PERHAPS the philosophy that underpins the restricted freedom and constrained liberty of prisoners is that convicted outlaws in official custody should be unable to inflict pain on members of the society through their pernicious activities. Again, the restriction helps to distinguish between convicted felons and law-abiding citizens in the hope that the latter will see a clear disincentive in following in the steps of the former. This differentiation, otherwise known as deterrence, is significant and indeed fundamental to achieving a socially peaceful and tranquil society where citizens tend to think twice before committing crimes. But for Hope Aroke, a convicted Internet fraudster serving a 24-year jail term in the Kirikiri maximum Correctional Centre in Lagos, this philosophy of deterrence is somewhat meaningless because in practical terms, he has been a ‘free man’ even behind the bars. Or how else do you describe someone who reportedly masterminded and pulled off a $1 scam while in custody?
The outcome of the preliminary investigation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on the activities and lifestyle of the convict in jail is even more damaging to the reputation of the department of Correctional Service as an institution. Aroke, against the recognised touchstone custom, allegedly had access to the Internet and mobile phone at the correctional centre! He was even at some point admitted to the Nigerian Police Hospital, Falomo, Lagos,under circumstances suspected to be inappropriate, from where he allegedly moved out to lodge in hotels, meet members of his immediate family and attend social functions!
Pray, how can imprisonment mean anything to Aroke and his ilk, if he is apparently free while supposedly being incarcerated, especially when the anti-graft agencies’ searchlight on crimes may ordinarily not be beamed on him? Sadly, the convict was able to breach the rules guiding his incarceration, not necessarily because he was smart or superhuman but because he succeeded in appealing to the greed of the corrupt elements within the Correctional Service who aided him in his criminal acts. Simply put, corruption by undisciplined public officials made Aroke’s fraud possible. Perhaps one thing that must not escape attention is that the official lapses that culminated in the convict breaking rules at will and masterminding criminal activities from the confines of a maximum prison were not such as could have been orchestrated and perfected by junior operatives of the service without the overt or tacit approval of senior officer(s). And that is a serious matter that should be worrying. What is going on behind the so-called correctional facility is grave.
A while ago, an investigative journalist revealed the monumental rot in the country’s Correctional Service system and not a few were miffed by the grave implications of the incredible revelations. Following the expose, the Ministry of Interior directed the service to look into the journalist’s report and get down to brass tacks. Sadly, this disturbing betrayal of trust is a systemic issue that is not peculiar to the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS). For instance, operatives of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) are always in hot pursuit of suspected internet fraudsters in the streets even after they had been told that it is outside their mandate. However, the motive of FSARS’ operatives, it has been alleged, has hardly ever been to rein in the illegal activities of the fraudsters but to extort money from the innocent ones and collect their ‘share’ of the loot from the real culprits who would become ‘innocent’ as soon as they cooperate. Generally, the rate at which many officials of security agencies in the country compromise their mandate for filthy lucre is frightening and that is why the current issue involving the NCS should not be treated with kid gloves. If virtually limitless liberty could be accorded a convict to do whatever pleased him and perpetrate crime within the confines of a supposedly maximum security prison, what happens in the other variants of correctional facility can only be imagined.
It is yet unclear whether the egregious compromise by the NCS officials that apparently helped Aroke to pull off his latest internet scam happened before or after the service’s name change. It is evident, nonetheless, that attitudinal change by the managers and operatives of the NCS would be crucial to arresting recurrent but avoidable scandals and achieve the real objectives of the change in nomenclature. Meanwhile, we commend the EFCC for its preliminary investigation that brought the NCS’ lapses to the fore and urge it to pursue the enquiry painstakingly so that those responsible for these kinds of patently intentional slips are brought to book. It is expected that the Ministry of interior will show more than a passing interest in this investigation at the highest level because if the NCS cannot take convicted criminals effectively out of circulation and save innocent citizens from their deleterious activities for as long as they remain in custody, then a major reason for its existence has been defeated.