The Comptroller General of the Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS) Ahmed Ja’afaru, recently spoke with journalists on the achievements recorded by the service. ANGELEEN NKWOCHA, was there for The AUTHORITY.
There seems to be a misconception among members of the public about the operations of the Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS). While some say the agency has not done enough to reform and rehabilitate prison inmates, others think that the institution is a drain on public funds. Even, some others hold uncharitable opinions about the service.
But the Comptroller General of Prisons, Ahmed Ja’afaru, who spoke to journalists recently through the duo of the Assistant Comptroller General of Prisons, Mohammed Badi, and the agency’s spokesman, Francis Enobore, thinks otherwise.
“A lot has been achieved. We are reforming prison inmates; ensuring decongestion of prison cells, equipping inmates with new skills, secluding criminals from the rest of the society, providing necessary infrastructural facilities and other logistics for prisoners,” said Ja’afaru.
On what the service is doing to stem the frequent jail- break across the country, the CGP said: “Towards the last quarter of 2016, the service recorded bumpy ride in the area of jail break, but before the end of 2016, we were able to surmount it.
“The service took time to surmount the problem of jail break by pinning down a number of factors that could lead to jail break, such as human factor, infrastructural and logistics elements.
“And regarding the human element, we discovered that a poorly motivated staff will not give his or her very best, and also if you do not apply some measure of discipline, you will also run the risk of not getting the best from your work force.
The management addressed these two key factors in 2016, which culminated in the mass promotion of officers across the board.”
He said that disciplinary actions were taken against some staff whose conduct did not measure up to expectations.
According to him, the Federal Government provided 400 vehicles to the service, adding that the service is currently expanding prison cells to ease accommodation problem.
He also said that a lot is being done in the area of giving formal education to prison inmates.
“In the education sector, inmates are undergoing empowerment and rehabilitation. About 30 prisoners are being prepared for university education, having just completed their Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE).
“Also we have 35 students in Kuje prisons running different courses and preparing for university education.
“The National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) , has opened a study centre in Gombe, thus making it a special centre.
“The Jos prison has graduated 59 inmates. Before now, we had challenges graduating students from secondary to the university level, but now, NOUN has granted free tuition and scholarships to every prisoner that has the requisite qualification to enter the university.
“The NPS, therefore, leverages on that to expand this window of opportunity to inmates that are qualified.”
The CGP further revealed that the NPS is planning to train prisoners on modern farming techniques - using modern farming equipment. So far, over 14 farm centres have been opened in Benue state, and proceeds from the farms are used to feed the prison inmates.”
He said that staff morale has received a boost following the recent promotion of over 10, 979 workers who had remained in one position for long.
Indeed, every institution has its own challenges, and for the NPS, its major challenge appears to be how to contend with the presence in prison of over 1,640 condemned criminals.
“As you all know when someone is sentenced to death, he has arrived at his final bus stop. It becomes extremely difficult to advice or calm him down.
‘The problem of condemned prisoners is still a very big challenge to NPS. We have been telling the relevant authorities especially the state chief executives that when someone is condemned to death after exhausting his appeal to the Supreme Court, the only opportunity he has to escape the death sentence is if the state chief executive commutes his death sentence to a term of imprisonment.
“If this does not happen, the state chief executive should sign the person’s death warrant for him to take his last breath. But most governors are not willing to endorse the death sentences.
“You are not signing their execution, yet you are not commuting their death sentences to terms of imprisonment so that we can transfer them to a place where they can be remodeled or re- branded.
“So, the condemned prisoners have created a big problem for us, but we keep appealing that governors should do the needful so that we’ll be able to really manage these people effectively”.
“Also, we have the problem of stigmatization from members of the society. Most often, as soon as the person goes into the prison; the person is usually not welcomed back into the society.
“You are indirectly pushing that person back to criminal life, because if he is rejected, there is a group ready to take him into their fold,” said the prison boss.
He explained that those awaiting trial are not entitled to training programmes of NPS because the person is still deemed innocent, and so it is difficult for such a person to adjust since he cannot go to the workshop to learn a skill.
He advised that non-governmental organizations (NGO’s should be encouraged to visit prisons to enable them make useful suggestions on how to reform the service.