Tackling Prison Congestion in Nigeria
By James Okoh
“Most prisons in Nigeria are over a hundred years old and were built with the intention for punishment and not for corrections” Minister of Interior Lt. General Abdulrahman B Dambazau (RTD) stated this on Friday 16th February, 2018 at the Ground-Breaking Ceremony of 3000 capacity Prison in Janguza, Kano, Nigeria.
True to this assertion, quite a number of prisons in Nigeria were built when the population of the Country was far less than a hundred million persons. Since then, there has been gradual increase in population with a corresponding growth in Socio-economic activities.
Undoubtedly, this development has also led to increase in crime and criminality. The criminal justice systems (CJS), notably the Judiciary and the Police in response, have continued to expand in leap and bounds but without any corresponding expansion in the Prisons, which hold the product of these institutions. Thus the few prisons built by the Colonial masters that never had any appreciable improvement became overwhelmed by population explosion among prisoners.
The infrastructural gap soon became the bane of service delivery in the institution as obtainable in contemporary penal system even among developing nations.
There is no gainsaying that the aim of imprisonment has shifted from punitive intent to correction driven, which the Hon. Minister aptly captured when he stated that Prisons are not suppose to be for punishment, but for corrections and rehabilitation.
In his words “prisons today are not supposed to be for punishment, not for vengeance, and not for victimization, they are meant to be places for corrections and rehabilitation, so that upon discharge, these persons will not only be useful to themselves, but to the society at large”.
However, this can hardly be said of a noisome environment due to overbearing population of awaiting trial persons. It is in order to break this jinx that the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has decided to embark on this project.
According to the Hon. Minister of Interior, the Kano 3000 capacity Prison is one among the six that are expected to be built in the six geo-political Zones of the country. This happened to be the first, not because Kano is home to a lot of prisoners, but because the Kano State Governor, Dr Abdullahi Umaru Ganduje was the first amongst other Governors to offer a parcel of land for the Project.
Dambazau further stated that the next will be that of the South-South Zone and it will be cited at Bori in Rivers State. The intention is not only to keep people in Prisons, but to correct and send them back into the society as better citizens, therefore the new concept is expected to allow for proper reformation and rehabilitation of persons in Prisons custody.
The 3000 capacity Prison has a maximum security unit designated for high profile inmates, a Medium Security for those assessed to be low profile inmates; the third unit is designated for Female inmates.
Adequate provision is made for workshops for skill acquisition, classrooms for formal education, and recreational yard for inmates’ relaxation.
There is also a provision for two court rooms for hearing of high profile cases, rather than taking the risk of transporting them to the conventional court. Also attached to the Prison are: Barracks, Hospital, and Shopping Mall that will serve both Staff and the immediate community.
The minister of interior directed that a farm centre should be attached to each of the 3000 capacity Prison for training of inmates in Agriculture and generation of funds.
He also solicited the support of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) to run a Drug Rehabilitation Centre within the facility to cater for the needs of those committed to prisons on substance abuse. This is to inject professional touch to the care and support currently being given by the Prisons Service.
It would be recalled that the Controller General of Prisons (CGP) Ja’afaru Ahmed on assumption of duty in May 2015 had listed numerous challenges confronting the Service amongst which is infrastructural decay.
The increased budgetary provisions by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has gone a long way to ameliorate this challenge through the intervention in infrastructure, logistics, resuscitating moribund farm centres, improved Medicare for the inmates, staff motivation through regular promotion and capacity development, and decongesting of the offender population.
Though not out of the woods, there is however no doubt that the Prison of today is a marked departure from the dungeon of yester years.
SP James O OKOH
PRISONS PUBLIC RELATIONS UNIT
Nigeria Prison Service Hq, Abuja