Worried by the poor state of correctional centres across the country, characterised by overcrowding of inmates, the federal government recently advised 36 state governments and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to build holding centres for suspects awaiting trial.
Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, who gave the advice on behalf of the government at the commissioning of the Osun State Command Office complex of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS), Osogbo, noted that the congestion in Nigerian prisons is alarming.
He disclosed that the entire capacity of the custodian facilities in the country is 57,278, but had 68,778 inmates which made the facilities over populated and over stretched in the cities.
According to him, “The entire national custodial facilities have a maximum capacity for 57,278 inmates. But by the last count, 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.”
He added that 50,992 inmates, representing 74 per cent of the total population of inmates in the custodial centres were awaiting trial inmates, while only 17,755 inmates, which is 26 per cent are actual convicts, with 3,008 condemned criminals consisting of 2,952 males and 56 females.
Aregbesola stated that the federal government is therefore requesting state governments to do the needful to ensure that all necessary measures are put in place to decongest these facilities of inmates’ who ordinarily should be released on time with quick dissemination of their cases at the state level.
An Abuja-based activist and national coordinator of Peace and Anti-Corruption Advocacy, Comrade James Okoronkwo blamed the situation on the poor judicial system in the country.
“It is an embarrassment to the country, with the number of inmates in Nigeria’s Correctional Centres. The overcrowding is as a result of the collapse of the country’s judicial system. There is a very slow pace of justice delivery, which has delayed justice for many inmates in the centres, and justice delayed is justice denied.”
He also added that government’s reforms in the prisons is not working , compounded by frequent strikes by judiciary workers union, as well as inability of many inmates to afford the cost of litigation.
However, the minister added that as measures to address the situation, government has embarked on pardon of offenders with less cases in an attempt to decongest these facilities and to keep the inmates safe, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic still prevalent.
He also urged state governments to accelerate the wheel of justice, adding that a lot of inmates have been in custody for a period longer than the maximum sentence their alleged offences carry.