31 December 2012

Nigeria: Rumble Over Proposal to Privatise Prisons

Photo: Glenna Gordon
Prison cell.

Proposal by the ministry of interior to enter into Public Private Partnership (PPP) in the running of Nigerian prisons is generating mixed reactions. The ministry says the proposal is meant to check prison congestion, among other reasons.

But prison officers argue that prison congestion is the consequence of a malfunctioned judicial system, which is the issue to be looked into.

Spokesman of the ministry Mr. Taye Akinyemi said privatisation is one of the proposals before the ministry because government is concerned and wants to solve the problem (of prison congestion) once and for all.

“There are so many proposals but the decision has not been taken as to what exactly is to be done,” he said.

According to official figures, by mid December, there were 54,156 inmates in Nigerian prisons, out of which only 15, 804 are convicts.

The figures reveal that 38,352 are un-convicted (Awaiting Trials). Out of this figure, 833 are females and 37,519 are males.

Assistant Comptroller General Ahmed Jafaru who gave the figures recently said out of the 15,804 convicted, 211 are females while 15,593 are males.

Kano based lawyer Barrister Sa’idu Muhammad Tudunwada says he supports the idea of privatising prisons, after all it is the global trend nowadays. He said privatisation will lead to greater efficiency in management even though he did not rule out the tendency for corruption to set.

“To me it’s a welcome idea...It is my belief that with private hands, there is every hope that prisons will better serve as centres of character reformation for convicted persons. For now, it is a known fact that Nigerian prisons are more or less cages for breeding worse criminals,” he said.

Tudunwada noted that part 1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution places management of prison in the exclusive legislative list, but regretted that the prisons have been badly managed over the years.

But operators of the Nigerian Prisons have a different view point and do not seem to be at home with the idea of privatisation. Some prison officers who spoke to Daily Trust on the matter did so in hush tones and would not want their names mentioned.

One such officer argued that if government ventures into prison privatization, it will open up new frontiers of corruption that will even compound the problem.

“In fact, they will go to the extent of bribing the judiciary. They will, for example, induce the prosecutor or anybody else to prolong a case that will ordinarily last for three months to take like six months.

This is because the more inmates remain in prison the more profits they will make,” the officer said.

The leadership of the Nigeria Prison Service (NPS) recently addressed some journalists where they reacted to a number of issues including the proposed PPP in the prison sector.

Acting DCG in charge of operations Ibrahim Nuhu Zuru said if the government decides to privatize prisons today, the service is not ready.

He also said the matter has not officially come to the NPS. “The issue is still at the ministry; it has not yet come down to us so that we will know where we are heading,” he said.

Also, Ag DCG Muhammad Isa, said government could save more money if it manages its prisons. DCG Isa who is the head of Inmates’ Training and Productivity said “whatever we collect as revenue goes to the Federation Account.”

Prison Service engages in commercial and non-commercial tailoring, soap making, carpentry, weakling, barbing, block making shoe making and plumbing, among others.

An officer who preferred not to be named argued in line with the NPS leadership, saying government will save more money if it manages its prisons. He said he is opposed to the idea of wholesome transfer of management to the private sector.

“I am not against Public PPP; but there is a version of it that is hopeless. Some people will come and build prison and manage it,” he said. He said it must be done in such a way that those who build prisons should recoup their investment and hand over to government.

Though imates are committed to money making ventures, those awaiting trial (who outnumber those convicted) are not because they are still presumed innocent. But they have constituted the most headaches, according prison officials.

Dr. Ifediorah Orekwe, CP Research and Publication of the Nigerian Prison Service said:

“We are not happy having prisoners for 20years…because anybody who is in custody, awaiting trial, is considered innocent until proven guilty.

Therefore, we cannot put them in workshop. We cannot take them to the farm or other industries. We keep them there because they are essentially remand prisoners.

“If you ask the Comptroller General his number one headache, he will tell you it is Awaiting Trial. What we are facing today is awaiting trial not congestion of prisoners.

The officer argued that the issue of awaiting trial is not caused by the Nigerian Prisons but by the consequence of a malfunctioned judicial process.

“No provision is made in our job for keeping awaiting trial except as transit prisoners who the law says within a shortest time will know their fate and go home.”

According to him the situation where those awaiting trial dominate Nigerian prison only points to terrible miscarriage of justice.

“We can’t perform the function of policemen; we can’t perform the function of prosecutors or judiciary… but we are concerned with those people staying in our custody,” he said.

The Prison Service, he said, is trying to examine the things that are wrong within its system, which include the bottlenecks that militate against smother trial.

“We are trying to deploy our lawyers now to work in the prison so that they can collaborate with all other stakeholders and see that within the prison any type of problem that militates against fast trial is mitigated immediately,” Orekpe said.

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