Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
A bill newly assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari has given lifeline to condemned inmates who have exhausted all grounds of appeal from the lower court to apex court and have their condemnations upheld after spending 10 years in confinement.
The law has also changed the Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS) to Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS).
According to law, the Correctional Service is made up of Custodial and Non- Custodial Service.
Briefing State House correspondents on the bill wednesday, the President’s National Assembly Liaison Officer, Senator Ita Enang, said confirmed that the bill also changed Nigeria Prisons Service to NCS.
He explained that whereas the Act makes provision for the NCS to provide necessary support aimed at facilitating the speedy disposal of cases of inmates in court, the Act also empowers the chief judge to commute the death sentence of an inmate to life imprisonment after spending 10 years awaiting trial.
To buttress his submission, he cited Section 12(2c) of the Act which provides “that where an inmate sentenced to death has exhausted all legal procedures for appeal and a period of 10 years has elapsed without execution of the sentence, the Chief Judge may commute the sentence of death to life imprisonment,” he said.
He added that “Section 12 (8) empowers the state Controller of the Service to reject more intakes of inmates where it is apparent that the correctional centre in question is filled to capacity.”
On the name change, Enang explained that the new Act creates two faculties of the correctional service which he enumerated as the Custodial Service and Non-Custodial Service.
According to him, the custodial service faculty would among others, put in custody and take control of persons legally interned in safe, secure and humane conditions; convey remand persons to and from courts in motorised formations; identify the existence and causes of anti-social behaviours of inmates and conduct risk and needs assessment aimed at developing appropriate correctional treatment methods for reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration.
Furthermore, Enang listed other functions of the custodial service to include: implementing reformation and rehabilitation programmes to enhance the reintegration of inmates back into the society; initiating behavior modification in inmates through the provision of medical, psychological, spiritual and counseling services for all offenders including violent extremists; empowering inmates through the deployment of educational and vocational skills training programmes, and facilitating incentives and income generation through custodial centres, farms and industries; administering borstal and related institutions; and providing support to facilitate the speedy disposal of cases of persons awaiting trial.
He added that the custodial service has the responsibility to provide inmates with education, take them through skills acquisition programme which would provide them with the opportunity for self-development.
According to him, the Act provides inmates with the opportunity to learn trade, set up businesses while in prison and generate incomes.
He said the affected inmate would own one-third of the income, another one-third would go to the Correctional Service and the last one-third would go to the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.
On the other hand, Enang said, the Non-Custodial Faculty would be responsible for the administration of non-custodial measures, which he listed as community service, probation, parole, restorative justice measures; and such other measures as a court of competent jurisdiction may order.
Enang also disclosed that the Act provides for some restorative justice measures such as “victim-offender mediation, family group conferencing, community mediation and other conciliatory measures as may be deemed necessary pre-trial, trial during imprisonment or even post- imprisonment stages.”
The presidential aide also said the President assented to another bill, Federal Universities of Agriculture (Amendment No.2) Bill, 2019, explaining that the Act amends the Federal Universities of Agriculture Act, Cap. F22, Law of the Federation of Nigeria, changing the name of the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Benue State to Joseph Sarwuan Tarka University, Makurdi.
Asked if the two Acts were not illegal, bearing in mind that the President has only 30 days of grace to assent to a bill after it is passed, and the lifetime of the eighth National Assembly, which passed the bill had expired since June 8, Enang said the 30 days of grace provided for in the constitution only begins to count from the day it is transmitted to the President.
According to him, these bills were transmitted to the President only on July 20, and had been assented to in this month of August, which he said was within the 30 days provided for in the constitution.
He argued that bills do not get transmitted immediately they are passed but have to go through other processes during which they are cleaned up before they can be transmitted, alleging that the clerk of the National Assembly should be asked while transmission of bills are delayed.
His explanation, however, seemed to be contradictory to the known norm where any bill that is not assented to by the President during the lifetime of an assembly expires with that assembly and can only be represented in the new assembly before assent again.