There is still more to do, but there are remarkable improvements in the Prisons, writes Beatrice Yohana  

Nigerian prisons are notorious for being congested, holding more convicts and awaiting trials beyond their carrying capacities. Of recent, a new narrative is unfolding in the various prison formations, behind the thick walls. 

With four international awards and recognition by global organizations, the Nigeria Prisons Service has taken a 360 degree turn for the better and there are facts to back up this claim. The unique approach to offenders’ rehabilitation has caught the attention of both regional and global communities for the first time since the establishment of the Prisons Service in 1862, it won four International awards in 2018. 

The star in the pack is the Superior Achievement in Branding Reputation and Engagement (SABRE) Award on Public Education in Gaborone, Botswana. The NPS also bagged a Certificate of Excellence in Public Sector (Prison Decongestion Tackling and the Plight of Awaiting Trial Persons) awarded by Holmes Report which was presented in Gaborone, on May 10, 2018. 

Also in the kitty is the 2018 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Confucius Prize for Literacy and Skills Development presented in Paris, France on September 7, 2018. For its advocacy on prison de-congestion, the NPS won the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) Golden World Award on Crisis Management for Media Campaign on Prison Decongestion and Plight of Awaiting Trial Inmates which was presented in Barcelona, Spain on October 19, 2018. 

From the moment Comptroller-General of Prisons, Ahmed Jafa’aru, mounted the saddle in 2015, the Service has witnessed a steady growth in consonance with global best standards. The first challenge he battled was the dilapidated infrastructure some of which were over 70 years old. But in a spate of three years, new and ongoing projects have been initiated and revived with a good number already completed and put to use. Many cells have also been renovated in different prisons across the federation. In all, about 380 projects (new constructions and renovations) have been inaugurated to date. Of significant mention is the 3000 capacity ultra-modern prison planned for each of the geo-political zones.  Kano is hosting the modern edifice for North West now almost completed.

To actualize its core mandate of inmates’ reformation and rehabilitation, the NPS is providing opportunities for those that have no formal education to be trained in sundry vocations and the scope has significantly increased under the current dispensation. A total of 394 inmates acquired the Trade Test Certificate in different trades between 2015 to date. On discharge, the After Care Unit has presented start-up tools to selected skilled inmates for proper reintegration and economic empowerment. 

Furthermore, formal educational programmes ranging from Adult Education, WAEC/NECO, NCE to degree programmes in the university is now available for inmates interested in pursuing higher education. Since 2015 to date, 4,757 inmates enrolled for the adult education programme and 1,162 graduated. One thousand, four hundred and four others sat for the Senior School Certificate Examinations and 634 passed with five credits including Mathematics and English; 193 inmates took the NECO and 54 passed with five credits including Mathematics and English.

Fifteen candidates also sat for NABTEB Examinations and all passed while 267 others have acquired the First School Leaving Certificate. In 2017, 50 inmates in Ogun State graduated from Yewa College of Education with NCE while 60 others also matriculated for the same programme. Under the current administration, more inmates have been able to actualize their dream of having university education while in custody. The Service has sustained a fruitful partnership with the National Open University of Nigeria which now has about 465 students studying different courses such as Peace Studies & Conflict Resolution, Criminology & Security Studies, Political Science and Law. Twenty-three of the inmates are undergoing Post-Graduate Programmes, among them six post-graduate diploma students, 16 Master’s and one PhD student. More study centres are being established across the prison formations.

Prison farms, some of which were hitherto moribund, have witnessed a revival with the purchase and distribution of 22 new tractors and accompanying implements. In a bid to attain a level of agricultural production where the prisons will be able to generate substantial foods required for inmates, the service has carefully selected three farms on the basis of specialty and comparative advantage. They are in Kujama, Kaduna State for maize; Lakushi in Plateau State for rice and Ozalla in Edo State for palm oil.  

Healthcare has taken the front burner with the purchase and distribution of a huge stock of drugs to all prison formations. Ambulances were also procured and distributed to all prison commands to bring healthcare to the door step of prison inmates.

Staff morale which was at its low ebb has been boosted with the implementation of different motivational packages and incentives. For instance, promotion has been regular, and barracks accommodation is now available. Uniforms, including accoutrements are also being provided. The Prisons Welfare Insurance Scheme has been revitalized and the next-of-kin of deceased staff are now promptly paid their benefits. 

Management has given priority to staff re-orientation in respect of prisoners’ rights through the development of training manuals. Structurally, crèches and nursing mother cells have now been factored into the prison architecture to address vulnerable groups in prisons.  Inmates data are now captured electronically thus putting an end to the cumbersome manual process. The system is also expected to improve access to justice and assist other security agencies in identifying ex-offenders. 

Despite these landmark achievements, the service is still beset by a few challenges including overcrowded prison cells, inadequate vehicles for taking inmates to courts and poor funding. The persistent upsurge in the number of awaiting trial persons posed a threat to the federal government’s prison decongestion drive. Indeed, stakeholders are agreed that this worrisome trend can only be reversed when state governments adopt and implement the provisions of Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.

The Prisons Service spokesman, Francis Enobore, attributed the achievements in the service to the improved funding by the federal government. Even with the significant intervention in the area of logistics, Enobore said a lot can still be done in the area of logistics. “Presently, the service records between 69 and 70 per cent of inmate population as awaiting trial persons who are to be presented to about 5,022 courts nationwide. More funding is required to procure additional vehicles,” he noted.