Reforming Nigerian prisons

The establishment of the Nigerian Prison Service (NPS) dates before 1861 when the agency switched to the western-type prison system. The NPS, over several decades of continuous functionality, has metamorphosed and through dogged efforts has systematically put in place a prison service system to reflect the millennium goals of a modern prison service. In recent years when the nation  was  faced with  insecurity, terrorism, insurgency and ethnic militia, the NPS was not spared as some of its holding facilities were attacked by the terrorist with guns, bombs, grenade  and powerful rifles, leading to the forceful release of its members or inmates whose jail terms were yet to be served or some of those awaiting trials who were kept in the facility. Some of them were sometimes recaptured or willingly surrendered themselves for fear of being re-arrested.

The recent amendment of the Nigerian Prison Act; introduction of several   strategic innovations  in service delivery; restructuring of the operational  module; re-introduction of  farm centres; upgrading of  the  health centre; re-construction and continuous  renovations of structures in the over 240 holding facilities of the  NPS service have made the agency to withstand the requirements of prison services in line with best practices all over the world. The NPS put in place adequate measures to curtail the incidence of attacks by terrorists through adequate manpower to counter any anticipated attack by the hoodlums.This has actually paid off as there are recent reports of repelling attacks. The continuous rehabilitation, construction of juvenile reformative centres (boostal prison centres) in Enugu, in addition to the existing ones in Kaduna, Ilorin and Abeokuta; as well as the renovation and construction of other facilities to meet global reformative standards of the NPS are highly commendable.

The proposed bill for the amendment of the Nigerian Prison Act CAP 29 Laws of the Federation  (2004)to allow for awaiting trails inmates to undertake formal and vocational training and recreation of special centres for pregnant and nursing inmates and children under three years and below will be an immeasurable assistance to the reform system. About 430 of inmates are reportedly already enrolled in the National Open University of Nigeria for different degrees and qualifications. The re-introduction of disciplinary measures to address  misconduct indiscipline by staff and officers also reportedly led to  the recent dismissal of about 23 serving officers found wanting and suspension of 11 others.

The re-opening of holding facilities that were hither to closed due to insecurity and the re-introduction of farm centres which led to  the acquisition of tractors and othermechanised farming machinery will aid food supply in the country. The establishment of skills acquisition centers within the holding facilities across the nation will ultimately augur well for the inmates when they are out of prison custody. Howver, the Federal Government should make frantic efforts to address the issues of overcrowding in the holding facilities by establishing more prisons across the country. It should increase the yearly budgets of the NPS to meet the needs of the agency. The issue of under-staffing is another factor militating against the  agency, and government at all levels are enjoined  to make their  contributions and assist the NPS to meet the needs of the nation in its bid to reduce crime and to make criminals better  people in the society.

  • Oserenwengie is of the Initiative for Better Society Through Training, Rehabilitation and Reformation.