The electrocution of five awaiting trial inmates at the Ikoyi Correctional Centre in Lagos is an unfortunate tragedy that should be condemned. It demonstrates the need to review the condition of inmates in our correctional centres. Many inmates of the correctional centre suffered varying degrees of injury in the incident that was triggered by a power surge which caused an explosion at the facility.
The Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, has given an assurance that there would be a coroner’s inquest to determine the cause of the incident at the Ikoyi Correctional Centre. He also disclosed that government would also set up a panel to probe the circumstances behind the incident. He is working on wide range of reforms that those awaiting trial should be moved to other centres with more humane facilities, there is also need for a thorough reformation of the judicial system in the country. I say this because justice can hardly prevail in a system that allows trials to last for decades. The correctional centres authorities owe a duty of care to all the inmates. The government will make the correctional centres safe and habitable for all inmates.
The minister is working on wide range of reforms of correctional facilities from city to city and the security measures in place to ensure public safety after the incidence in Kogi and Lagos correctional centres. The minister is coming with a comprehensive listing of the major institutions, community correctional centres and parole offices managed by the Correctional Service of Nigeria. He is also reviewing more facilities run by our non-governmental partners. He takes environmental responsibilities seriously. Aregbesola is making efforts to clean up contaminated sites, and all the ways correctional service works to co-exist with our natural surroundings. Fire-fighting equipment will soon be provided in all the correctional centres and all the cells rehabilitated. The minister and the leadership of the correctional centres will nip in the bud such incidents in future
The primary concern of Aregbesola on the correctional facilities is the safety and security of staff, inmates and the facility itself. Notwithstanding what society may feel about inmates generally, people who are either awaiting trial or sentencing or serving out a sentence deserve to be safe in their institution. Disciplinary procedures and punishment contributing to safety, security and order in correctional centres. He places emphasis on the safety and health of inmates and understands the constitution and international prescripts pertaining to the health of inmates
One of the primary concerns of Aregbesola is investing on the staff and deal with overcrowding correctional centres to combat rising violence and rival gang feuds. He knows that overcrowding and a lack of staff is creating a very volatile situation at all the correctional facilities around Nigeria. He wants to see his ministry investing in inmates, more staff and more resources to deal with these very concerning issues. Aregbesola understands that “Correctional officers have some of the toughest jobs in Nigeria. But no one should have to fear for their safety when they go to work. Correctional officers need much more support and resources before this situation becomes worse than it already is.
Aregbesola, recently disclosed that there are 75, 000 inmates currently in the country’s correctional facilities. The minister said that the Federal Government was working on de-congesting correctional centres across Nigeria by reducing the number of awaiting trial inmates. He said that the new law signed by President Muhammadu Buhari had not only changed prisons to correctional facilities, but also empowered correctional officers not to admit offenders awaiting trial, if the capacity of the facility could not accommodate them. What are we doing about people who are awaiting trial, the new law provides for correctional officers in the facilities to reject any person that is brought from the court, who is awaiting trial. “So with this new law, it is clear that going forward we will not have what we have now in our facilities.’’ He said that in response to the need to decongest prisons, the government had constituted a decongestion committee.
Aregbesola said the committee had been working with the Attorney-General of the Federation to decongest correctional facilities in the country. “In no distant future, we will reduce the issue of awaiting trial considerably; as we are also working with the governors on that. Because close to 90 per cent of the awaiting trial inmates are violators of state laws and so are essentially the responsibility of the various state governments.“So we equally need to carry them along in devising strategies to decongest the facilities and I want to assure us all that in six months time, this will be put behind us,’’ he added.
The minister said that government was determined to reduce pressure on its facilities, to improve care of inmates, particularly in reformation, rehabilitation, and re-adjustment to normal life when they completed their terms. President Muhammadu Buhari recently signed into law the 11-year-old Nigerian Correctional Service Bill. Nigerian prisons had been heavily criticised for their overcrowded state and poor conditions. With the newly-signed law, Aregbesola will decongest correctional facilities which reflect and satisfy the yearning of the concerned stakeholders for correctional centres decongestion and reformation of correctional centre inmates. Aregbesola has put in place policies that will enhance decongestion of correctional centres across Nigeria. He will address existing gaps in Correctional centres decongestion and diligently implement the advised decongestion project.
He wants ‘to achieve as close to 100 per cent engagement of inmates in employment, life skills, education and programs to address their offending behaviour. There appears to be a large misunderstanding to determine what is safe and what is unsafe in a potentially high risk and violent environment. Violence inside a prison can take place anywhere. No work should have a risk associated with it as “usual” or “accepted” to go with the job.
We are constantly reminded that our prisoners can and do have history of violent behaviors and must never forgo or forget they may turn violent on a moment’s notice due to well-planned, spontaneous actions or provoked situations. Critical incidents can turn into lethal situations in seconds and security is necessary to deter such ideas or occurrences daily.
Aregbesola is designing basic multi-dimensional strategies to ensure better safety practices in our correctional centres to give inmates the confidence to feel safe and allows them to make adjustments in their presence to continue to feel safe throughout the day. Each correctional centre in the State offers a unique function within the correctional system – and is committed to keeping inmates, staff and the community safe. Over recent years infrastructure changes have not been implemented to enhance prison security, access control, and to ensure safety measures are updated and reviewed in response to evolving criminal activities.
Donald writes from Lagos via [email protected]