Congested state of custodial centres major setback for Nigeria’s criminal justice system – Stakeholders

Supreme Desk
21 Nov 2023 12:21 PM GMT
Congested state of custodial centres major setback for Nigeria’s criminal justice system – Stakeholders
An Abeokuta-based legal practitioner, Mr Adelabu Akintunde, attributed the situation to unnecessary delays and negligence by prosecuting officers in the investigation of crimes.

Stakeholders in Ogun, Kwara and Oyo States have decried the congested state of the custodial centres across the country, describing it as a major setback for Nigeria’s criminal justice system.

The respondents, in separate interviews with the newsmen in Abeokuta, Ilorin and Ibadan on Tuesday, identified both the causes of and solutions to the challenge.

An Abeokuta-based legal practitioner, Mr Adelabu Akintunde, attributed the situation to unnecessary delays and negligence by prosecuting officers in the investigation of crimes.

According to Akintunde, inadequate operational vehicles to move suspects to court on their adjournment days often results in keeping the inmates in the correctional facilities more than necessary.

An official of Abeokuta Correctional Centre, who pleaded anonymity, blamed the congestion on delays experienced in the issuance of legal advice by the office of Directors of Public Prosecution (DPPs) in some states.

The official suggested that a time limit be set for the issuance of legal advice.

“I call on controllers of custodial centres in the various state commands to enforce the provisions of Section 12(4), (7) and (8) of the Correctional Act, 2019, which empower them to reject new inmates where capacities of the facilities have been exceeded.

“This measure often puts the ministry of justice on its toes to act fast in decongesting the correctional centres,” said the official.

To a public affairs analyst, Mr Funsho Akinbo, the congestion challenge has constituted a major setback to Nigeria’s criminal justice system.

Akinbo said correctional centres were not established to just keep criminals but to serve as avenues to rehabilitate, remould and make the lives of inmates more useful while serving their terms and afterward.

He attributed the development to the failure of concerned authorities to respect and implement the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, the Police Act, 2020 and the Correctional Service Centre Act, 2019.

These acts, Akinbo said, were enacted to arrest some of the major challenges in the correctional centres.

The Senior Special Assistant on Legal Matters to Gov. Dapo Abiodun of Ogun, Mr Ope Owotunmi, however, blamed the Federal Government for what he called an unfortunate development.

According to Owotunmi, the overcrowded condition of the correctional centres is more of a creation of the federal government than that of the states.

He explained that until this year, the Nigerian Correctional Services (NCoS) was on the exclusive list, meaning that only the federal government could build or manage custodial centres.

“It was just recently that the building and management of custodial centres were moved to the concurrent list. But before now, the federal government was responsible.

“Detainees could come from different parts of the country, even when the facilities had exceeded their capacities,” he said.

He was, however, of the opinion that there was nothing wrong with funding correctional centres to feed people on death row with taxpayers’ funds.

“Feeding such people in the correctional centres is not different from funding the purchase of weapons and ammunition for security agencies.

“When a violent criminal is kept in prison, members of the public are protected and so there is nothing wrong in spending public funds in ensuring the safety of the people.

“Moreover, the Nigerian society is no longer unanimous on the issue of capital punishment and so governors often take time to analyse the issues because lives are involved.

“A number of countries have also expunged provisions of capital punishment from their constitutions, ” he said.

The governor’s aide frowned at the method of clearing the death row to create space at the facilities.

According to him, people on death row are not usually in the majority at the facilities.

Owotunmi suggested the building of more facilities and consideration of community services, probation, the exercise of prerogative of mercy by governors and rehabilitation programmes for non-violent offenders as ways out of the challenges.

He also canvassed for more parental attention for youths as part of solutions to the problem.

However, the Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ilorin branch, Kamaldeen Gambari, called on government to provide adequate welfare for magistrates and judges.

He said that welfare of members of the bench, especially those at the lower level, should not be limited to only salary.

Gambari, looking beyond salary as welfare incentives, said no matter the amount of salary given to civil servants, they would always need more, as their spending increases, resulting in inflation.

“They should be given free medical services, social amenities like official cars, accommodation and wardrobe allowances, including sponsorship to trainings, conferences and seminars.

“If all their social needs are met, they may not need a huge salary, because even if they are given N1 million monthly, these are the some of the things they will use it for,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Kwara Ministry of Justice, Idowu Akande, said that the congestion of custodial centres, relative to the United Nations standards, was no longer news.

Akande identified the increasing rate of crimes in the society, whereby new cases piled up before existing ones were disposed off as a contributory factor to congestion of custodial centres.

He identified the bureaucracies involved in the hearing of cases and dispensation of justice as another factor demanding prompt attention.

“Also, over-adherence to the old laws by the judges and the analogue way of treating cases, where judges have to write litigations from litigants in long hand instead of the digital way is challenging.

“Another factor causing congestion is the way some lawyers end up turning civil to criminal cases to show off their superiority and ego.

“When accused persons frustrate the witnesses, it also affects the speedy dispensation of justice,” he said.

The DPP, however, said that prosecution was expensive and that states might not be buoyant enough to finance it.

“For example, Kwara has only one laboratory equipped to carry out autopsy and it costs like N500,000 to do that,” he said.

In Ibadan, the Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Correctional Service (NCoS), Oyo State Command, Anjorin Olanrewaju, said that the service had met with judiciary stakeholders in the state to find ways of decongesting the custodial centres in the state.

Olanrewaju said that the ctate Chief Judge and other stakeholders in the justice delivery system would soon visit the correctional centres across the state to release some inmates deserving of such gesture.

According to the PRO, the NCoS in the state does not have a hangman because it does not keep inmates on death row.

He said that none of the NCoS commands in Zone F, comprising Ogun, Osun, Ekiti, and Oyo State, had a maximum custodian centre and hangmen.

Olanrewaju said that hangmen could only be found at maximum custodian centres where inmates on death row were usually transferred and kept.

An Ibadan-based legal practitioner, Mr John Makanjuola, said speeding up the processes of justice would go a long way in reducing the number of inmates in the centres.

“Nigeria needs to further strengthen the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ARD) methods and seek ways to promote it.

“Doing this and improving the legal system through the digitalisation of the processes, leveraging technology, will go a long way,” Makanjuola said.

Meanwhile, the Chairperson, Ibadan Branch of NBA, Mrs Folasade Aladeniyi, said that the facilities had been filled up due to the growing number of inmates awaiting trial.

These inmates, she said, included the convicted and sentenced inmates who had served out their terms but for one reason or the other, were not released.

To decongest the centres, she said that parole sentencing and suspended sentences could be employed.

Aladeniyi also called for overhauling of ministries of justice in some states to achieve speedy trials of criminal cases.

A legal practitioner, Mr Onah Owoka, said it was unfortunate that, at least, 3,298 inmates were presently on death row in Nigeria, awaiting the hangman’s noose.

Owoka, who is also the Principal Legal Officer, National Judicial Council (NJC), said that some had been in custody from the date of their arrest, through trial to sentencing.

According to him, they are denied administrative bail and normal bail by the court based on excuses that the offences committed were not bailable or the suspects’ inability to meet up with bail conditions.

“If some measures, such as restricting the movement of the defendant to some areas or regular monitoring of the defendant while on bail, are taken, it will go a long way in reducing the number of years spent in custody and ultimately reduce the costs of feeding the inmates.

“Once a defendant is sentenced to death, the responsibility of the inmate falls on the correctional centre, which ensures that such an inmate is engaged in activities that will reform and modify his behaviour.

“It could be personal development programmes, including but not limited to entrepreneurship, anger management and civic education until his execution papers are signed,” he said.

Owoka said that in some cases, the well-behaved and adapted ones were recommended for prerogative of mercy.

“It is, therefore, resolved that should the state governors continue to renege on their responsibilities of signing execution papers, they should be prepared to build more correctional centres to decongest the existing ones in their states.

“They either do this or muster the courage to sign the execution papers, damning the consequences of the series of condemnations that may come from the civil rights organisations whenever that is done.

“My advice is for the president, governors and chief judges to exercise their powers of granting pardon to deserved inmates by regularly and deliberately visiting correctional centres,” he said.

Owoka stated that whether there was a hangman in a state or not, there had been a failure on the part of governors to sign execution papers to execute inmates on death row for sundry reasons.

Meanwhile, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of Ibadan Branch of NBA, Mr Tobi Fatoki, said if security had been given the deserved attention, crime would have drastically reduced.

He said that the correctional centres across the country got highly congested, as the facilities got too small to cater for the excessive number of inmates.

“We all know that granting of bail is at the discretion of the court and the rate at which our courts do grant bail is low compared to the rate of taking pleas.

“For correctional centres’ decongestion, the bulk of it rests upon the stakeholders in the decongestion process.

“They include the state governors, who by their executive power, can grant state pardon, where and when necessary, among other powers.

“The state attorneys-general, by their powers, can enter a nolle prosequi, where and when necessary, and also hastening up the legal advice by the office of DPP.

“Others include state chief judges who can also, by their powers, visit correctional centres and order the release of inmates who are deemed fit to be released.

“They can also ensure that the rules of the courts, especially that of the administration of criminal justice of their states, are adhered to by the judges.

“There should not be delay or unnecessary adjournment in criminal cases. The magistrates also have the power to conduct monthly visits to police stations and other security agencies,” he said.

Fatoki further stated that the police and other security agencies must ensure thorough investigations to separate wheat from chaff rather than lumping all the suspects together.

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