The Executive Director, Prisoners Rehabilitation And Welfare Action (PRAWA) Dr Uju Agomoh,
has said that the new Nigerian Correctional Service law will improve the country’s human rights record, the welfare of inmates as well as rights of women and children.
Speaking to the press in Lagos, Agomoh, a prison reform activist, whose organisation provided technical support for the drafting of the bill, commended President Muhammadu Buhari for signing it into law, describing it as a very progressive piece of legislation that would change the face of Nigerian prisons for the better, as she implored stakeholders to ensure its speedy implementation.
“The new law aims to achieve many set objectives, including compliance with international human rights standards and good correctional practices,” Agomoh noted.
“It provides an enabling platform for the implementation of non-custodial measures, enhances the focus on corrections, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders, and establishes institutional and sustainable mechanisms to tackle the high rate of awaiting trial persons in the prisons.”
Agomoh said that the Nigerian Correctional Service Act of 2019 would tackle the incidence of detaining petty offenders in prisons by channeling such offenders through the non-custodial service. This, she said, would save funds for the government and avoid these low-risk offenders being socialised into the criminal culture by hardened criminals.
“It will also help fast-track implementation of the non-custodial provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 and the Administration of Criminal Justice Laws of various States by providing the needed support in terms of manpower for the supervision of non-custodial sentences across the States and the FCT,” she said.
“This will encourage the courts to issue non-custodial sentences in deserving cases.”
According to Agomoh, the new law will make the correctional service take a more active role in helping manage prison overcrowding by alerting the Judiciary, Ministry of Justice and other key stakeholders on impending prison congestion.
“We applaud the provisions of the new law, including the provision mandating separate facilities for young offenders and female inmates in all States of the Federation. This will boost their wellbeing while being interned.”
She noted that the establishment of Mental Health Review Board to assess cases of inmates with mental disability and provision of incentives to encourage inmates’ participation in training and vocational workshops towards their reintegration into society, will ensure that Nigeria benchmarks global standards in treatment of offenders if the provisions are fully implemented.
“The establishment of separate prison facilities for women in all States of the Federation is very good’,” she said, noting that though women make up only 2 percent of the total prison population, there are many advantages of having separate custodial facilities for females.
“This will lead to improved job mobility for female prison officers as many can be made to head such prisons.”
She explained that at the moment very few females get to head a mixed prison or a male prison.
“Heading a prison provides the needed experience for most officers and positions them for higher responsibility such as appointment as State Controllers and Assistant or Deputy Controllers General.
“The new law also provides for improved internal and external security of prisons as well as external oversight of custodial facilities. This is very good.”
Agomoh said that effective implementation of the new law will achieve desired results; adding that all stakeholders must work towards supporting and advocating effective implementation of the new law.
Continuing, she said, “There is need for training and sensitisation of all key stakeholders on the law so that they can better understand it and the rationale for each provision. This will also highlight their respective roles in facilitating effective implementation of the law. All hands need to be on deck; media is key.”
She acknowledged the role played by the following Senators and House of Representatives members under the 8th Assembly whose bills were harmonized to give birth to the Nigerian Correctional Service Bill (2019).
They are: Senator Moh’d Shaaba Lafiaji who moved a Bill for Act to repeal the Prisons Act Cap. P29 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and enact the Nigerian Prisons And Correctional Service, to make provisions for the Administration of Prisons in Nigeria; The Awaiting Trial Persons And For Related Purposes, 2018 (SB . 125).
Senator Oluremi Tinubu, a Bill for Act to amend the Prisons Act Cap P.29 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 to provide for a mother and baby unit for the care of female prisoners who are nursing mothers and for Related Matters, 2018 (SB. 191)
Senator Babajide Omoworare, a Bill for an Act to repeal the Nigerian Prisons Act. 478, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2010 and make comprehensive provisions for the Administration of Prisons in Nigeria; and For Related Matter, 2018 (SB 288).
Senator Gershom Bassey, a Bill for an Act to establish a Correction, Reformation And Reintegration Center to provide support services for Prisons in the Area of Reformation, Reintegration and Youthful Offender
Programming; and For Related Matters, 2018 (SB 308).
Hon Henry Nwawuba, a Bill for an Act to establish the Special Maximum Security Prisons for persons accused or convicted of terrorism, insurgency, kidnapping and other Crimes against the State and for Related Matters
Hon Ochiglegor Igagbo, a Bill for an Act to establish a Correction, Reformation And Reintegration Centre to provide support services for Prisons in the Area of Reformation, Reintegration And Youthful Offender Programming; and For Related Matters (HB )
Hon Danburam Abukakar Nuhu, a Bill for an Act to repeal the Prisons Act Cap P.29, Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and enact the Nigerian Prisons and Correctional Service, to make comprehensive provisions for the Administration of Prisons in Nigeria; and For Related Purposes, 2016 (HB 516).
Hon Johnbull Shekarau, a Bill for an Act to provide for regulation of community services for offender in certain cases and other related matters, 2016 (HB 517).
She also acknowledged the leadership and memberships of both Committees on Interior of the Senate and House of Representatives of the 8th Assembly, the Nigerian Prisons Services, Ministries of Interior and Justice and other stakeholders that supported this process.
She did not leave out the British Council, Rule of Law and Anti Corruption (RoLAC) Programme funded under the 11th European Union Development Fund that supported the hosting of several technical retreats towards the drafting, review and harmonization of the Nigerian Correctional Service Bill (2019).