By: Douglas Ogbankwa Esq.

In this piece, Douglas Ogbankwa highlights additional reforms that will aid government’s prison decongestion efforts.

The former Nigerian Prisons Service, by enactment of statute transmuted its name from the Nigerian Prisons Service to the Nigerian Correctional Service, as now enshrined in the Nigerian Correctional Service (Establishment) Act, 2019.

The transmogrification of nomenclature should also lead to an altering of the modus operandii of the only Correctional Institution in Nigeria. The new Law provides for lofty ideas that should be explored in decongesting Nigerian Correctional Centres. However , Correctional Centres (Prison) Decongestion will be better of My Lords Judges , Worshipful Magistrates and Honourable Presidents of the Customary Courts play their role, one way or the other in assisting the process .

Beyond the rhetorics, if there was no legal or structural framework in place to preclude Correctional Service congestion and do actual correctional service, the difference in name may just be akin to the distinction between six and half a dozen.

There should be a focus in the rehabilitation of inmates to make them more useful to the Society, else they will become more hardened in their criminality, when they get out .

There should also be adequate measures in place for Inmates to be given facilities and privacy to spend time with their families and friends, just as the many shenanigans that happen inside Nigerian Correctional Centres should be nipped in the bud. There is a whole lot going on there and Government should look into the issues, which are not focus of this article.

The Nigerian Correctional centres are, perhaps, the most congested in the world.

The congestion stems from the auto pilot punitive measures in place in the Nigerian Criminal Justice System, a penchant for pushing people to correctional facilities (prisons) under avoidable circumstances.

There are, however, very easy and cheap ways to decongest Nigerian Correctional facilities, to wit:

Stop the culture of Nigerian judicial and presiding officers of denying bail in bailable offences or imposing obnoxious and strenuous bail conditions.
Bail should be granted as a matter of course, if so provided by law and the conditions for bail, must not to be incongruous with the alleged crime. Where a person is arraigned for an alleged crime and the surety for bail is some one that is gainfully employed and another person is arraigned for the same crime, sometimes in the same Court and the surety is a Permanent Secretary, then you will find the injustice in our Society. Lawyers should be bold to challenge very obnoxious conditions of bail using the same instrumentality of the law.

The Practice of some Courts, especially the Federal High Court in most part of Country insisting that a Defendant should bring a high ranking civil servant as a Surety, when the Administration of Criminal Justice Act provides for mostly a family member to be a Surety, must stop forthwith.The Nigerian Bar Association at the National Level and even at theb Branch Level, should tackle this issue head on. The Registries of Court should also be timeous in verifying sureties. These two issues when tackled will greatly decongest Nigerian Correctional Facilities to a great extent.

To ensure that there is a symmetry in the granting or refusal of bail, guidelines should be issued to Judges and Presiding Officers to stop the abuse of power, which is subsumed under discretion. Already the Supreme Court has pronounced in a plethora of authorities the conditions for the grant or refusal of Bail. A scenario when an Applicant for Bail meets the Conditions and he is not granted leaves much to be desired.

Judges and Magistrates should wait to sign the bond, if the bail condition is met in one day. Where verification has been concluded and the file is put on the table of a Judge or Magistrate to sign the Bond and reproduction warrant, it should be done timeously as all these one way or the other, help in the decongestion of our Correctional Centres.

There is a wave in all jusrisprudential jurisdictions of the World for Certainty of the Law and Procedure and not to leave mostly legal issues to the vagaries of human foibles and human nature ,under the guise of discretion. That accounts for the recent promulgation of Sentencing guidelines in some jurisdictions in Nigeria. In this Regard, Guidelines for the Granting and Refusal of Bails should also be issued under the Hand and Seal of the Chief Judges of Courts, to streamline the chaotic and some times contradictory Rulings issued by some Judicial and Presiding Officers. This will even make the discretion to grant or refuse bail to be exercised Judicially and Judiciously as provided for by staris decisis (Judicial Precedence). This will have its toll on the decongestion of the Correctional Centres.

The culture of “the Magistrate or President of Court wants to leave” must stop. Signing of Bail Bond or reproduction warrant is not a favour, it is a duty!
I find it quite curious that all over the Country some Magistrates and Presidents will leave their offices early, when they have no oficial duties or emergencies to attend to, while Defendants who have perfected their Bail Conditions are confined to prison by no fault of theirs. There should be a monitoring mechanism in place, to ensure such unfair practices stop. The Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committees Nation Wide should please take notice of this very important issue .

We should also apply funds meant for prison decongestion functionally by paying fines of convicts directly, some of which are embarrassingly low, instead of giving bogus prison decongestion briefs to Lawyers, some which come to nought.

Did you know that with the sum of N500,000:00, you can release over 200 prison inmates who are convicts, with option of fines, with the payment of fines as low as N2,000:00 to get some inmates home. Imagine how many inmates can be released with N5,000,000:00.

Government should apply funds for prison decongestion discreetly in a utilitarian manner. The giving of big prison decongestion briefs, running into millions of naira to lawyers, when in such cases one inmate is not even released is criminal breach of trust. The practice should stop forthwith. We should engage the Legal Aid Clinic of the National Youth Service Corps and fund them appropriately to assist us in this regard.

The Ministries of Justice should simply follow the easy and sensible way to decongest Correctional Facilities (Prisons).

Government should adopt the Non-Custodian Correctional Template to ensure that not every one convicted of a crime goes to Correctional Facilities.
To this end, we should have suspended sentences, community service and other non-custodian sentencing that meet International Best Practices .Interestingly, the ACJA and ACJL provides for such novel and path finding lee ways for us all to explore .

In addition, a Law should be promulgated writing off fines of prison inmates no MATTER how much it may be, if the inmate had served half of his or her prison term to decongest the prison.
The parole system should also be adopted to allow persons with good behaviour who have recompensed of their wrong doings to be released, subject to being of good behaviour.

We should also adopt the suspended sentences system, that is, though a Defendant is convicted, his sentence can only start counting over his failure to carry out some remedial, compensatory and/or restitutional actions, failure which his sentence is activated. Before doing so, he may be released to guarantors/sureties who must sign recognisance for him.

With the measures indicated above, Correctional Centres decongestion is likely to be a thing of the past and our Society will better of, for it.

The Author, Douglas Ogbankwa Esq, is a Benin-based lawyer, writer, public affairs analyst and activist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *