By Ogunjobi Michael
Overtime, Prison breaks have proved a major bane of the Nigerian Prisons Service. The lacuna in the Nigerian Prisons Service was brought to limelight by the incident at the Kuje Medium prison in Abuja that led to the escape of two inmates. But the rot in the NPS is unbecoming with the latest reported jailbreak of 13 prisoners, comprising 10 pre-trial detainees and three convicts, escaping from Koton Karfe prison in Kogi State in the early hours of Saturday, July 30th 2016. And not forgetting the inmates that escaped from Nsukka Prison in Enugu State a fortnight ago.
How else can one rationalize the surprising serial jail breaks at the Koton Karfe Federal Prisons in recent time; firstly in 2013, the second incident being in 2014 and then this recent one. There are innumerable reasons for this recurring decimal; the prime of the calculated proximate causes being congestion, carelessness and conspiracy. This mockery of the Nigerian Prison system is clearly demeaning and an indictment of the judiciary as an institution of solace for victims of injustice and also the legislative arm of government since they are the ones who decided that victimless crimes deserve prison time.
Succinctly, merely investigating the cause with no action taken only smirks of recklessness of the highest order where some persons trade in escape of criminals. The era of not mapping out in clear terms the security measures to be put in place in checkmating the excesses of inmates and incessant jail break has to be bade farewell and sanctions enforced against any public officer found to have connived with the convicts.
The legislative arm of government appear set to depart from the lackadaisical approach adopted over the years by successive legislative regimes since 2001 who have failed to pass the Bill seeking the amendment of the extant prison law last reviewed in 1972. Currently, the Nigerian National Assembly are considering “AN ACT TO REPEAL THE PRISONS ACT CAP. P29 LAWS OF THE FEDERATION OF NIGERIA, 2004 AND ENACT THE NIGERIAN PRISONS AND CORRECTIONAL SERVICE, TO MAKE PROVISIONS FOR THE ADMINISTRATION OF PRISONS IN NIGERIA; THE AWAITING TRIAL PERSONS AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES, 2016.”
Of note, the prison structures across many parts of the nation are eyesores. Prisoners are groaning and even the prison officers are complaining of unfair conditions of service due to poor remuneration, absence of job schedules and career pattern amongst others. While it is hoped that Nigerian Prisons and Correctional Services Bill 2016 will provide the respite at this critical period, foot dragging could spell doom making the Bill suffer same fate as that of an ‘abiku’, as was the case during previous administrations since 2001.
In the interim, the Ministry of Interior currently supervising the Nigeria Police, the Prisons Service and other paramilitary services like the Fire Service, the Immigration Service and the Civil Defence Corp must brace up to provide immediate solution.
To properly situate the subject matter of this discourse, it is necessary to give a précis of the relevant provisions of the Bill. Remarkably, Section 16(1) of the Bill provides: “No person Awaiting Trial shall be remanded in prison for more than 3 months if a prima facie case is established against an accused person, if the offence is a bailable offence…”
Further, Section 24 of the Bill provides: (1) A prison officer from whose lawful custody a prisoner escapes commits an offence unless he has taken adequate measures at all times to prevent such escape, and the burden of proving that such adequate measures were taken in the case lies on the prison officer concerned.
(2) Where the person who escaped from the custody of a prison officer is under sentence of death or imprisonment for life or is charged with or has been detained on suspicion of having committed an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life, the officer concerned commits a felony and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for seven years, in any other case the prison officer commits a felony and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for five years.
(3) Where an inmate dies or suffers serious bodily injury, the State Controller of Prisons shall investigate the incident and report to the Controller-General who shall forthwith inform the Minister.
(4) Where the investigation reveals that the injury was caused by the negligence or unlawful action of a Prison officer, the officer shall be dismissed from Service and in the case of death of an inmate, the officer shall be prosecuted.
(5) The Minister or a person authorized by the minister may subject to and in accordance with the regulations, pay compensation in respect of the death or disability of an inmate or person in an approved programme or labour.
Succinctly, the reforms in the Nigerian Prisons Service definitely must transcend change of name as envisaged by the Bill to comprehensively address the failings of our criminal justice system and rehabilitate the prisons in line with global best practices. And also eventually introduce programs in the prison systems that actually rehabilitate convicts to be successful and patriotic citizens when released back into society! As a subtle reminder, considering that a good number of legislators are padding and paddling their boat gently to the gallows, there is no better time than now to reform the Nigerian Prisons Service. This will be a great delight to their new constituents in futuro.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
* Ogunjobi Michael O. writes from Jireh & Greys Attorneys (the Chambers of Norrison Quakers SAN) in Lagos.