By Alex Enumah in Abuja
The federal government on Thursday said that the proposed decentralization of correctional service will accelerate the desired reforms as well as decongest Correctional Service Centres across the country.
The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), who stated this at the opening of a three-day National Summit on Correctional Reforms in Nigeria, noted that the federal government in its bid to introduce lasting reforms and decongest Correctional Centres has so far released over 11,000 inmates across the country.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Interior, Mr Rauf Aregbesola, has observed that for the reforms to be successful, focus should not be only on the legal aspect but should be encompassing as well as involving the private sector, particularly in empowering inmates with necessary skills for life after detention.
Speaking at the occasion, Malami, who noted that the event is the next phase of strategic efforts towards enduring reforms and decongestion of Correctional Centres, said with the decentralization of the service, states will be able to make meaningful contribution in the area.
“In a recent event with the State Heads of Courts and Attorneys-General, I had mentioned that in order to put in place enduring measures for effective management of Correctional Centres for the reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders back to the society, the decentralization of correctional service in the country has been proposed.
“This will allow states to effectively participate through the setting up of their own Correctional Centres to manage offenders who commit state offences while the federal government will continue to manage offenders who commit federal offences,” he said.
Outside the proposed decentralization, the AGF disclosed that other efforts made by the government include the development of an Implementation strategy for the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019, as well as implementation of an ICT-enabled national criminal database to promote effective information management in criminal justice administration, decongestion of correctional ventres and non-custodial measures.
“Another milestone in the national strategy towards the decongestion and reformation of correctional centres nationwide is the on-going collaboration between the Federal Ministry of Justice, relevant justice stakeholders and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) with focus on implementing amnesty and decongestion for juveniles deprived of their liberty during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” he added.
In a goodwill message, the Minister of Interior stated that proper planning for reforms of the service should start with the establishment of the “percentage of the Nigerian society that must be incarcerated” because according to him, correctional centres are the end of criminal justice.
Aregbesola further submitted that for reforms to be effective, “convicts are expected to come in broken and come out whole” and also able to easily return to society.
While claiming that government alone cannot handle the challenge, he enjoined the private sector and individuals without criminal records to partner in empowering inmates with necessary skills needed to adjust to life after incarceration.
In his remarks, the Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Correctional Reforms and Decongestion and Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Justice Ishaq Bello, listed the speedy passage of the Nigerian Correctional Services Bill by the National Assembly and the subsequent signing into law of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2019 by President Muhammadu Buhari as a major achievement of the committee.
Justice Bello said some of the critical issues to be considered in the summit included the overview of correctional reform and decongestion in Nigeria – the journey so far; best practices in correctional reforms and lessons from other jurisdictions – (emerging issues/trends in correctional reforms and decongestion); deployment of technology in the management of correctional system in Nigeria – the perspective of the judiciary and deployment of technology in the management of vorrectional system in Nigeria – the perspective of the Nigerian correctional service among others.
The highlight of the event was the unveiling of the “Harmonized FCT Sentencing (Custodial and Non-custodial) Practice Direction 2020”, which was developed by the collaborative efforts of the Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reform and Decongestion, the FCT Judiciary and relevant stakeholders.