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Edwin: Condition of Nigerian prisons, inmates embarrassing

Rt. Hon. Anayo Edwin is a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), representing Ezza North/ Ishielu Federal Constituency of Ebonyi State. He is the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Reformatory Institutions and has also indicated interest to run for the governorship seat of Ebonyi in 2023. In this interview with CHUKWU DAVID, he speaks on the deplorable state of the nation’s Correctional Centres (Prisons) and government’s efforts to change the narrative as well as frequent incidences of jailbreaks in Nigeria

 

You are the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Reformatory Institutions, and your Committee oversights the nation’s Correctional Centres, formerly called Nigeria prisons. What is your impression about the state of the centres today?

 

Before we came on board, that is, before I was appointed as the Chairman of the Committee on Reformatory Institutions, Correctional Centres across the country were in a very deplorable state.

 

However, immediately after the Correctional Centres Act, 2019, was put in place, which we are implementing today, things started changing for the better at the centres in the country. First, when I was appointed as the Chairman, I was mandated to go and visit all the Correctional Centres across the states of Nigeria, which I did with my team and we came back to the House with a very comprehensive report. We stated emphatically in our report that we need to do something very urgent about our Correctional Centres.

 

The House adopted our report and since then things are being done to change the status of the centres. But you know that it is not a one day thing. It is something we are doing gradually.

 

However, since the year 2020 and now, a lot has been done and a lot more is being done to put the centres in proper condition. If you go round the centres, you will confirm what I am saying especially if you actually know the state of the nation’s Correctional Centres in the past.

 

We are making progress gradually and I believe that what we are doing is so visible that Nigerians can easily see and appreciate it because this is not a matter of lip service or propaganda.

 

Something is going on tremendously to give the centres a face lift. I’m sure that you asked this question based on the pathetic state of things you saw at the centres in the past. If you visit the centres now, you will see a big difference.

 

What did you observe as the major predicaments of the Correctional Centres as at the last time your Committee embarked on oversight tour of the centres?

 

We met so many problems on ground but the most pronounced one was the very poor and deplorable state of infrastructure at the Correctional Centres. It was really a very bad and pathetic sight to behold. What we met on ground, on a very serious note, was nothing to write home about.

 

So, we took note of that and captured it very succinctly in our report. We also looked at the welfare of the inmates. We looked at their medicals and feeding.

 

We took a holistic look at what was happening at the centres but the most important one was the infrastructure.

 

We really stressed the worrisome state of the infrastructure we met on ground and the need to urgently intervene and change the story because it was rather embarrassing for a country like Nigeria, which is globally rated as the giant of Africa, to have

 

kind of poor state of infrastructure at the Correctional Centres.

 

How would you describe the intervention made so far by this Government to change the ugly narratives about the infrastructural decay at the nation’s Correctional Centres?

 

Well, as I have already told you shortly, I am saying it again, that based on our report to the House, after our oversight visits to the centres across the country, the Federal Government, and when I say the Federal Government, I mean the Executive arm of Government which has the power of execution, has done and is still doing a lot to transform the centres across the country.

 

It’s a huge project but it has to be done because if it is not done, it will continue to be a source of embarrassment to us, and it will negatively affect our development record.

 

A lot of renovation is going on, and where there is no standard medical facility, we are providing such at the Correctional Centres. Everything I’m telling you about the Correctional Centres is verifiable. So, anybody can go round and find out. You can even ask the inmates to compare their experience now and their situation in the past. The facts are there, so you can verify.

 

In advanced democracies, prisons or Correctional Centres as they are currently being called are intended to rehabilitate the inmates and make them better citizens when they come out but here in Nigeria, the intentions are punitive. Is your Committee doing anything to reverse this ugly trend?

 

That’s what I am trying to tell you.

When we called the Correctional Centres prisons, it was something very punitive but with the change of the nomenclature as they are now called Correctional Centres, the orientation has also changed and the treatment being given to the inmates is also changing to reflect the new nomenclature.

 

We want to ensure that Correctional Centres are no more centres for suffering people but to change their behavioural tendencies from bad to good. But as I told you, it is a gradual process.

 

They are becoming centres where you can correct people and make them useful to the society when they come out rather than traumatise and make them useless or near useless when they leave the centres.

 

From your oversight visits, can you say that the Correctional Centres have You are the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Reformatory Institutions, and your Committee oversights the nation’s Correctional Centres, formerly called Nigeria prisons. What is your impression about the state of the centres today?

 

Before we came on board, that is, before I was appointed as the Chairman of the Committee on Reformatory Institutions, Correctional Centres across the country were in a very deplorable state. However, immediately after the Correctional Centres Act, 2019, was put in place, which we are implementing today, things started changing for the better at the centres in the country.

 

First, when I was appointed as the Chairman, I was mandated to go and visit all the Correctional Centres across the states of Nigeria, which I did with my team and we came back to the House with a very comprehensive report. We stated emphatically in our report that we need to do something very urgent about our Correctional Centres.

 

The House adopted our report and since then things are being done to change the status of the centres. But you know that it is not a one day thing. It is something we are doing gradually. However, since the year 2020 and now, a lot has been done and a lot more is being done to put the centres in proper condition.

 

If you go round the centres, you will confirm what I am saying especially if you actually know the state of the nation’s Correctional Centres in the past.

 

We are making progress gradually and I believe that what we are doing is so visible that Nigerians can easily see and appreciate it because this is not a matter of lip service or propaganda.

 

Something is going on tremendously to give the centres a face lift. I’m sure that you asked this question based on the pathetic state of things you saw at the centres in the past. If you visit the centres now, you will see a big difference. What did you observe as the major predicaments of the Correctional Centres as at the last time your Committee embarked on oversight tour of the centres? We met so many problems on ground but the most pronounced one was the very poor and deplorable state of infrastructure at the Correctional Centres. It was really a very bad and pathetic sight to behold. What we met on ground, on a very serious note, was nothing to write home about. So, we took note of that and captured it very succinctly in our report. We also looked at the welfare of the inmates. We looked at their medicals and feeding. We took a holistic look at what was happening at the centres but the most important one was the infrastructure.

 

We really stressed the worrisome state of the infrastructure we met on ground and the need to urgently intervene and change the story because it was rather embarrassing for a country like Nigeria, which is globally rated as the giant of Africa, to have sufficient manpower to effectively manage the Institutions and the inmates?

Well, I will just tell you that we have issues on that aspect of the Correctional ccentres too. We have issues with respect to manpower, and that is why we have jail-break here and there.

And all this boils down to the inadequate budgetary allocations to the centres on a yearly basis. The Correctional Services have no good budget.

 

And since I came in, I have been shouting about the poor budgetary allocations to the Correctional Centres. Like last year, the capital allocation was over N12 billion.

 

This year again, it’s about the same thing. So, it has been a major problem year in year out. If the budget of the centres can be seriously improved upon, it will go a long way in bringing the required positive changes we intend to carry out at the centres because there is nothing you can achieve without funds.

 

Hardened criminals at the centres were known to be very brutish to fellow inmates. Is that also being addressed because it’s also of great concern?

 

Yes, you know some of these things are a function of the environment. The moment people see themselves in an environment that is not conducive; definitely it makes them start misbehaving.

That’s why I am laying emphasis on infrastructure and funding. You cannot get good infrastructure on ground without adequate funding. If the funding is improved, it can take care of the infrastructure and other welfare concerns of the inmates and so many other things will be corrected at the centres.

 

Jail-break has become a rampant occurrence in the country. What do you think is the cause and how can this be curtailed or stopped?

That is purely a security affair. So, I cannot tell you what the Correctional Centres are doing to address that but what you should know is that the centres and the sister agencies are working tirelessly to make sure that we curtail and ultimately stop this ugly development of jail-break in the country because we are no more safe and comfortable with this worrisome situation in the country.

 

That is where the Correctional Centre is focusing on now, to ensure that they have complete security gadgets and other security facilities that can help curtail jail-breaks in the country.

 

Some are of the opinion that these jail-breaks are politically motivated. Do you agree with this view?

I cannot say that because with our investigation at some centres, we cannot specifically link it to politics and politicians. I also believe that when the state of insecurity becomes too high, that’s when you start seeing such things.

 

It’s just like we have terrorism and banditry on the increase across the country that is the same thing that is happening at the Correctional Centres. It’s a sign of increasing insecurity in our country. I believe that terrorists do go to Correctional Centres to release their members who are confined in such centres

 

There is a proposal to increase the cost of daily feeding of each prison inmate to N1,000. Do you think that this is sufficient, looking at the low purchasing power of the Naira today?

 

Yes, we are the ones that recommended it in our report after our visit to the Correctional Centres. It was actually N450 per day per inmate.

 

This means N150 per meal. It was when we visited and saw the conditions of the inmates at the centres that we recommended that it should be pushed higher. In fact, what we recommended was N750 to the House, which the House presented to the President and he signed.

The N1,000 came up during the budget defence in the Senate. They said that N750 was not enough, and so recommended that it should be increased to N1,000. But as I speak to you today, what is in the budget is N750.

 

Now let’s talk politics. It appears that your party, the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), is losing grip of your State, Ebonyi, with the defection of Governor Dave Umahi, to the All Progressives Congress, (APC). What is your take on this scenario especially as 2023 general elections are fast approaching?

If you say that my party is losing grip, I disagree with you because a tree cannot make a forest. As far as I am concerned, the only person that left PDP in Ebonyi State is the governor. The eight National Assembly members are still intact. The leaders of the party in the state are still intact.

 

The supporters are still intact. So, I don’t believe that PDP is losing anything in Ebonyi State. In 2023, the PDP will regain Ebonyi. PDP will win the election as they normally do in Ebonyi State.

And I want to tell you that PDP today, is a very transparent party. I want you to follow up what is going to happen in Ebonyi State come 2023. One is that the PDP is going to do very transparent primaries because that is the genesis of problems of parties. But the PDP that I know today is going to conduct very fair and transparent primaries.

And immediately somebody emerges as a candidate, others will support the person.

 

Don’t you think that the power of incumbency will give APC an advantage over the PDP in the main elections since the governor is now in APC?

I don’t believe that. APC has failed this country; the APC has failed everybody including you. So, anybody that is talking about APC is deceiving himself.

 

The National Assembly had proposed direct primaries in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021, which President Muhammadu Buhari vetoed. The Assembly has now decided to do the bidding of Mr. President by making it flexible for parties to apply whichever model they prefer. Do you think that Nigeria would have gained more in terms of credibility of elections if direct primaries were adopted in the Bill?

 

I am a politician to the core. So, my own take on that is that if you are popular and acceptable to your people, I don’t think that any of the modes of election will be scaring you. But we have found ourselves in a situation where we want to control everything. However, for me, direct primaries will give room for the people to nominate whom they want as their candidate. Nobody should have control over the delegates and that is what the direct primary aims to achieve. Allow the people to select the people by themselves.

 

So, direct primary is more democratic and leaves the power with the people. But the indirect primary is being controlled by one person or  a few persons. However, we have to grow gradually and continue to improve on our system until one day we get it right.

 

Are you disappointed that the President did not sign the Electoral Bill principally because of the Clause on direct primaries?

 

Of course, I was initially disappointed because the President has been preaching about transparency in elections in the past.

 

However, he also has his reasons for not signing it because the other argument is that the political parties should be allowed the freedom to use whatever method that they choose to produce their candidates. You know that in a democracy, the minority will have their say while the majority will have their way. So, I believe that we should not because of the issue of mode of primary allow the whole Electoral Bill to be thrown out because there are so many other good provisions in the bill that will help to advance our democracy.

 

By giving room for indirect primaries, which is a major tool for manipulation and imposition of candidates by those in privileged positions, do you think Nigeria can still get right candidates as well as credible elections in future?

 

Yes, I believe that even with the indirect primaries we can still get credible elections in 2023, especially with the electronic transmission of election results we can have credible elections.

 

Some Nigerians are disappointed that the National Assembly did not override President Buhari’s veto on the Electoral Bill. What is your take on this?

 

I want to encourage Nigerians not to be disappointed. I said that we can still conduct credible elections because there are other mechanisms that can help to ensure that elections are credible.

 

You know the best way to achieve a lot for the people is when there is harmonious relationship among the different arms of government. But when there is acrimony, only little or nothing can be achieved. So, let us try this instead of truncating the whole process through fighting.

 

The Senate included consensus in its version while re-amending the Bill. Do you want consensus to be part of the   Electoral Act; don’t you think that it will be seriously abused?

I don’t like that consensus. It means that you want to just sit down and carry power and give some people. So, I don’t believe in the idea of including consensus in the Electoral Act. For me, everybody should go and test their popularity in the field.

 

Therefore, I want them to drop the consensus when the Conference Committee of the Senate and the House will sit to harmonise their differences. After all, in the letter President Buhari wrote to the House through the Speaker, he did not ask for consensus. He only requested that indireçt primary should be included.

 

There is this information in public space that you have an ambition to govern your state come 2023. How true is this?

 

 

It has been in the public domain. We have been consulting. We have been moving around to talk to the people that are concerned. The point here is that Ebonyi people want me to run for the number one seat come 2023, and I am doing that on the platform of the PDP. Although you are not a neophyte in the politics of Ebonyi State but considering other political heavy weights in the State, do you think that you have what it takes to win election as governor in 2023? As far as I am concerned, the people that I am going to contest with, their time has expired and they don’t want to believe it. Ebonyi is changing day by day.

The people are going to elect their leaders come 2023, nobody is going to impose anybody. Those political heavy weights, no, let me say those political heavy names, have failed Ebonyians; and Ebonyi people want to use their hand to select who governs them in 2023.

I am not afraid of any big name. Before the primaries, we are going to tell the people what we have done before with the mandate given us. I always tell people that I am very happy that almost all the people running for governor in PDP have tasted one political position or another.

So, you must give account of the opportunity they have given you in the past before you say that you are going for another one. On that platform, Ebonyians have to select their leaders. So, I am not afraid.

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