The federal government on Thursday told state governments to either build and manage their correctional facilities or pay the cost of keeping their inmates at facilities built by the central government.
Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, said even though the justice system clearly segments states and federal offenders, the federal government has been the only one in charge of custodial facilities and has to bear the burden of financing them.
He said the federal government can no longer be responsible for correctional management of state offenders, urging state governments to build and manage their own custodial facilities as empowered in the newly amended Nigerian Correctional Service Act of 2019.
He made this known at a two-day High Level Conference on Decongestion and Corrections Administration in Abuja.
He said that Nigeria presently has 244 custodial centres with the bulk of them being in the state capitals and the centres which have a provision for 52,278 inmates, as at Tuesday 9th May 2023 exceeded their limit by over 23,000.
He said: “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.”
The minister noted that the primary objective of the constitution amendment on Corrections assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari, is to correct the overcrowding of our custodial centres resulting from a high number of pre-trial detentions, arbitrary arrests.
He said: “Let me make this clear ab initio. When we talk about congestion, this is a phenomenon of the large urban centres in places like Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Benin, Owerri, Enugu and state capitals in general. The custodial facilities in the not so urban areas are not as overcrowded, with many of them indeed operating below capacity.
“As population grows and society becomes more complex, conflicts in interpersonal relations and challenges of existence will breed more criminal tendencies necessitating incarceration for convicted offenders or those awaiting trial but which the justice system determined are best kept away from society.”
He decried that overcrowding in the custodial centres has led to huge revenue drain for the federal government, being the only party shouldering the responsibility of running and maintaining the custodial centres.
He said: “The amendment of the 1999 Constitution, which has now placed corrections in the concurrent list is therefore a welcomed development.
“This conference is also to bring to the fore applicable laws to aid the reform of the corrections, custodial and non-custodial sentencing. Section 12(4- 12) of the Nigeria Correctional Services Act (NCoS Act) 2019 gives the Nigeria Correctional Service the powers to reject inmates when centres are filled up.
The Minister advised Stakeholders in the criminal justice sector to brainstorm and develop a roadmap for effective management of custodial population and pre-trial detention through the implementation of relevant sections of applicable laws.
In her comment, the Founder and Executive Director of Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action, (PRAWA), Dr. Uju Agomoh said for proper reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders, the states need to consider taking some form of responsibility like feeding of inmates because there are more state offenders than federal offenders.
“The issue of community corrections is what we must consider because we can correct people also in the society and the overuse of imprisonment is something that we will into especially the putting in place of mechanisms to address it,” she said.
While stressing the importance of the rule of law for peace and tranquillity, Chief Justice of Nigeria, observed that the police is very important in the Administration of justice and must therefore ensure that the process is hitch free.
“The prison system happened to be one of the institutions upon which the rule of law is sounded. I need to make it clear here that as a matter of fact, prosecutors to a very large extent are at the mercy of the police on the success or otherwise of criminal prosecution and this brings to the fore the imperative of cordial,” he said.
He therefore called for better working relationship to fast track justice delivery for pre-trial inmates.