Recently the Centre for Crisis Communication (CCC) held a press briefing on some socio-economic and political issues which are dynamic in our society with a view to identifying areas or issues that could possibly breed conflicts or escalate into crisis situations.
It notes that the Nigerian Prisons Service sits at the very heart of Nigeria’s security architecture as the agency statutorily responsible for holding convicted offenders. Apart from the convicted offenders, the prisons also provide abode for those who are still awaiting trials for various crimes and offences ranging from pick-pocketing to terrorism. The prisons are indeed very sensitive and important security institution which must be accorded its priority place and strategic importance in the overall interest of the society.
The recent reported cases of security breaches that led to attempted and actual prisons breaks across the country is therefore a source of worry to Nigerians. An assessment of a number of Nigerian Prisons revealed a dire situation across the various prison facilities in the country. Apart from the obsolete and debilitating state of most of the prisons, there is an apparent shortage or inadequacy of the holding facilities. No doubt, most of the prisons are congested and over stretched not only with convicted criminals but mostly by awaiting trial inmates (ATI). Most of the reported cases of prison breaks in the country happened in the course of riots by the prisoners over prevailing poor conditions of living.
The staggering ratio of actual convicts to the awaiting trial inmates (ATI) is indicative of a systemic failure in our criminal justice system.
It is public knowledge that some of these ATI have spent far more years in the prisons waiting for justice. The Centre is convinced that the unwieldy number of inmates in most of the prisons, dilapidated structures and poor condition of service of the prison staff are some of the factors responsible for the recurring jail breaks in Nigeria.
The Centre therefore suggests that urgent steps should be taken that would see the reduction of the number of ATI which in turn will lead to the decongestion of the prisons. The steps include an overhauling of our criminal justice system to ensure rapid administration of justice. Equally important is adequate funding of the Nigerian Prisons Service to enable it fortify the prisons with trained personnel and modern facilities that will aid security and surveillance in our prisons. See the detailed info graphic analysis of situation in a few of the prisons that were assessed by the CCC.
We recall that following the intensification of violence in the north east by the Boko Haram terrorists, there is currently a major humanitarian crisis in most parts of that region. Aside from the numerous deaths and destruction of properties occasioned by the activities of the sect, over 2 million people, mainly women and children, were displaced from their communities. The highest number of displacements took place in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States.
The Centre undertook an assessment visit to some IDP camps in Borno state in August 2016 with a view to assessing progress made in the management of the camps and identified challenges. The Dalori camp for example which currently accommodates over 25,000 IDPs and one of the largest Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in the State still has basic necessities such as food, water, Medicare and sanitary facilities being a huge challenge. This is in spite of all the reports about foodstuffs, materials and cash donations from governments, international humanitarian agencies, groups and individuals. Hunger, malnutrition and starvation hallmark the daily condition in the camp.
Investigations and interactions with the IDPs revealed very disgraceful and criminal activities of some unscrupulous camp officials who divert foodstuffs and other materials meant for the camps. The Centre discovered that thousands of bags of rice and other food items are regularly diverted and re-bagged for sale in markets by state officials who are primarily in charge of camp administration. The impunity, ineptitude and insensitivity of these officials are basically responsible for the intolerable conditions in the camps. This underscores the reasons behind the current malnutrition of children, women and the aged experienced in the camps. For example, why should lack of firewood be a stumbling block to efficient feeding system in the IDP camps? These shortcomings have ensured that despondency, anguish, irritability and bottled-up anger pervade the camps. This is certainly not ideal for the psyche of the IDPs or safe for the society that they will ultimately be reintegrated into.
Our findings equally revealed that several of the “humanitarian agencies” that are more often in the news for one intervention or the other are really not physically on the ground in the camps. Except for a few acclaimed agencies like Red Cross, most of the agencies operate from hotel rooms from where they coordinate their publicity stunts. Their so-called ‘interventions’ and ubiquitous presence in the news media has little direct bearing to the welfare of the IDPs.
It is of the view that there is an urgent need to review the management approach in IDP camp administration in relation to the handling of welfare needs of the IDPs. This will enable the authorities to block loopholes that engender unwholesome practices. Despite the huge donations in cash, materials and foodstuff from local and the international community, feeding and basic needs should really not be an issue in the camps. In this regard, we are urging the various governments to take a closer look at the activities of the camp officials. The Centre has noted with satisfaction the commendable roles of the Nigerian Army and Nigerian Air Force in the provision of regular medical outreach facilities and temporary educational facilities to the IDPs. We solicit for more support from all well to do men and women in our country to rise up towards assisting the IDPs with additional materials and logistic support. While we commend the efforts of several NGOs and CSOs who have been offering valuable material, spiritual and psychological assistance to the IDPs, we want to specifically acknowledge the efforts of NEMA in not only providing the necessary facilities at the camps but also constantly monitoring to ensure these essential materials are provided regularly.
There is no doubt that the Nigerian military has largely achieved the mandate given them to crush the Boko Haram terrorists about a year ago. Although the operation is not over yet, these are certainly key indicators that the Nigerian military and other security agencies are winning the war against terror.
The subdued terror group no longer poses much threat to the Nigerian state. Indeed, a clear sign of the weakened position of the BH is the recent emergence of the Al- Barnawi group. There is no gainsaying that terror groups world over capitalise on modern information super highway to seek support and alliances. The recognition of the Al- Barnawi has therefore finally laid to rest the previous speculations on the BH alliance with the ISIS. While the military and security agencies have continued to intensify counter- terrorism efforts to end the insurgency, we must accept that the recent recognition of the BH splinter group has increased the complexity of the terror groups’ threat to Nigeria even if from a weakened position.
Accordingly, military solution as the Centre has stated in the past is not the only option. We view the recent overtures by the Shekau led BH faction for release of our abducted Chibok girls in exchange of some members of his group as providing another good basis for dialogue. We note with satisfaction the ardent desire of the government for the quick release of the Chibok girls through a genuine facilitations, negotiations and mediations. The Centre urges the government to continue to keep all options open. Similarly, on the issue of amnesty, we want to urge the government to be circumspect bearing in mind the complexity of the parties involved. The Centre believes a lot more homework needs to be done through public education and sensitisation in the North-East to ensure aggrieved parties subscribe to granting amnesty to the BH.
The Centre has no problem with Nigerians with different altruistic intentions coming out to proffer solutions to the country’s myriad of challenges. In fact, the Centre believes and encourages healthy cross fertilization of ideas and exchanges aimed at making our democracy and country great. However, the Centre urges Nigerians to be circumspect with calls for the breakup of the country. Anything that will lead to the disintegration of a united Nigeria must be jettisoned. The Centre does not believe in or subscribe to anything other than a peaceful, united, prosperous and progressive Nigeria.
— Anas is executive secretary Centre for Crisis Communication