Overtime, prison breaks have proved a major bane of the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS). The lacuna in the NPS was brought to limelight by the incident at the Kuje Medium prison in Abuja, which led to the escape of two inmates. But the rot in the NPS is unbecoming with the latest reported jailbreak of 13 prisoners, comprising 10 pre-trial detainees and three convicts, escaping from Koton Karfe Prison in Kogi State in the early hours of Saturday, July 30, 2016. And not forgetting the inmates who escaped from Nsukka Prison in Enugu State a fortnight ago.
How else can one rationalise the surprising serial jail breaks at the Koton Karfe Federal Prisons in recent time; firstly in 2013, the second incident being in 2014 and then this recent one. There are innumerable reasons for this recurring decimal; the prime of the calculated proximate causes being congestion, carelessness and conspiracy. This mockery of the Nigerian Prison system is clearly demeaning and an indictment of the judiciary as an institution of solace for victims of injustice and also the legislative arm of government since they are the ones who decided that victimless crimes deserve prison time.
Succinctly, merely investigating the cause with no action taken only smirks of recklessness of the highest order where some persons trade in escape of criminals. The era of not mapping out in clear terms the security measures to be put in place in checkmating the excesses of inmates and incessant jail break has to be bade farewell and sanctions enforced against any public officer found to have connived with the convicts.
The legislative arm of government appear set to depart from the lackadaisical approach adopted over the years by successive legislative regimes since 2001 that have failed to pass the Bill seeking the amendment of the extant prison law last reviewed in 1972. Currently, the Nigerian National Assembly is considering an Act to repeal the Prisons Act Cap. P29 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and enact the Nigerian Prisons and Correctional Service, to make provisions for the administration of Prisons in Nigeria; the Awaiting Trial Persons and for Related Purposes, 2016.
Of note, the prison structures across many parts of the nation are eyesores. Prisoners are groaning and even the prison officers are complaining of unfair conditions of service due to poor remuneration, absence of job schedules and career pattern, among others. While it is hoped that Nigerian Prisons and Correctional Services Bill 2016 will provide the respite at this critical period, foot dragging could spell doom, making the Bill suffer same fate as that of an ‘abiku’, as was the case during previous administrations since 2001.
In the interim, the Ministry of Interior, currently supervising the Nigeria Police, the Prisons Service and other paramilitary services like the Fire Service, the Immigration Service and the Civil Defence Corp, must brace up to provide immediate solution.
Succinctly, the reforms in the NPS definitely must transcend change of name as envisaged by the Bill to comprehensively address the failings of our criminal justice system and rehabilitate the prisons in line with global best practices. And also eventually introduce programmes in the prison systems that actually rehabilitate convicts to be successful and patriotic citizens when released back into society!
As a subtle reminder, considering that a good number of legislators are padding and paddling their boat gently to the gallows, there is no better time than now to reform the prisons service. This will be a great delight to their new constituents in future.
- Ogunjobi is a Lagos-based attorney and public affairs commentator.