Henry Udutchay writes that Ja’afara Ahmed is making impressive reform at the correctional centres

The Nigeria Correctional Service, previously known as Nigeria Prison Service, has come a long way since the first prison in the country was established in 1872, on Broad Street, Lagos, with initial inmate capacity of 300. This was essentially to complement the colonial judicial system which had already established courts in the Lagos Colony to handle cases ranging from petty disputes, criminal matters, trade disputes and slave trade.

With the expansion of the colonial sphere of interest and influence into the hinterlands, prisons were further established in places like Degema, Calabar, Onitsha, Benin, Ibadan, Sapele, Jebba, and Lokoja. Over the years prisons have been built in virtually every part of the country. All together, the overall prison capacity in Nigeria is estimated above 50,000 which is far below the population of inmates currently in custody in various prisons across the country.

With over stretched facilities and decaying infrastructure, the Nigeria Correctional Service, had remain a very pathetic story for many years. There appeared to have been a deliberate policy to treat the Service as a mere dumping ground for convicted criminals and those awaiting trial. This can be further attested by deplorable condition of correctional facilities across the country.

Equally disheartening was the pitiable condition of service for the Service personnel. Apart from poor remuneration, their welfare was not encouraging. The poor service condition had left them demoralized and affected their productivity. Many of them out of frustration and desperation for survival had resorted to shady deals with prison inmates. This was the era that was characterized by incessant jail breaks and riots in the prisons by prison inmates who desperately wanted to escape the dehumanizing condition of their environment.

This was the state of the Nigeria Correctional Service prior to the appointment of Alhaji Ja’afara Ahmed as the controller General in 2016. His appointment was therefore seen as a herculean task, to reform service that had been neglected for so many years. It was such an unattractive assignment, except for a diehard patriot who is passionately concerned about the strategic importance of the correctional service to the country’s criminal justice system. But Ja’afaru Ahmed appeared to have been well filled for the onerous task.

Before his elevation to the top position of Nigeria Correctional Service, Ja’afaru Ahmed had served the establishment in various capacities. He joined the service as a superintendent of prisons, after a stint with the then SokotoS tate Ministry of Education. He rose through the ranks as Chief Superintendent of Prisons; Assistant Controller of Prisons; Deputy Controller of Prisons,’ Controller of Prisons and Assistant Controller General of prisons.

In the course of his very distinguished career he held various strategic positions among which were, Officer in-Charge, Birinin Kebbi Old Prisons; Officer in-Charge, Kano Central Prisons; Controller of Prison (Admin) and Controller of prisons Sokoto State Command. He was also Controller of Prisons, Kebbi State Command, Assistant Controller General of Prisons (Admin) National Headquarters; Zonal Coordinator, Zone A Headquarters, Lagos and Deputy Controller General of Prison (Admin), National Headquarters, Abuja.

He attended several courses at the Prisons staff College Kaduna; counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) at Command and Staff College Jaji, First Command Course and Advance Command Course both at the prisons Staff College, Kaduna. He equally visited several counties around the world to understudy prisons administration.

Having gone through the mills and acquired such impeccable career record, Ja’afaru Ahmed embraced his assignment at the Nigeria Correctional Service with a deep understanding of the huge challenge that confronted him; the challenge of reforming the service in line with global standard.

One of his first tasks was to embark on massive renovation of correctional facilities across the country to give them a human face. This is a commendable initiative considering that many of the facilities built in the 60s and 70s have become so decrepit and not fit for human habitation. But through his untiring effort most correctional facilities in the country today are wearing new look. They now operate in a more conducive and relaxed atmosphere.

He also vigorously pursued the issue of improved welfare for the staff and inmates of the Service. The staff welfare was paramount to him because the best way to motivate your workers is to give them good welfare package. He therefore has remained resolutely committed to providing good conducive environment and improved welfare, which in turn has resulted in their commitment to efficient service delivery.

Similarly welfare of inmates in the correctional facilities has been significantly enhanced, which is largely responsible why we no longer have the embarrassing experience of frequent jailbreaks across the country.

Closely related to the issue of welfare, is that of empowerment through skill acquisition. He believes that the new concept of the Correctional Service is tailored towards reforming the inmates through skill acquisition programmes, so that when they eventually return back to the society they will have something to fall back. Therefore his administration has provided opportunity for the inmates to acquire skills which will help sustain them in the life after prison.

There are a lot more of very laudable innovative programmes that have considerably helped to reform the Nigeria Correctional Service under the administration of Ja’afaru Ahmed. He has made remarkable impart both in terms of general administration, fighting corruption, capacity building, infrastructural development and welfare of staff and inmates.

However, these remarkable achievements would not have been possible without the support and cooperation of the Hon. Minister of Interior Rauf Aregbesola, who has vigorously pursued the implementation of the reform agenda of the Buhari administration as it affects correctional service. Also the management team and staff of the Nigeria Correctional Services have been quite instrumental for this success story.

While commending Alhaji Ja’afaru Ahmed for the good job he has done so far, which has been well acknowledged and appreciated by the presidency, he will still need to do more towards ensuring that Nigeria correctional service becomes one of the best in the world.

Chief Udutchay,