Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola has disclosed that custodial centres across the country were majorly congested by inmates awaiting trial, constituting numerous challenges for correctional services.
This is as he charged state governors to do the needful for inmates on death row to reduce pressure on custodial facilities, making case for those with a terminal illness or old age to be set free on compassionate ground and commute others to either life imprisonment or specific terms.
Aregbesola who spoke at the official commissioning of Osun State Command Headquarters of Correctional Office Complex in Osogbo, said 50,992 inmates are awaiting trials while 17, 755 are actual convicts.
He added that the maximum capacity of the nation’s custodial capacity is 57,278 inmates but presently housed 68,747 inmates, adding that in a bid to decongest the facilities, Federal Government last year introduced a presidential pardon and amnesty programme for inmates, through which 5,000 inmates have so far been released.
The Minister adds, “One main challenge of the correctional service, therefore, is congestion of the custodial facilities. The entire national custodial facilities have a maximum capacity of 57,278 inmates.
But by the last count earlier in the week, there is a total population of 68,747 inmates, made up of 67,422 males and 1,325 females. We have therefore shot above the capacity by 18 per cent.
“But I must add that the congestion is an urban phenomenon limited to big cities like Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt and others. There are facilities in non-urban areas that are underpopulated. It is in the urban areas that most of the crimes are committed and relevant courts are located, leading to the overstretching of the custodial facilities located in such cities.
“It should also be noted that 50,992 inmates, representing 74 per cent of the total population of inmates in our custodial centres are awaiting trial inmates while only 17,755 inmates which is a mere 26 per cent are actual convicts”.
He added that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration is taking serious effort at addressing the infrastructure deficit through the provision of facilities and policy.
“The challenges of safe and effective custody at the custodial centres come therefore from the awaiting trial inmates, given their numerical strength. This fact greatly limits our capacity for corrections, since awaiting trial inmates being suspects, can only be accommodated and not reformed.
Reformation comes after conviction and not before. This is the reality of the management of inmates that must be squarely registered in the minds of the Nigerian public for a better appreciation of the service and its limitations at the rehabilitation, reformation and reintegration of convicts and a reduction in recidivism.
“But the government has been addressing this challenge of congestion. Last year, at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Federal Government, through the Ministries of Interior and Justice, initiated a presidential pardon and amnesty programme for inmates. Some federal offenders benefited from the programme and got reprieves, while the state governments got recommendations and guidelines for the release of their own convicts. More than 5,000 inmates have so far being released under the programme, which is ongoing.
“The government is building a 3,000 high-capacity custodial centre in each of Karchi, Abuja FCT, Kano, Kano State, and Bori in Rivers State. Each of these high capacity facilities will have courts for the trial of the inmates. The plan is to extend it to the six geo-political zones in the country. The Kano project is nearing completion. When these projects are completed, they will ease congestion considerably and enhance the capacity to manage our facilities for corrections”, he said.
Aregbesola also charged the state government to collaborate with the federal government by taking the bold step to sign off on inmates on death roll, as there were 3008 such inmates across custodial centres in the country, seek quick dispensation of Justice and partner with FG to build holding centres.
In his remark, Osun state Governor, Mr Adegboyega Oyetola called for proper rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates into society to enhance the collective and sustainable development of the country.
Also the Controller General of Corrections, Haliru Nababa disclosed that since the inception of the present administration, the service had been relieved of having to resort to makeshift arrangements for office and holding facilities.