Nigerian Prisons Need More Vehicles
The Federal Government has inaugurated 239 assorted operational vehicles and farm tractors as part of plans to rehabilitate and fast-track access to justice for inmates in Nigerian prisons. The Minister of Interior, retired Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau while inaugurating the operational vehicles recently in Abuja, said the measure was part of efforts to reform the operations of the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS).
He decried the neglect of the NPS over the years and the attendant myriad of challenges it had grappled with, especially infrastructural decay and logistic constrains. This is in tandem with the fact sheet released by Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) in partnership with the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) which revealed as at the end of 2016, the fleet capacity of the prisons stood at just 268 vehicles in various stages of disrepair.
These are vehicles that are supposed to cater for the prisoners numbering about 5022 going to various courts scattered all over the 774 local government areas of the country. These 268 vehicles in the prison inventory include those burnt in the war against insurgents in the North Eastern part of the country and quite a sizeable number rendered unserviceable by the lack of funding that has characterised prisons administration for a very long time. The paucity of escort duty vehicles in the prisons according to the fact sheet has surely affected the ability of remanded prisoners to attend courts because there is no way anyone would expect that 268 vehicles will service the 1121 courts operating in the 774 local government areas of the country.
For instance, the prisons serving the FCT are Kuje, Suleja, Keffi and Dukpa Farm center. The farm center seldom holds pre-trial prisoners. So the prisons serving the ATPs in the FCT are Kuje, Keffi and Suleja. Kuje prison with a capacity of 560 now has a population of 800 inmates out of which 560 or 70 Percent are awaiting trial, it serves 4 local government areas of the FCT and attends to the needs of 90 courts in these areas. It has only 3 Green Maria mini trucks at its disposal. Suleja on the other hand, with a capacity of 250 inmates now has a population of 415 inmates out of which 249 or 60 percent of the total inmates are awaiting trial; it also serves the 4 local council areas in the FCT in addition to 3 other local government areas of Niger state. Suleja services 38 courts in these areas but the logistic strength of that prison is 3 mini vans.
The fact sheet also revealed that the Calabar prisons in Cross River state with a population of 790 prisoners out of which 349 or 45 Percent are awaiting trial serving 6 local government areas with 60 courts, have just three Black Maria. States like Kaduna and Kano have four black Marias serving 77 and 49 courts respectively. Gombe with just two vehicles is also serving 77 courts while Enugu with 3 vehicles serving 60 courts.
While the recent commissioning of 239 assorted operational vehicles is laudable, it leaves more questions than answers regarding the nature of distribution of the vehicles for optimum utility. This is apparently due to what seems like arbitrary nature in which the vehicles are distributed across states of the federation.
Furthermore, commending the recent addition of vehicles to Nigerian Prisons Service, the available statistics regarding the number of vehicles in each state and the number of courts they serve leaves much to be desired. More so, issues have been raised regarding the maintenance of both the old and newly inaugurated vehicles and questions have been asked if there are budgetary provisions for the vehicles.
However, there is reason to be optimistic. The present administration has been trying to remedy the situation. In the last few months, the government has procured many vehicles intended to address these deficiencies. The present Prison Administration also did a very wise thing by deciding to procure these vehicles direct from the car companies instead of procuring them through middle men by way of contract. This singular action has led to the maximisation of bargain because where contract would have bought 100 vehicles; direct procurement has yielded 120 vehicles. So far about 180 vehicles of diverse uses and designs have been procured for the Service and this is the very first significant intervention in this area of Prisons logistics in close to 15 years.
This apparently means, the present Administration has come to realize the importance of the escort duty fleet in the administration of criminal justice and have expressed a deep resolve to ensure that the fleet is not only provided for but is sustained. Let us hope they live up to their promise.
While it is not yet uhuru, experts recommend that the assurance that criminal justice operations will enjoy speed can only be guaranteed if the vehicular capacity is so improved that any prison serving 50 courts and above should not have any fleet less than 15 mini vans for the purpose of ensuring that all pre-trial detainees are in court as and when due. Anything less means that as a Nation, we are not serious in these matters. It is this lack of seriousness in criminal Justice matters that made the United Nations to publicly express disdain and regret over the Nigerian Criminal Justice System because the Nigerian Prisons typifies the state of criminal justice delivery in Nigeria today.
DISTRIBUTION OF BLACK MARIA
|STATE||PRISON||LGA SERVICED||NO OF COURTS SERVICED||NO OF FUNCTIONAL BLACK MARIA|
|1||AKWA IBOM||UYO PRISON||14||35||3|
|3||CROSS RIVER||CALABAR PRISON||6||50||2|
|5||KEBBI||B/KEBBI OLD PRISON||4||39||1|
|26||LAGOS||MAXIMUM SEC. PRISON||5||104||3|
|MEDIUM SEC. PRISON||8||93||2|
|27||OGUN||ABEOKUTA OLD PRISON||8||10||2|
|ABEOKUTA NEW PRISON||3||8||2|