On Wednesday, August 19, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari signed a bill into law. This bill is chiefly geared towards changing the name of the Nigeria Prisons Service into the Nigeria Correctional Service. This development is very significant given that it bothers on a salient aspect of social existence and intercourse: crime.
Crime, as argued by many scholars, is an inevitable reality in the society. To put it differently, there is no crime-free society. What is obtainable is that the rate of crime incidence could vary from one society to another. The correctional facilities play a vital role in determining this variance. There is consensus among criminologists that there are three important aspects of the criminal justice system. They are: the police, the trial court and the correctional home (see Dambazau’s “Criminology and Criminal Justice”). Thus, correction occupies an important place in crime discourses, specifically crime prevention and control.
The prison is an aspect of correction. Correction is broader in that it goes beyond ostracizing the offender only as in the case of prison, it also sees to his rehabilitation, restitution and resocialization. Therefore, the move to change the Nigeria Prisons Service to the Nigeria Correctional Service is indeed a commendable one; especially as it is against the background that there are many things wrong with the Nigeria Prisons Service.
Moving forward, I dare say that the semantic transformation alone is not enough, there are more to do if truly rehabilitation and not punishment is the watchword here. Modern correctional facilities are fast leaving Nigeria’s behind given that no substantial restructuring has been accorded to it. This explains why the rate of criminal activities is high in Nigeria. In saner climes, prisons are for reformatory activities. But in Nigeria, prisons harden inmates the more due to the level of punishment meted to them. This is against the submission of Michael Foucault that discipline is not about capital punishment but ‘space’ which enhances reformation.
Zaynab Aliyu who was accused of trafficking drug by the Saudi Arabia authority and therefore remanded was reported to have learnt pure Arabic and committed half of the Quran to heart during her sojourn in a Saudi dungeon. This is a country where the prison system works. The opposite is the case in Nigeria, no value is added to offenders; rather they are devalued. Inmates are also human beings. By virtue of that, ‘some of their fundamental human rights’ should be well guaranteed. They should be given the freedom to study, learn vocational skills and advance personally.
The Nigeria Prisons Service has failed the Nigerian society in its entirety. This is evident in the level of recidivism that stares most Nigerian prisons in the face. The chance at which ex-inmates would be re-admitted into the jail is very high. The Nigerian prison system breeds the criminal tendencies in an individual-offender. A petty criminal may come out of the system to become a die-hard criminal.
The modus operandi in Nigerian prisons does not support the rehabilitation of offenders. In most cases, petty criminals are put together with hardened criminals, paving the way for the further mal-socialization and criminalization of the former. Living condition in Nigerian prisons is very harsh which could toughen inmates the more. The problem of overcrowding is another with many of the inmates awaiting trials. No genuine rehabilitation programmes for inmates. Rather, they are given demanding tasks and exposed to capital punishments which can only harden them the more. To this day, there are still insinuations that in Nigerian prisons a new inmate is given the beating of his life to serve as a ‘welcome party’. So, how does an offender come out of this shambolic system re-socialized?
The phenomenon of stratification is another major problem in the Nigerian prison system. Some prisoners are more equal than others. While some ‘big prisoners’ spend their jail terms in a well-conducive environment; common prisoners continue to languish in deteriorated blocks in prison. This is why Marxists and most conflict theorists hold that the prison is also a haven of social inequality. Nothing could attest to this than the state of the Nigerian prison system. Should some inmates be more equal than the others?
In the light of all these, it is thus re-assuring that the presidency had deemed it fit to right many of the wrongs in the Nigerian prisons by assenting to the bill. In the same token, kudos must be given to the eight assembly for initiating this bill, and to the ninth assembly for not discarding it on political grounds. However, it is not over until it is over. It is hoped that this development will not just exist on paper. Indeed, if the problem of rehabilitation, overcrowding, structure, inequality could be addressed in the prisons, the rate at which criminal activities occur would reduce drastically.
Abdullah Abdulganiy, University of Ilorin