Interior Minister Rauf Aregbesola says he will meet with state governors to agree on the mass release of at least 30 percent of inmates from detention centers across the country.
Mr. Aregbesola made this known when he appeared at the Nigerian News Agency (NAN) Forum in Abuja.
The minister said the interface was necessary as more than 90 percent of inmates were being held for breaking the laws of various states.
Mr. Aregbesola also said that more than 70 percent of the 75,635 inmates currently awaiting trial.
The minister said that federal criminals in the system were much less than 10 percent, adding that the majority of people in custody were those who had violated state laws.
He said that they were therefore under the legal jurisdiction of their respective states.
The minister added that it was necessary to decongest the 253 detention centers nationwide since some of the inmates have no reason to remain in preventive detention.
Mr. Aregbesola, therefore, said that all stakeholders must work towards a “better-structured criminal justice administration, otherwise, we will be left with congested and overcrowded facilities.”
He said: “I have written to the Nigerian Governors Forum to allow me to come and talk to them about how they can support the decongestion process.
“Because the governors must accept this system so that we carry out a massive decongestion, especially of the inmates awaiting trial.
“If we get buy-in from the state judicial authorities and the state government, we can get 30 percent of those who are there out.”
According to him, some of the prisoners awaiting trial have stayed longer than the punishment provided by law for the crime for which they were arrested.
“If you look at a man who gets caught for petty theft and you put him on trial for three years, even if you convict him of that crime, how long will he stay?
“How long is that guy going to stay, probably six months, but without trial, he’s going to be there for three years?
“Again, he arrested a boy under the bridge, there is no fixed crime and he is there forever, and so on.
“So we need buy-in and support from state governments.
“This is so that they critically learn about the situation and let them set up committees that profile everyone who is there.
“And help convict them, release them or see if they have stayed longer than required,” the minister said.
Mr. Aregbesola assured that the Ministry of the Interior was doing everything in its power to decongest the detention centers.
He said the meeting with the governors would help critically review the situation and relieve the system of inmates who should have been out.
Buhari Reformed Prisons
Aregbesola also said that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has facilitated unprecedented development in the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS).
He revealed this when he appeared at the Nigerian News Agency (NAN) Forum in Abuja.
He said the development had a negative effect not only on the Ministry of the Interior but also on inmates in detention centers across the country.
“If any administration has brought prison reorientation to life in Nigerian history, it is the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“What he has done by making our prison system corrective is historic.
“We had a prison system that was just coercive, punitive, and oppressive both in the law and in the operation of the law.
“So, that changed forever in July 2019 when he signed and passed the NCoS Act of 2019.
“From the name of that law, you know it’s a reformatory document,” he said.
Mr. Aregbesola said that the reform has also changed the orientation of Nigerians, as many prisoners who served their sentences turned out to be better citizens.
“As I speak to you, we have Ph.D. students in philosophy, we even have Ph.D. graduates now from our correctional facilities.
“We also have several undergraduates, postgraduate students, and thousands of people taking their West African Examination Council (WAEC) and National Examination Council (NECO) exams.
“Thousands, not hundreds, thousands and thousands of people acquiring commercial proofs, craft skills, and what have you.
“So, in fact, we are champions in reforming, rehabilitating, and reintegrating our inmates,” he said.
Mr. Aregbesola explained that the reform, rehabilitation, and reintegration of prisoners affected only those convicted by a court of law, not those awaiting trial.
“Seventy percent of those who are there are awaiting trial.
“It will become clear to us why it is often difficult for ATIs who are released after their trial to be seen now as products of our system who are not rehabilitated,” he said.
The minister assured that the federal government will continue to improve the condition of inmates in detention centers, in line with the best world practices. (NAN)