More than two months after President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Nigerian Correctional Service Bill into law, no significant changes have been made in terms of transformation of the facilities, Daily Trust reports.
The law had among other things changed the name of the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) to Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS).
Findings by Daily Trust also showed that while the official website of the organisation is yet to be updated to accommodate information on the new Act, state commands of the former NPS were yet to adopt the new name in compliance with the new law.
Despite the fact that the website was last updated on October 2, checks showed that the new name was only reflected at the left side of the site, even as one could only access the website through the prisons.gov.ng address.
President Buhari assented to the new law on August 14, almost 11 years after it was first presented in the Senate by Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba.
The senator had then argued that if passed into law, the bill would address some of the fundamental lapses inherent in the Prisons Act, stressing that a review of the Act was necessary to put in place a framework for the rehabilitation and transformation of inmates and to address the issue of inadequate funding of prisons.
The total number of prisons inmates in Nigeria stands at 74,081.
Findings showed that there are 72,662 male inmates and 1,419 female inmates.
Of the total figure, 22,390 male and 311 female prisoners had been convicted.
There are 51,380 prisoners that are awaiting trial in various prisons across the country.
Apart from the change of name from NPS to NCP, the new law (NCS Act 2019) also classified the service into two broad parts: the Custodial Service and the Non-Custodial Service.
Section 10 of the NCS Act states the functions of the Custodial Service to include: Taking custody of all persons legally interned; providing safe, secure and humane custody for inmates; conveying remand persons to, and from courts in motorized formations; and identifying the existence and causes of anti-social behaviours of inmates.
Other functions, as contained in the new law, include: 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 back into society; initiating behaviour modification in inmates through the provision of medical and psychological, spiritual and counselling services for all offenders including violent extremists.
The Act also makes provision for the development of educational and vocational skills training programmes and facilitating incentives and income generation through custodial centres, farms and industries and providing support to facilitate the speedy disposal of cases of persons awaiting trial amongst others.
However, investigation by Daily Trust showed that months after the passage of the new Act, the NCS was yet to start implementing any of the new reforms, including simple ones that do not require elaborate bureaucratic procedures.
Findings showed that in terms of structure, beside the few prisons constructed by the Federal Government in Kano and other places, nothing had changed in most prisons across the country as the NCS still maintained the same facilities as was the case with the NPS.
Some observers spoken to said there should have been improvements in the service across the country ahead of any legislative proclamation.
They argued that in an ideal situation, improvement of facilities through funding and reorienting the psyche of personnel working in the service ought to have been given priority ahead of simply changing the name of the service from NPS to NCS.
Some officials spoken to said the directorates in the service ought to have been expanded to accommodate the non-custodial aspect of the NCS operations.
It was gathered that inmates are still kept in the prisons even though the new Act provides that some of them with minor offences would have had their punishments converted to parole or other non-custodial measures.
The real problem
A source told Daily Trust that implementing the new Act will require huge funding which was not captured in the 2019 budget. He said the NCS cannot do anything until next year when its new budget would have been passed.
Another source also informed our reporter that the NCS management had made some proposals to the new minister, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, which has not yet been approved.
“The proposal had to do with the way forward in the restructuring of the service. This includes the training of personnel for the new task, new uniforms for the non-custodial personnel and others,” he said.
Nothing has changed in states
Findings by Daily Trust also indicated that nothing has changed at the state commands of the NCS.
A visit to the Kogi State headquarters of the service in Lokoja and the prison facility in Koton Karfe area of the state revealed that even the signboard of the organization still bears the former nomenclature of NPS.
In the same vein, the vans for conveying inmates and other official vehicles of the organization still bear the old name of NPS.
Daily Trust observed that the custodial centres (prisons facilities) of the service at Ankpa, Idah and Dekina, amongst others, have not received any facelift.
Our correspondent also observed that most of the facilities were not equipped with vocational centres for inmates to acquire skills that would make them useful in society after serving their terms.
The Chief Judge of Kogi State, Justice Nasiru Ajanah, had during his recent tour of prison facilities in the state for the purpose of decongestion, called on the federal government to provide training workshops to enable inmates have access to reformation skills rather than allowing them to get more hardened.
Justice Ajanah also appealed for infrastructure to improve the living condition of inmates in custody, adding that the purpose of establishing correctional service was to reform jailed offenders.
“I noticed that the facilities at Ankpa, Dekina and Idah correctional service are still old and there is no improvement in the structures,” he said.
“I hope the appropriate authority will take note of that because these places are supposed to be correctional; there is a need to improve on what we have here so that detainees can learn something that will engage them after they regain their freedom,” he said.
Similarly, a visit by our reporter to both Port Harcourt prisons and the state command of the old NPS showed that nothing was happening in terms of reform.
At the state command of the service located adjacent to the popular Agip junction in Port Harcourt, the signpost at the entrance of the command is still bearing the old insignia of NPS.
While the entire structures within the state command remained the same, the premises were overgrown with weeds even as paint on the walls was defaced.
At the state maximum prison yard located at the town axis of Port Harcourt, the signpost still retained its old name of NPS, the structures worn out while the cells in the prison yard were overcrowded.
An official at the facility told our reporter that the directive from the Presidency to change the name from NPS to NCS was yet to be implemented.
“You know the Nigerian factor; once a directive is given it will remain a verbal kind of thing until it is implemented. It may take up to a year or two before its implementation,” he said.
“Look at the issue of the minimum wage which had lingered for so long. The Correctional Service Act is yet to commence implementation. If you look around the premises, you will find out that nothing of such has taken effect.
“You will see many inmates occupying space made for a few people. Can one say that the correctional service policy of the government has started? the answer is no,” he said.
When contacted, the Public Relations Officer of the NCS in the state who refused to disclose his name said, “The name of our service is now Nigerian Correctional Service. Signpost and other documents are being prepared.”
Website still ‘old’
The official website of the service: www.prisons.gov.ng is yet to be updated to fully reflect the new name, Daily Trust reports.
Beside the five words on the left that read ‘The Nigerian Correctional Service’, it was observed that nothing has changed as one of the columns that gave the history of the NPS still has the headline ‘About NPS’.
The two words “Prisons Service” were repeatedly used in all parts of the website while major pictures including that of the headquarters of the service in Abuja bear the name “Prisons Service.”
Daily Trust also observed a post on the homepage titled: “An invitation to tender for the supply of foodstuff and cooking gas to prisons nationwide for the period of 1st January to 31st December, 2020.”
The post partly reads: “In compliance with the provisions of Public Procurement Acts 2007 regarding the procurement of goods, works and services, the Nigerian Prisons Service (emphasis ours) hereby invites interested reputable food contractors/general suppliers to tender for the supply of foodstuff and cooking gas to the underlisted Main and Satellite Prisons for the period of 1st January to 31st December 2020…”
Although the proposed 2020 Appropriation Bill recently presented to the National Assembly shows that the name of the agency has been updated, it was observed that there was no provision in the budget for the rebranding of offices, properties, and other materials.
No date for take-off yet – NCS
When contacted, the spokesman of the NCS, Francis Enobore, said the service was working towards the take-off of the new Act, but that no date has been set.
Maintaining that the new Act was novel to the service, he said a lot of training exercises needed to be conducted for the personnel to be able to take up the new challenges, adding that there were some proposals on the table of the minister for his attention and approval.
Enobore, however, told Daily Trust that efforts were on to increase the directorates in the service from six to eight.
“We are to have a DCG heading the non-custodial directorate and same for training directorate,” Enobore said.
He also confirmed that the handling of inmates had not changed despite the enactment of the new Act, arguing that so many processes were to be undertaken to ensure the implementation of the new direction.
“For example, before you commit someone to parole, the person’s information must be supplied; like your age, a fixed address, if anyone is willing to accept you, if you are a first offender and so on,” he explained.
Reacting, the Executive Director of Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), Dr Uju Agomoh said the two months period since the signing of the Act was not too long for the needed reforms to begin.
She, however, added that a lot was happening in the sector with a Standing Order on Implementation which had 700 clauses already in place, and a conference with the judiciary billed for November as a means of sensitizing stakeholders on the new law.
On the issue of funding, she said during the hearing of the Bill, a cost implication aspect was submitted to the National Assembly, saying they were hopeful that funding would be made available for the implementation.
“On the non-custodial measure, there are a lot of officers with the requisite training. So, we are not starting from ground zero. It is not easy, but a lot is going on,” she added.