerian Correctional Service, SC Rabiu Mohammad Shuaibu, said:  “I have no knowledge of any Correctional facility built or being built by the state government. We have had no record of any incidence of jailbreak, riot or breach in our custodial centres in the last seven years.”

Though cases of custodial congestion have been recurrent in Kaduna following growing incidences of criminality and banditry in the state, we learnt from impeccable sources that neither the past nor present administration considers building and managing custodial facilities of any priority.

Rather, it would rely on available federal correctional centres in the state.

Oyo, Rivers, Bayelsa, Osun, Plateau

Same applies to Oyo, Rivers, Bayelsa, Osun and Plateau states respectively where our findings revealed that the governments of those states do not consider domesticating the Nigerian Correctional Service 2019 Act largely because of the cumbersome financial profile such venture entails.

This is mostly in states that have experienced less frequent cases of jailbreak such as was the July 2022 Kuje jailbreak where no fewer than 900 inmates including Boko Haram elements escaped, and a year later some 400 of the escapees were yet to be recaptured.

For instance, Benue, Niger, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Osun, Plateau, Sokoto, Kebbi, and Taraba states among others have not had tangible cases of breach of custodial centres in their states for over five years.

Criminologist seeks review of panel code

Blueprint findings established that correctional facilities congestion are majorly as a result of shoddy handling of cases by prosecutors.

A criminologist in the employ of the NCoS, who craved anonymity, said the situation is peculiar only to Nigeria and probably Africa because of their poor penal code system.

“We have a huge number of inmates awaiting trial in custodial centers across the country and they are taking up a huge chunk of the expenses on the inmates, or let me just say a huge part of Nigeria Correctional Service expenditure.

“A review of the penal code stating the period a suspect can spend behind bars awaiting trial for each offence will resolve the problem. That is what should be done.

“It is the lawmakers that can help us out. But to hasten the solution to decongest our custodial centers and reduce cost of running the centers, President Bola Tinubu should send an executive bill to the National Assembly to review the penal code in order to find a quick solution and decongest our custodial centers,” said the top NCoS chief

Source: https://blueprint.ng/4-years-after-constitutional-amendment-states-reluctant-to-build-own-manage-correctional-facilities-investigation/

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