Decongesting the prisons


News that the Federal Government is working on a plan to lighten the population of inmates across the country in two years is heart warming. For several years, there have been calls by various categories of stakeholders to government to initiate palpable reforms that will see our prisons, which are terribly over crowded free up some space to ensure that the carrying capacities of prisons are maintained and inmates are treated with some dignity.

It’s been long in coming. Various symposia, workshops, lectures have been arranged all to no avail. Reforms initiated by government agencies in conjunction with community based organisations and foreign agencies have all ended up as mere talk shops as government have never seized up these opportunities to implement them. Its being all talks no movement and our prisons have remained what they are best known for, centres of institutionalisation of all that is bad. Thankfully, Mr. Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (SAN) says the Federal Government is now determined to decongesting prisons across the country within the next two years. What is more, this new charge comes with timeline.

Speaking in Abuja on Tuesday, Malami told newsmen that the measure was part of the efforts to revitalise the Ministry of Justice in enhancing efficiency and improved services in line with government’s justice sector reforms. The Justice Minister said the government was considering plans to create a central coordinating unit in the ministry for effective coordination of all federal criminal cases within the country.

“In accordance with the approval and mandate of the Federal Executive Council at its 19th meeting, the Ministry of Justice in collaboration with other stakeholders will undertake prison reforms and decongestion.’’ He went on to say that the strategies would involve the installation and implementation of a state of the art modern Virtual Automated Case Management System to assist the ministry with necessary information on prison inmates.

“We are looking at a two-year time frame but then among the multiple modalities that are put in place, as rightly stated is the automated electronic system. The way we intend the electronic system to be deployed is that we will have online connections to be manned by the trained staff in every prison location. These staff will key in information which will automatically be transmitted to the office of the Attorney-General, the office of the Inspector General and the heads of courts. This is to ensure monitoring of activities in the prison system on a daily basis”, he revealed.

“For example, on a daily basis, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court will be able to monitor who is due to be taken to court, which court and at what time”, he continued. According to him, from the system, the AGF will be able to monitor who is brought into the prison, when the person is brought and the offense he is charged with. “So this will assist us in policy formulation and data gathering for the purpose of ensuring that people are taken to court as, and when due and necessary investigation is conducted”, the Attorney General declared.

Of course, data keeping is a serious problem in Nigeria. Another thing is placing premium on the data so kept. We also have the problem of following up on new policies. The likelihood of this laudable reform being sustained is narrow. Whatever it is that will be done, it must be with the intent to ensure its continuity and even improvement. The ministry of justice must work hand in hand with Interior Ministry who supervises the Nigeria Prisons Service to deliver. We are not unaware of corruption in the service too. And the perennial awaiting trial inmates.

The ministry as disclosed by the attorney general is in good frame to ensure that justice is dispensed to awaiting trial inmates as quickly as possible. Then red tapism must be cut off from the court to prison trajectory. There is too much delay in the process of granting of bail and perfection of bail. There is also a colossal ring of prison warders who in conjunction with prosecutors, investigating police officers, court registrars and even benchers, who ensure things slowdown in other to elicit extortions from desperate litigants. Here is hoping that the minister will go all the hog in deepening the reforms to achieve the objective he has set in the next two years.

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