In the face of insurmountable challenges such as resource scarcity, Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of Interior persists in the movement to reform correctional facilities in Nigeria by reducing populations and promoting prisoners’ rights. Indeed, a mindset of reform and rights is sweeping Nigeria correctional services.
Rauf Aregbesola has laid emphasis on 1996 and 2002 the Kampala Declaration on Prison Conditions in Africa and the Ouagadougou Declaration on Accelerating Penal and Prison Reform in Africa were both adopted respectively. Both instruments strive to improve the conditions of African prisons. At the international level, the Council of Europe adopted the European Prison Rules in 2006. While the rules do not bind African states, they provide useful guidance in developing transparent and consistent prison policy.
Despite this dire situation of prison governance and resource scarcity in Nigerian correctional centres, some positive inroads have been made over the past one year to better the lives of Nigeria’s incarcerated. The majority of African governments have illustrated their commitment to prisoners’ rights via the adoption of regional instruments, events, and institutions such as the Kampala Declaration on Prison Conditions in Africa; the Fourth Conference of the Central, Eastern and Southern African Heads of Correctional Services; the Arusha Declaration on Good Prison Practice; and the Ouagadougou Plan of Action.
Fortunately, Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of Interior has taken steps to improve rehabilitation programs. Even though Nigeria faces challenges in implementing its rehabilitation and reintegration programs, Rauf Aregbesola has strived to adhere to the Plan of Action. Nigeria’s correctional programs focus on educational and vocational training, psychological support, promotion of familial contact beyond prison, access to religious services, and integration of civil society in order to rehabilitate prisoners and reintegrate them into the community.
The achievement of such efforts is difficult to measure for lack of consensus regarding the standards and measurements for gauging success. However, practice to date has revealed some key commonalities among successful programs, such as: a focus on addressing employment related skills, sufficient flexibility to cater to individually identified needs, integrated multi-dimensional services that address a wide range of factors, ongoing monitoring and follow-up, a balance between quality and quantity, collaboration with families and communities, restorative justice components where offenders accept responsibility, and minimum durations of nine to 12 months. While rehabilitation and reintegration programs are new to Africa, positive developments to date evince some success meriting increased support to such initiatives.
Overcrowding is perhaps the single most pressing concern facing Nigerian correctional centres. Like many of the challenges facing African prisons today, overcrowding has its roots in the continent’s colonial past. African prisons have been at or above capacity nearly since their inception. Given the many challenges facing postcolonial Africa, it is little wonder that prisons have been left off the endless development to-do lists of many postcolonial governments.
The Federal Government recently said it would establish six modern custodial facilities in the six geo-political zones in the country. Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, stated this while inspecting the ongoing Model Maximum Security Custodial facility project, Janguza, Kumbotso Local Government Area of Kano State.
Aregbesola said that the project was part of programmes initiated by President Muhammadu Buhari to reform the correctional service. He said: “We are actualising our commitment to reform Correctional Service that we have in Nigeria.
“What we have here is a model of what we expect to have nationwide and here is a 3,000 custodial facility, and we plan to have it in each of the six geo-political zones.
“This is more advanced in terms of space and other facilities. It is designed for inmates awaiting trial, petty, medium and maximum security facility. “I am highly impressed by the pace and quality of work,” he said.
Speaking earlier, Mr Ahmad Jafaru, the Controller-General, Nigeria Correctional Service (NCoS), said that the project was designed with dormitories, school, hospital, skills acquisition centre and a mosque among others. Jafaru said that the project was planned to be commissioned this year, adding that the service had also upgraded the ancient Kurmawa Maximum Prison into a rehabilitation centre.
While correctional centres in Nigeria are often considered by many experts to be one of the worst in the world, many other prisons systems are worse off in terms of violence, overcrowding and a host of other problems. This is not to argue that Nigerian correctional centres are human rights friendly. Many are in a deficient condition and their practises are at odds with human rights standards. However, prisons in many parts of the world are in crisis. Never before have there been so many problems within penal systems and such large numbers of people in institutions of incarceration.
Rehabilitation is part of many regional instruments aimed at improving prison conditions throughout Africa. For example, The 2002 Ouagadougou Declaration on Accelerating Prison and Penal Reform in Africa calls for the promotion of rehabilitation and reintegration of former offenders. The Declaration’s accompanying Plan of Action also specified measures that governments and NGOs could take to increase the effectiveness of rehabilitation of offenders and pretrial detainees.
Rauf Aregbesola’s reforms have sought to promote the human rights of prisoners. These measures have recorded much success by addressing rehabilitation in lieu of focusing on overcrowding, lack of personnel and training, and minimum standards for correctional centres across Nigeria.
Inwalomhe Donald writes via firstname.lastname@example.org