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Reforming Nigeria prisons beyond name change

By Onyedika Agbedo and Sereba Agiobu-Kemmer
07 September 2019   |   4:20 am
With the recent signing of the Nigerian Correctional Service Bill into law by President Muhammadu Buhari, which changed the name of the Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS) to Nigerian Correctional Service....

Comptroller-General of NCS, Ja’Afaru Ahmed

… Stakeholders Speak On How The NCS Act 2019 Can Be Implemented For Better Result
With the recent signing of the Nigerian Correctional Service Bill into law by President Muhammadu Buhari, which changed the name of the Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS) to Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS), individuals, groups and organisations agitating for prisons reforms in the country have not doubt achieved somewhat of a feat.

The President signed the bill three weeks ago (August 14), 11 years after it was first presented in the Senate by former Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba. The senator had then argued the bill would address some of the fundamental lapses inherent in the Prisons Act if passed into law, stressing that a review of the Act was necessary to put in place a framework for the rehabilitation and transformation of inmates and address the issue of inadequate funding of prisons.

During the 11-year period that the bill remained in the pipeline, the agitations for prisons reforms in the country also heightened. The issues bordered mainly on the state of the prison facilities and welfare of inmates. The protagonists of the campaign were quick to point out that in civilised societies, what inmates are made to loose is just their freedom. They have access to other social amenities available to others outside and as such easily get reintegrated into the society when they finish serving their terms; they are not stigmatised on regaining their freedom. The dispensation of justice is also very fast in such climes and inmates awaiting trial could know their fate in a matter months. However, these norms are non-existent in Nigeria, they argued.

The facilities are dilapidated and congested. For instance, as at August 2018, the Port Harcourt prison built in 1918 and designed to shelter 800 inmates now accommodates 5,000, while Kirikiri Maximum prison in Lagos built to hold 956 inmates has become home to 2,600 inmates. Available statistics within the same period also indicated that out of the total population of 71,443 inmates nationwide, awaiting trial inmates stood at 48,702. Among these were people who had been behind bars for a longer time than they would have served if they had been sentenced.

Other challenges they pointed out include poor feeding of inmates, lack of adequate medical care for inmates due to lack of requisite facilities and lack of recreational and vocational training for inmates. The result is that many inmates of Nigerian prisons come out worse than when they went in.

The Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019 is intended to redress some of these abnormalities.  The Act is subdivided into “Custodial Service” and “Non-custodial Service.” Under custodial service, the law provides that while prisoners serve their jail terms, the emphasis is more on correctional service tailored towards readmitting them to society upon the completion of their jail sentences.

A major provision of the Act under custodial service is in Section 12 (2) (c). It provides “that where an inmate sentenced to death has exhausted all legal procedures for appeal and a period of 10 years has elapsed without execution of the sentence, the Chief Judge may commute the sentence of death to life imprisonment.”

Also, Section 12(8) empowers the state controller of the service to reject more intakes of inmates where it is apparent that the correctional centre in question is filled to capacity.

Other provisions of custodial service include taking into “custody and take control of persons legally interned in safe, secure and humane conditions; conveying remand persons to and fro courts in motorised formations; conducting risk and needs assessment aimed at developing appropriate correctional treatment methods for reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration; implementing reformation and rehabilitation programmes to enhance the reintegration of inmates into society; and empowering inmates through the deployment of educational and vocational skills training programmes, and facilitating incentives and income generation through Custodial Centres, farms and industries.”

Nevertheless, many stakeholders who worked assiduously for its enactment believe that a lot more needs to be done by the authorities for the intended reforms to materalise. They believe the reforms require huge resources to execute and want to know whether the Federal Government, with the new law, is fiscally prepared to turn the prisons from punitive facilities to rehabilitation/correctional centres or it would just end with the change of name from NPS to NCS. Is the government ready to put down the resources needed for the massive changes needed in the prisons to turn them to correctional centres? How prepared are the personnel of the Service to drive the correctional project to fullness? Is the government willing to re-train the officials of the Service so that their behaviours and attitudes towards inmates would blend with the aims of the institution as outlined in the new law? What measures are the government putting in place to ensure that the law does become counter productive since the emphasis of the Service would now be on correcting offenders and not punishing them? Will this not make victims of crime to take their pound of flesh rather than waiting for the law to take its course? These and many more are the concerns of stakeholders whose views are sampled in the report below:

‘Name Change Is Putting
The Cart Before The Horse’
Evangelist Augustine Ojie of Favour Worldwide Foundation, a prison ministry outreach, spoke with SEREBA AGIOBU-KEMMER on the issue. Excerpts:

As an advocate of prisons reforms, what is your take on the change of name from NPS to NCS?
The change of name from NPS to NCS by the Federal Government will not solve the deluge of problems facing the NCS as it is newly called. Unless the Federal Government declares a state of emergency to addressing the age-long problems that have bedeviled the institution, the change of name will not make a difference. I see the change of name as putting the cart before the horse.

The government appears to have ignored, for too long, the terrible state of most of the institutions across the country, mainly the infrastructural decay and high level corruption in the system. The change of name should mean total departure from the old order; it is meant to bring about sanity and civility in the system, which prohibits torture, inhuman treatment of inmates and allows for godly correction, true reformation, rehabilitation and genuine reintegration of inmates back into society.

Do you think Nigerian prisons can be transformed into world-class rehabilitation centres providing opportunities for self-actualisation?
Section 14 of the Act states, “the Correctional Service shall provide opportunities for education, vocational training, as well as training in modern farming techniques and animal husbandry for inmates; and also establish and run in designated custodial centres and industrial centres equipped with modern facilities for the enhancement of vocational skills training for inmates aimed at facilitating their reintegration into society. The Correctional Service shall be administered to encourage generation of funds to aid earning scheme for the inmates as well as aftercare and other support services towards their rehabilitation.”

The NPS used to have a running rehabilitation centre located just beside the Medium Security Prison Kirikiri. It will shock you to know that the rehabilitation centre has since been abandoned for over two decades and is now overgrown with weeds.The rehabilitation centre used to be for all kind of vocational skills; including wood work (carpentry) where inmates were trained to make chairs, tables and all kinds of furniture. The inmates can be making chairs and tables for schools nationwide to generate revenue for the institution thereby creating opportunity for self-actualisation in accordance with the provisions of the Act.

Government should, as a matter of urgency, revamp the rehabilitation centre and replicate same across the country. The Federal Government should have before now implemented this Act and put in place the required infrastructure first before the change of name. That is why I said earlier that the government is putting the cart before the horse.

Where do you think resources can be sourced to meet the expectation of the new Correctional Service?
Since the objective of the name change from NPS to NCS is to be in compliance with international human right standards and good correctional practices, the government has no choice but to provide adequate resources needed for the massive changes in terms of budgetary allocation.Where there is a will there is way. Time will tell; though some of the provisions of the Act appear over-ambitious without a clear thought-out plan on implementation.

How do you think the second faculty, which is expected to reduce congestion in the prisons, would work?
The administration of non-custodial measures, which is the second faculty, may not work effectively because the Correctional Service Centres don’t have facilities and qualified staff to operate the facilities. Besides, we do not have reliable data of people living in Nigeria. Note that without reliable data, it is impossible to track people who escape justice or abscond, especially those people on parole.

There are technologies used in tracking criminals such as data mapping crime, smartphone tracking, Wifi capabilities and biometrics. Technology wise, we are not yet ready for the administration of non-custodial measures. Beyond the name change, the law has many laudable provisions, which is highly commendable but our problem has always been implementation.

‘Prison System Should Be Overhauled’
Mrs. Obioma Evelyn Agoziem is the Executive Director of Centre for Corrections and Human Development (CCHD), dedicated to the development of human personality through counseling, mentoring, rehabilitation and education. She spoke with IJEOMA-THOMAS-ODIA on the issue. Excerpts:

What is your view on the change of the Nigeria Prisons Service to Nigerian Correctional service?
It is a step in the right direction. Times are changing and we need to adjust our approach to catch-up with the rest of the world. We, at Centre for Corrections and Human Development, have been canvassing for change in the method of handling incarcerated offenders. Without doubt, correctional approach will give better result both to the offender and to society; a win-win situation if properly and dispassionately implemented.

It must be emphasised that mere change in nomenclature will not be enough. The problem has always not been with name but the determination to do the right thing in line with international best practices. Many developed countries still use the name ‘prisons’ but the operations are different as they tilt towards correction and reformation of offenders.So, it is a welcome development. It is going to help people realise that a re-orientation is going on. We are happy about it and pray that it is effectively implemented.

What kind of changes do you expect to see in the service to reflect the new name?
I expect to see a holistic change, a total overhaul of the entire system. There is so much infrastructural decay. There is serious need for expansion. Virtually all the prisons in Nigeria are over-crowded. Some of the structures of the prisons have neither been expanded nor improved upon since they were constructed. People are cramped together in small spaces. Facilities are over-used taking two to four times above their original capacity. High cases of awaiting trial abound in all prisons.

According to the Comptroller General of the Service, Mr. Ja’Afaru Ahmed, in his 2017 report, awaiting trial formed close to 70 per cent of the inmates, some of them spanning between 10 to 12 years. Some cases have hardly been taken to court for the first time. Also the issue of lack of basic amenities like food, water and inadequate medical treatment should be looked into. Our three months training on skill acquisition and personality development training with the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison was an eye opener. I expect these areas to be thoroughly reviewed and adequately addressed. The existing educational programmes and skill trainings should be enhanced by introducing more relevant trainings. I expect to see a correctional service that will indeed correct inmates for a better life after the prison.

What steps should be taken to help the personnel of the Service adjust to the new name?
For the personnel, it is not only adjusting to the new name but to the new system, I suppose. The simple way is to give them a new orientation and train them on the requirement of the new system. To get the system right, the personnel must be trained and equipped to execute the programme. They can also outsource some aspects of the training programme for better and more cost effective management.

How would this change affect how people perceive the agency?
Definitely, it will affect how people perceive ex-inmates and even how inmates themselves perceive the service. I remember that at one of the sessions during our three months training at the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison, Lagos, where I discussed transformational change, one of the major concerns of the participating inmates was whether we would issue certificates, a kind of clearance to remove stigmatisation and to enable them start on a fresh slate. Yes, we issued them certificates but what the people will do/or employers of labour will do about the certificate is what we cannot control. It is, therefore, necessary to back it up with regulations, where people will be mandated to do business with them. This will help a great deal in erasing the stigma because the essence of correction is to bring the individual to a position where he can be deployed back into the society and become gainfully employed and sustainable. Backing it up with proper regulation will gradually remove the stigma.

How can the government ensure that the name change is effective?
The new Nigerian Correctional Service management should partner with organisations like ours to execute the new project. CCHD has been working with Nigeria Prisons especially in the areas of reforming the prison through training such as, personality reconstruction/development, leadership, soft skills and entrepreneurial skills. It is important to continue the good work. We are a non-governmental organisation that works with youth especially the socially deviated persons and individuals with dysfunctional lives. When somebody finds himself or herself in prison, he should know that it is not the end of life. Something great can still come out of his life depending on his attitude and what he makes of the situation.

‘Service Quality Should
Now Be Of Global Standards’

Velu Achineku is a clinical psychologist, who has been working on reforming prison inmates. She shares her thought on the change of the Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS) to Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) with IJEOMA-THOMAS-ODIA.

What is the psychological implication of changing NPS to NCS?
The psychological implication of change of name in my opinion implies a change in cognition (thinking) and behaviour of the persons that constitute the institution. It will mean a total reorientation to suit the new name for it to create maximum impact. That is to say ‘prison’ associated with punishment will change to ‘correctional’, a reformation/rehabilitation. This means the vision, objectives and structure of the institution needs to realign in compliance to the new name.

What are your expectations with the new name?
Ideally, I expect better outcomes in terms of infrastructure and quality of services. I expect to see structures that are amenable to rehabilitation/reformation. For instance, if you want to train inmates on certain skills or give them education, the facilities should have the workshops/classrooms as well as required equipment. Service quality will mean professionals upholding the standards acceptable globally which include healthcare, welfare and facilities for recreation. This will require funding. My expectations are however high.

How would the new name rub off on the inmates and officials of the Service?
As mentioned earlier, the perception of prison is for punishment and usually associated with criminality. This leaves a stigma on persons who have been to prison no matter the circumstances. However, the correctional services will imply reformation/rehabilitation of an offender and is less stigmatising and more acceptable; thus making reintegration into society easier and stemming recidivism due to rejection. On the officials, it requires more tasks to reform. This will mean more training to suit into the new roles and additional knowledge for professionalism. The officials will be more respected, as these new roles are humanitarian. The new status will boost morale for better performance especially if the terms of service are as provided in other developed countries such as U.K., U.S. and others.

‘New Prisons Reforms May Promote Self-Help Reactions’
Dr. Jaiyeoba Folusho Ilesanmi, a psychologist and senior lecturer in the Department of Industrial Relations and Personnel Management, Lagos State University, says the current prisons reforms might push Nigerians into seeking self-help against their offenders. He spoke with DANIEL ANAZIA.
Fomerly Nigeria Prisons Service has been renamed Nigerian Correctional Service, what impact can this have on the prison system in country?
The first time I heard about the name change, the first impression I had is that it is a positive development. There is a popular saying in Yoruba that states that even if you give a dog another name, it still remains a dog. On the other hand, there is also something in a name, which can reflect on the individual’s attitude and character. Be it as it may, the change in name is a positive development. I think that will change the perception of justice as a whole in the country because the prison as we have it today is very punitive. So, making it a sort of correctional programme will go along way.

However, if we look at the conditions of our prisons today and we want to achieve anything with the new name, then it must go along with change in structure, programmes and orientation of the prison officials so that they don’t just bear the name but reflect the name. By this I mean that there must be programmes that will ensure that as people are brought in, correctional programmes are put in place to ensure that they are reformed. I think what the Federal Government means by correctional is that the individual is going there to be reformed and not to be punished as the case is now. If that will be achieved, there must be a total change in the architecture of our justice system, which prison is like the terminal end. So, it has to be structured in such a way that when people go in there, they undergo programmes that will result in change of attitude.

Criminal activity is a disposition of the mind; it is about attitude of people and this attitude is reflected in three core areas — your belief system, which has to be dealt with; your feelings about things, which are your emotional responses; and the behaviour. The behaviour is a combination of your belief system and your feelings. So, if government wants to address the totality of the name change, they have to put into operation things that would ensure that when people go to prison, their thoughts are worked upon, and those feelings that lead them to commit crime are also dealt with. The outcome of all these is to ensure that convicts are reintegrated into the society.

I listened to the Comptroller-General of the NCS while on a Radio programme and what I perceived was that the prison system will now be compartmentalised in such a way that people who are under aged would be separated from adults, women from men and those given terminal sentences will be dealt with in a different way unlike before. Specifically, I picked that in a situation where people are given death penalty, and because the governor doesn’t want to sign the execution warrant, many of them are kept there. But according to the CG, after 10 years, if no warrant of execution is signed, there is likelihood of commuting such sentence to life imprisonment. Personally, I believe this could be a step in the right direction given the fact that people like that could now go to school and do some programmes to better their lives. As it stands now, many people go into the prison and come out more hardened. It is like they go there to be trained to be better criminals. If we have a system that could change that, it will be very salutary because at the end of the day, people go into criminal activities for diverse reasons. I don’t think our justice system takes into consideration the root cause of some of these criminal behaviours that lead people into crime.

What are your concerns about the reform?
We must deal with the root cause of the crime. In every human society, there are so many causes of criminal actions that relate to the justice system — the fairness of our society, the equity and other factors. I think if these basic issues are addressed in line with the name change, it will be profitable to the society as well as to the individual.

This is because crime is not just against the society. There are several victims like the individual that the crime is perpetrated against and of course, the immediate relatives are crying for justice. Some other people are also injured. Even the criminal in a way is affected because his life is in jeopardy when apprehended. So, the process should be able to provide healing among these who are concerned when the crime occurs.

For instance, if the person whose child, husband, wife or relative is killed feel that the culprit is going to the prison to be pampered and be taken care of, we may find a situation where such a person would also try to help themselves. I mean, this a personal thought. So, I’m thinking that hopefully, this will not promote self-help in which somebody feels that if he/she is arrested for an offence, he/she would be sent to the prison to be pampered because the punitive end of justice is now very mild. I say this because people like to assuage feelings, and I think that is why you find some people helping themselves. So, we hope that this kind of thing will not promote reactions or responses in the society. But like I said earlier, it should mean and bring something positive to our system. Until we see the full extent of what government means with the name change, we may not entirely understand what it portends or the future reform that will come with it.

Do you think the new policy can also reduce crime in the country?
Every society wants to move forward basically in terms of advancing on the systems and paradigm structures with which the society is governed, hence my earlier statement that the move is a positive step. But like I said, action and reaction are said to be equal and opposite. What the law does principally is to ensure that people don’t go out helping themselves. A crime is committed and the culprit is apprehended. The moment that happens, there is a feeling of respite against whom that crime is perpetrated, and then the individual will now watch keenly to see what happens to the culprit. If the person is satisfied with the way justice is dispensed, he or she feels okay but when this does not happen, the person goes out feeling that he or she is not well compensated. That is on a short-term perspective.

The long-term perspective is that even if the gravest offence is committed and the person is eventually pardoned, and turns out to be a good citizen in the society, it could also in a way have some purpose. Like rightly posited in the scriptures, it is not God’s desire for sinner to die but to come to repentance. I believe that what the new policy drive will bring to the society is an avenue for correction, repentance, if possible restitution and reintegration into the society and coming out to add value. It means that in the new prison system, there will be room for skill acquisitions and educational development. The things that may have been existing there that makes people to be more hardened will be dismantled. But if that is not done, not much will be achieved.

I say this because every system has formal structure but there is also the informal structure, which many a time is more potent than the formal. That is why when you get to prison, you find all manners of structures as obtained in the formal setting of the society, which the prison officials recognise. These structures are very strong in building the inmates behaviours. That is why when they come out you discover the individual has not been transformed. Rather, his/her criminality becomes worse. So, such informal systems will have to be dealt with deliberately. On the other hand, what the new policy drive will bring is that those who had initially thought that their entire life would be spent in the prison will have a new thinking that there could be light at the end of the tunnel. And once they see that ray of hope, it can help them to cooperate with the prison authorities to make a better deal out of their prison life.

‘Name Change Likely To Come With More Directorates’
By Sunday Aikulola

The change of the name of the Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS) to Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) will lead to the creation of more directorates in the Service and also ensure the decongestion of the prisons.Comptroller of the NCS in Lagos State, Mr. Ailewon Noel, noted that with the implementation of the new law, there would be juvenile facilities in all states, adding that the Service presently has only three in the whole country.

Speaking at the sendforth ceremony organised in honour of the former Comptroller of the NCS, Lagos State Command, Assistant Controller General (ACG) Tunde Ladipo, recently, Noel agreed that there was need for the provision of more facilities by the government for the mandate of the Service under the new law to be achieved. He also stressed the need for the private sector and non-governmental organisations to collaborate with the government in improving the welfare of inmates.

Similarly, the ACG, NCS, Zone A, Mr. Chiabua Cvufsi, noted that for the prison reform to be effective, the inmates’ cognitive, psychomotor and behavioral aspects must be taken into consideration.On her part, Mrs. Princess Abel of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in charge of prions said: “We appreciate what is going on today. The government’s policy on the change of name from Prisons to Correctional Service is commendable but we have high expectation from the government. The policies that are approved are things that we have been suggesting over time. The stakeholders are the religious bodies, the NGOs and different volunteer groups to the prison that support the government in taking care of the prisoners.

“Many of the inmates are awaiting trial and we are not happy with that. We want them to be released and make the best use of their time. Many of them will take a long time before they go to court and for years they are awaiting trial, so we expect the government not only to change the name but also to implement the policies.

“Quick judgment should be given to those that are kept in custody in prison so that those that don’t have serious cases can go home and become better and not to stay in prison and become worse. Some of them, especially those that are innocent, get vindictive and tend to search for vengeance when they stay longer in prison. They want to learn bad habits so that they go out and implement it, because they know they are innocent. The government is trying especially Lagos State in particular. We know what it was before and what it is now.”Pastor-In-Charge of RCCG City of Zion, Kirikiri Prison, Lagos State, Pastor Oscar Onu, in his remark, hinted that the new policy could be counter productive.

His words: “I have a reservation about it and the reservation is that it can be counterproductive. When offences are taken with lesser punishment, people take advantage of that, knowing fully well that when they commit crimes, the NGOs and human rights groups will come to their aid and they could be more violent. If we are thinking of how to make pardon light, we must also be thinking of how to get people out of crime. The prisons are overcrowded because they are intertwined. When you keep the youths out of crime, you keep them out of prisons and that is my reservation.”