By Ameh Ejekwonyilo
The National Human Rights Commission has called on government institutions that manage detention facilities to ensure that all detention centres are operated in line with international best practices.
According to the Commission, prisoners and other detainees should be treated with respect due to their inherent dignity and values as human beings.
The Executive Secretary of the Commission Tony Ojukwu Esq made the call in Abuja when he led a team of Senior Officials of the Commission on an audit of the detention facilities of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) headquarters in Abuja last week.
Ojukwu who inspected the detention facilities operated by the EFCC told the anti-graft body to ensure that detainees are allowed access to their lawyers, family members and medications.
In a statement issued by Mr. Lambert Okpara, Director, Corporate Affairs and External Linkages of the NHRC, Ojukwu was quoted as fielding questions from some of the detainees during the exercise, urged the EFCC management to ensure quick dispensation of complaints before them in order to reduce congestion and prolonged detention.
“The NHRC boss reminded the EFCC management that detainees under their custody are not convicts and therefore efforts should be made to accelerate the determination of their cases including diligent prosecution.
“He stressed on the use of intelligence-led investigations to ensure speedy trials. He also reiterated the need for EFCC to reduce its workload by concentrating on high profile economic crimes so as not to congest their operations and cells with case files that could be handled by the Police or other law enforcement agencies.
“Earlier, while meeting with the management of the EFCC, the Executive Secretary commended the work of the EFCC which he described as intelligence driven and challenging, applauding the whistle blowing policy of the government as a wonderful innovation in combating corruption.”It is like bringing in additional hands to fight corruption”, he said.
He further noted that behind all human rights violations is the issue of corruption, be it abandoned road projects, poor healthcare, service delivery or infrastructural deficit. “It is therefore in the interest of the Commission he to join hands with the EFCC through sensitization and awareness to reduce corruption as this will also reduce violation of human rights”, he said.
In this regard, he called for closer working relation between the Commission and EFCC as both share common values.
“The root of Nigeria’s underdevelopment is corruption, as the cost of development in Nigeria is about ten times due to the negative effects of corruption. But if the resources are managed well, Nigeria will experience remarkable development.
“Behind all the human rights violations, if the issue of corruption is not addressed, Nigerians will continue to suffer due to inadequate infrastructure such as free health care, good roads and access to electricity, which among others are basic human needs in any given society.
“We are here to salvage the system, so the Executive Chairman of EFCC deserves every support to achieve a corrupt free Nigeria”, Ojukwu said.
While commending the EFCC on the whistle blower’s policy, he further accentuated the role of anti-graft agencies in the fight against corruption as one that is critical, as it will make the work of NHRC less cumbersome as people’s general rights would be protected
The Acting Chairman, EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, welcomed the delegation delightfully and expressed willingness to partner with NHRC.
Magu, in his remarks aligned the whistle blower’s policy urging every Nigerian to be a watch dog and report all cases of economic and financial crimes to the EFCC.
The EFCC boss further said that there is a “Witness Protection Unit” in EFCC and this Unit is stationed to ensure protection is given to every witness and safe guard their rights in the whistle blower’s scheme.
While using the opportunity to formally invite everyone to join the “Youth Anti-Corruption Road Walk” to mark the African anti-corruption Day celebrated every July 11, the anti-graft said that, “every Nigerian has a responsibility to fight corruption even the children need to be educated on corruption.
The NHRC boss, who was accompanied on the visit by including the Director Human Rights Education and Promotion, Mohammed Ladan; Director Procurement, Joachim Afolabi; Director Human Resources, B. Sabo; Director economic, Socio-cultural Rights, Musa Salihu; Director of Legal Enforcement, Omodara Olaniyi; Director, Civil & Political Rights, A. A. Yakubu; Director, Corporate affairs & External Linkages, Lambert Oparah; was led on a tour of the cell and medical of the Commission by the Director of Operations, EFCC, Mohammed Umar, alongside other top management staff.
It would be recalled that Commission had recently secured the release of seven inmates of the Kuje Medium Prison, Abuja as part of the activities to flag-off its 2018 nationwide detention centres audit exercise
The inmates: Olatoye Seun, Tijani Mansur, Samson Sumaila, Godwin Joseph, Abraham Isaiah, Adamu Abdulrauf and Abubakar Sadiq, walked into freedom, after the commission paid their fines for which they were being held.
The Commission’s boss had charged the inmates to turn a new leaf from their old ways that got them into prison, urging them to be patriotic as they reunite with their families and the society.
In his welcome remarks, Ojukwu had said “The protection of human rights is very crucial in the area of administration of justice and law enforcement.”
He noted that prison inmates are “vulnerable and susceptible” to human rights violations, adding that the best safeguards against such rights violations was regular visits to detention facilities in order to deter impunity and ensure accountability.
“A regular audit is therefore imperative to prevent perpetration of human rights violations,” Ojukwu stated.
The NHRC boss who lauded the smooth the flag-off exercise which was carried out in conjunction with the National Assembly’s Committee on Human Rights and Legal Matters, pointed out the perenial problems of over-crowded prisons and welfare concerns of prison personnel, calling for improved budgetary provisions for the service.
“Today’s flag-off is therefore remarkable and symbolic as it represents commencement of the Commission’s discharge of her mandate in this area for 2018. It is a sign of strong collaboration between the commission and the parliament to protect the human rights of Nigerians.” Ojukwu said.
While flagging-off the exercise, Chairman, Senate Committee on Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator David Umaru, represented by Senator Joshua Ledani, observed that despite several reforms by the federal government in the prison sector, the service is still faced with the issues of congestion and dilapidated facilities among others.
He stated that the National Assembly had already consideration and debate on four major Prison Reform Bills pending before it, adding that the bills when passed would restructure the nation’s prison system from being a punitive system to a correctional one.
In a goodwill message, House Committee Chairman on Human Rights and Legal Matters, Hon. Edward Pwajok (SAN), pledged the cooperation of the house to ensuring that bills relating to the Nigerian Prison that are geared towards it reformation are put on its front burner for accelerated passage.
In his remarks, the Controller-General of Prisons, represented by the Deputy Controller General Incharge of Operations, Mr. Mbe Shemfe, said the Nigerian Prison service had keyed into the global trend of running the prisons as correctional centre rather than for punitive purposes.
He revealed that inmates’ rights are strictly observed as they are regularly taken to court when their matters are slated for hearing, saying, “there is no torture in the prisons.”
The prison audit team visited various departments of the Kuje Prison to see firsthand how inmates were doing.
The team inspected inmates’ cells, the prison clinic, the church and mosque and the tailoring department, where the NHRC boss pledged the sum of N200, 000 as seed money to enable the prison authorities acquire clothing materials for the expansion of the inmates’ sewing activity for commercial purpose.