A scandalous 46,351 of the 68,259 inmates in Nigerian prisons as at last week are awaiting trial, the Comptroller-General of Nigerian Prison Service, Jaafaru Ahmed, has told a publication, Economic Confidential.
The issue of awaiting trial detainees in the nation’s prisons has been an unresolved recurring decimal for decades. States chief judges go through the yearly ritual of setting many free, but it has made no difference, according to legal experts, because of the slow and grinding nature of the country’s justice system.
The police, lawyers, and judges have often traded blames over the menace that has often seen first offenders become hardened criminals on account of being lumped together with questionable, convicted, and at other times, condemned criminals.
But the prisons boss said that the Prison is the last bus-stop and only a custodian of all the parties namely, the judiciary, the prosecuting authority (ministry of justice), and the police.
Ahmed noted that so long as anybody knocks on the door with valid warrant and appropriate papers, “we have no option but to receive such persons.”
He canvassed a genuine collaboration among the three arms of the criminal justice system to enhance synergy so that the case of anybody brought to prison as awaiting trial will be determined as quickly as possible, stressing that other arms have to do their part so that there would be quick dispensation of justice.
“As at March 6, 2017, total inmates population stands at 68,259. Out of this number, 46,351 are awaiting trial persons, and the remaining 21,903 are convicted. In terms of percentage, the convicted is 32 percent, while awaiting trial persons is 68 percent. Though the figures are not static as they go up and down.”
Ahmed said that the agency has reopened prison farm centres towards self-sufficiency in food production.
According to him, the Prison Service had commenced the rehabilitation of its various farming centers with the purchase of twenty-two tractors that would lead the service to specialize in food productions enough to feed the inmates and for sale to the general public.
“In 2016 budget we purchased so many farm machineries like tractors and other kinds of implements. We have also dug so many boreholes, fish-farming and the rest of them. These would be used to reposition our farm centers,” he said.
He added, “What we intend to do when the budget for 2017 is passed is that we have picked three (3) out of fourteen farm centres. The idea is to make sure that we specialize in different farming processes. Like Kujama, we intend to set it up strictly for the production of maize. We want to see the production of maize all year round, not only during the raining season but also during the dry season. We have budgeted some amount of money to sink boreholes for irrigation purposes to ensure the success of these programmes.
“We have picked Lampushi farm center strictly for rice production and the possibility of producing rice during both raining season and dry season. We have also taken Ozalla for the production of palm oil. These are three pilot projects we intend to do this year to see the possibility of whether the prison can actually feed itself.
“We are looking at mechanization where the crops to be produced would be in large quantity both for self and sale outside. The process would reduce the manual labour and subsequently enhance production. The development will no doubt bring on board storage facilities when fully integrated so that all the areas will have comparative advantage.”