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FG Supplementing Punishment With Non-custodial Measures –NCoS Spokesperson

The Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) has adopted measures geared towards the decongestion of custodial centres, one of which is the restorative justice approach. Spokesperson for the agency, ACC, ABUBAKAR UMAR, offers perspectives in an interview with EMMANUEL ONANI.

How has the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) fared since the assumption of office of the CG in February 2021?

So far, the Service has fared well in several areas. For instance, we have introduced technology in various aspects of our operations especially in surveillance and monitoring of custodial facilities. Currently, we have a situation room located at the headquarters from where our custodial facilities are monitored. We did not only stop at that; we have also enhanced rapid response. We provided logistics for rapid response in all states of the Federation. Secondly, we have been able to properly manage the resources available to us in caring for the teeming number of inmates in our facilities. Considering the economic situation of the country occasioned by soaring inflation, we have been able to adequately utilize scarce resources to effectively superintend over our facilities.

This is largely attributed to the proper management of both staff and inmates in our facilities by the Service. In terms of staff training and welfare, we have also achieved a lot by providing succor to our staff, especially in these times of economic hardship. Recently, we rolled out buses to chauffeur staff to and from their homes at no cost. We have also invested a lot in staff training and development. Hardly any time that all our training institutions are not occupied mounting one course or the other. We have also built barracks and other schemes aimed at providing befitting accommodation for our staff and their families. We have a micro-finance bank which provides financial succour to staff and their families. We have also been able to improve on infrastructure.

We are trying to expand our total capacity by 18,000. We are building new custodial centres, renovating old structures and adding structures to meet with modern trends. As you are aware, most of our facilities were built during colonial era. Some of them were built without basic facilities that are needed in contemporary times. We are improving on these structures for those that are redeemable, while others are being pulled down and reconstructed. So far, we have done a lot, which for the want of time; I would not be able to mention all now. For instance, prompt Promotion of Staff has been a constant thing since 2021, acquisition of FCT Borstal Institution that has been long waited for. The tenacity of the Comtroller General, Haliru Nababa desires to ensure that the Reformatory process of inmates are upheld, cannot be over emphasized.

This has led to establishment of more skills acquisition workshops in Custodial Centres across the country ranging from leather factories, Bakeries, carpentries and a host of others. In spite of efforts being made to decongest custodial centres across the country, the inmate population seems to be recording a steady increase. What, in your opinion, could be responsible for this development? Yes, we have set up several reforms targeted at addressing overcrowding in the custodial centres. Apart from reforms brought about by the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019, we have carried out spontaneous measures as low hanging fruits towards addressing this situation. You would be aware that the Honourable Minister of Interior, Dr. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, in 2023 initiated the release of a total of 4,086 inmates with option of fines.

This initiative assisted in decongesting the facilities to a great extent. Suffice it to say that the rate of crime is increasing, and also the population of awaiting trials is identified as the major cause of congestion of Custodial Centres across the federation.

There are concerns that Correctional facilities in the country do not have buffer zones needed to stave-off possible attacks. What is your reaction to this?

This is not true. In 2021, the then Minister for Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, declared buffer of 500m around all custodial centres. We have since implemented these buffers where possible. However, there are custodial centres that by virtue of their location are not able to carve out buffer zones. Some of our facilities have been caught up by urbanization and we are partnering with state governments to relocate them to appropriate locations.

Would you say the NCoS is doing enough in terms of reformation, considering the fact that many ex-offenders had been found to have returned to their old ways?

I want to let you know that a lot is going on in our Custodial Centres, Farm Centres, Cottage industries, Agric projects and other of our facilities. In our custodial centres, you must have heard that inmates engage in formal education, and that we run adult literacy as well as undergraduate and post graduate courses in some of our facilities. We are currently in a robust partnership with the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) which is yielding lots of results. Now, we have more than 2000 inmates running various degree programmes in our Custodial Centres. In 2023 alone, over 1200 inmates sat for various external examinations such as BECE, WASSCE, and others. It may interest you to know that we have 6 inmates currently pursuing doctorate degrees in our facilities. In the areas of vocational skills acquisition and training, we have put in a lot to ensure that our various workshops are activated to provide the necessary training needed to empower inmates and give them a means of livelihood.

In your considered view, do you think the criminal justice sector is doing enough to promote restorative justice and non-custodial approach to decongestion of facilities?

Thank you for asking this question. Modern trends in global corrections and the criminal justice system is tilting to what is known as the new penology, and that is what is referred to as community corrections. In modern times, countries and nations are paying less attention to the use of imprisonment as the sole method of punishing offenders. They are divesting to supplementing it with non-custodial measures such as probation, parole, community service, restorative justice and others. Luckily for Nigeria, in 2015 the Ad- ministration of Criminal Justice Act was enacted and non-custodial measures such as restorative justice were introduced. In 2019, the Nigerian Correctional Service came to lime- light and clearly established the use of non-custodial measures in Part II of the Act.

For we in the Service, we have keyed into this. We now have a directorate of non-custodial service, and we have set up non-custodial offices and posted personnel to the 774 local government areas to supervise non-custodial sentences. There is no doubt that non-custodial measures are the elixir we need to stamp out the trend of overcrowd- ing in our custodial facilities. We are liaising with other stakeholders in the criminal justice system to en- trench the use of non-custodial in sentencing. Being a new phenomenon, the non-custodial measures are taking time to shape in, but we are fine-tuning the process to ensure efficiency in supervision.

We are not also oblivious that implementing these measures are capital-intensive that requires funding and professional human resource to drive it. We are hoping that other stakeholders like the courts and CSOs as well as various community leaders would synergize with us to drive this process which has a potential of changing the face of criminal justice in Nigeria.

The NCoS has consistently blamed the slow progress recorded in the area of decongestion on the failure of Governors to endorse death warrants. Are there plans to persuade the President to issue an Executive order for this purpose?

Presently, there is a moratorium of execution of death sentences due to the outcry of human right organisations around the world. However, that does not mean that the practice has been abolished in Nigeria. The Nigerian Correctional Service Act in Section 12(2c) empowers the Chief Judge to commute death sentence those who have exhausted all legal procedures for appeal and spent 10 years in custody without execution. This Act addresses the concern raised by your question and I enjoin the various authorities in the system to per- form their roles diligently.

There seems to be a steady rise in social vices occasioned by cultism, examination malpractices, drug abuse, rape and the like. Has the Service increased the number of Borstal centres across the federation?

Yes. Juvenile delinquency or of- fending is a phenomenon that its rate is increasing geometrically. The age bracket of puberty and adolescence are characterized by conflicts which arise from the internal physical and biochemical changes that occurs at these periods. Most times, if these conflicts are not properly managed, they may lead to offending and other forms of delinquencies. Borstal institutions are reformatory institutions which provide counselling, educational, vocational and sundry services to juvenile delinquents. Hitherto, we had only 3 located in Kaduna, Ilorin and Abeokuta. However, now we have six (6) in addition to the afore-mentioned, we also set up borstal institutions in FCT, Kano and Enugu. There are plans to replicate them in all States of the Federation as demanded by the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019.

What will you say has changed since your transition from Nigerian Prisons to Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS)?

To a great extent, a lot has changed. The notion before the change of name was that custodial facilities were established for punitive and retributive reasons only. But in this new regime, it is all about the behaviour modification of the offender through correctional practices that will equip them to lead crime-free lives after discharge. You can see that there is a spike in reformatory activities; we are seeing a more humane service that is offender-centered and dynamic in its policies and modus operandi. In addition, the law that brought the change of name, i.e. the Nigerian Correctional Service really correctional. For instance, the Act expanded the management of the service from the previous six (6) directorates to now eight (8) or more.

The law also introduced a form of community corrections known as non-custodial measures, where offenders with less serious of- fences can be sentenced to measure like probation, community service, suspended sentence, parole and so on. Also, the service has deployed the use of restorative justice to mediate and resolve conflicts that should ordinarily lead to imprisonment. All these measures are geared towards decongesting our facilities and making them truly correctional. So, the change of name has repositioned the service to a great extent.

There have been reported cases of officials smuggling in substances and other items that threaten internal security. What punitive measures have been put in place to deter such misconducts?

This accusation is just the figment of the imagination of its originators. It is false- hood meant to bring the Service to disrepute, and I want to encourage the general public to disregard it as there are no such persons in the Service. The service is enthroning discipline among its personnel through regular trainings and retraining as well as ensuring sanctions for erring staff in accordance with extant rules and regulations. Also, the service encourages excellence among the staff; hence, we recently gave life to the Correctional Officers Reward Fund (CORF) through which many personnel who have displayed excellence, gallantry and exceptional performances are rewarded. All these and more are geared towards promoting discipline and full loyalty to the service. So, the accusation is not through and should be disregarded, please.

What is the carrying capacity of custodial centres as opposed to what obtains currently?

The total capacity of the 253 custodial centers in Nigeria is 50,000. Work is ongoing at the various sites of the 3000 capacity custodial facilities in the 6 geopolitical zones, a n d very soon, they would be commissioned to add to the present capacity.

No security breach of any facility has been recorded in the last couple of months. What would you say is responsible for the feat?

The custodial centres are part of the larger society. In fact, it is a microcosm of the society. It is not isolated from activities in the outside society. We are all aware of the security situation of the country; being a part of the society, it is not shielded from the unfortunate security challenges we are facing. However, the Nigerian Correctional Service is poised to secure all its facilities nationwide and we are achieving results. The reason for the success we are recording would not be unconnected to our proactive effort which we employed. We have deployed technology in surveillance and we are yielding results. We have also synergized with sister security agencies as well as community leaders to shore up security in and around custodial facilities.

More importantly, we have deployed both overt and covert means of gathering intelligence in and around custodial facilities. We are grateful to the President and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu GCFR, for the support extended to the Service. We also appreciate the Honourable Minister for Interior for his persistent support towards ensuring that the Service moves forward.

What is the current inmate population?

As at this morning( Tuesday, February 13), we have a total of 77,552 inmates comprising of 75,809 males and 1743 females.

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