Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola

…commends Knight of St. Mulumba for decongestion efforts

By Olayinka Ajayi

Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola has disclosed that the Federal Government has given approval for the construction of 3000 capacity custodian centers across the country in the six geo-political zones to tackle the scourge of overcrowded correctional centers.

Speaking at a one-day Policy Advocacy Conference on Decongestion of Correctional Centers held to mark the 60th anniversary of the Order of the Knights of St. Mulumba ,Nigeria, in Lagos yesterday, Aregbesola said the Nigeria Correctional Service ,NCOS, the mandate is to rehabilitate and re-integrate inmates back into society. He stated that the Service has been doing all possible and collaborating with bodies such as St. Mulumba on the ways to decongest the center.

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The minister who was represented by his Special Adviser on Nigeria Correctional Services, Suleiman Tala, stated that the NCOS has been carrying out its core mandate religiously especially in the area of rehabilitation and preparations for life after incarceration saying some 3000 inmates are currently undergoing different degrees programmes with the National Open University while 50 others are studying various programmes for National Certificate of Education.

He applauded the NCOS for successfully containing Covid-19 considering the high-risk potential of the centers “ a lot of fear arose in the height of the pandemic but gladly the proactive approach of the service as well as that of the Ministry and the federal government paid off.

“Presently the Service has 12 Special Study Centres in different Custodial facilities across the country. Since the inception of the collaboration between the NCOS and the National Open University, a total of 36 inmates have graduated in different fields of study such as Conflict and Peace Resolution, Political Science, Sociology, Guidance, and counseling among others,” he added.

He commended the Order of the Knight of St. Mulumba for the well thought out conference and urged civil society and faith-based organizations to emulate them and play critical roles in rendering services to inmates of the NCOS through offering pro Bono cases, and paying fees for less offenders.

Also speaking, the Inspector General of Police, Alkali Baba Usman, represented by the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Police Command, Hakeem Odumosu, noted that some of the factors influencing congestion in Correctional Centres in Nigeria, include increase in crime rate, changing dimensions and patterns of crime, scientific nature of crime, effects of social dislocation and overburdened criminal justice system among others.

“As we are all aware, it is the Correctional Centres that are statutorily established to keep persons to serve punishment for crimes they have committed or while awaiting trial after being accused of a crime and not granted bail by the courts or granted bail but not been able to meet their bail conditions,” he said.

He pointed out that in order to cope with current and emerging threats, as well as attain the mandate of the Nigeria Police Force on internal security, it is imperative of the police and the citizens to, of necessity, willingly cooperate,” he stressed.

On his part, the Comptroller General of Corrections, Haliru Nababa, represented by the Assistant Comptroller General, Daniel Odharo, said the event is apt and coming at a time when all hands are expected to be on deck to address overcrowding of inmates affecting the country.

The Comptroller General added that the NCOS congestion of awaiting trial persons especially in custodial centres located in urban areas has remained one of the major problems affecting credible service delivery.

“Our mandate as a Service is to provide safe custody, reform and rehabilitate inmates remanded or convicted by a court of jurisdiction. Unfortunately, overcrowding has continued to make a mockery of this effort. This problem, no doubt, requires a multi-dimensional approach from the national to sub-national governments,” he added.

On his part, the Metro Grand Knight, William Adebisi, said there have been many other attempts by different governments and many NGOs and other professional bodies and stakeholders in the past to address the decongested correctional centres with no appreciable result but, stressed that no stone will be left unturned to find a lasting solution to the challenge.

“The Minister of Interior himself once lamented that the population of inmates had been overshot by 18 per cent. He also stated that most inmates have been in custody for a period longer than the maximum sentence for their alleged offences. Statistics released by the minister clearly show that congestion in Nigerian prisons is a result of a high number of awaiting trial inmates and not the minority population on death row. In our view, a more constructive approach would be a declaration of a state of emergency in Nigeria’s criminal justice system,” he said.

Also speaking at the Conference, Lagos State Catholic Archbishop, Alfred Adewale Martins who was represented by Rev. Monsignor Paschal Uwaezeapu stated that decongestion of the prisons would continue to be a matter as long as the government has refused to fix the country.

“The prison would continue to be congested if we don’t fix the society. As long as our society is a place where everybody takes for himself without considering the neighbour then our prison would continue to be congested. If we need to fix the prison we need to fix the family. These prisoners come from a family. We need to fix the education system also. We need to promote justice, without all these, the prison will soon overflow,” he stated.

In an interview with newsmen, the Chairman of the Conference Committee Mr. George Agu explained that the Conference was part of the efforts by the Order of Knight of St. Mulumba to reach out to the government on what could be done to decongest the correctional centers.

According to him, his group has always been extending hands of fellowship to the centers and the inmates by way of donations both cash and material in order to alleviate the suffering at the center due to overcrowding.

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