Juliana Francis and Taiwo Jimoh
The conference was certainly a gathering for some selected people. It was for people who know about the Nigerian Criminal Justice System, understand the issues surrounding the judiciary and prison congestion, and demand reforms.
The venue is the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), House of Favour, Redemption City of God. The event tagged, ‘Wonders of Freedom,’ was held on the 29th of April 2023.
This would be the fourth Edition of the conference, organised by RCCG Prison and Hospital Ministry, and this 2023 edition is with the theme, ‘Wonders of Freedom.’
Telling the gathering the importance of the conference, the National Chairman of RCCG Prison and Hospitality Ministry, Pastor Ariyo Popoola said: “The purpose of the conference is to look at the problems of prison decongestion, the role of the police, the rights of the inmates, welfare, and post-prison rehabilitation. There is also discussion on the health and welfare of caregivers.”
Popoola, while giving a review of 2021 and 2022, said that there has been increased commitment and dedication to the ministry’s activities by members in all correctional facilities across the nation, police stations, remand homes, hospitals, old people’s homes, area boys’ and girls’ enclaves and motor parks.
He added: “Despite the economic realities, we still made sure that foodstuffs, drugs, mats, mattresses, toiletries, slippers, bibles, and Christian books are made available to inmates
“Also, GCE forms were purchased for inmates in our correctional facilities. At least about 120 forms were purchased, drugs were donated to our correctional across the country, and free legal services were provided for indigent inmates.
“Through this, a lot of inmates have been set free, though some cases are still ongoing in courts. Counselling is provided for the inmates to prepare them for their reintegration after their release and outreaches for inmates and staff members on a regular basis.
“Mediation between the complainant and the accused and mediation between the families has led to the release of many inmates where complainants drop charges against them.
“Within the past year, we have made several interventions in some correctional facilities. We donated a complete set of security lights and a complete set of computers and foodstuffs to Sagamu correctional facility.”
One of the attendees at the conference is the Assistant Commissioner of Police, ACP, Taiwo Kasumu, who said that the major reason correctional centers in Nigeria are congested was due to delays in the criminal justice system.
Kasumu, who is the Area Commander in charge of Agodi, Ibadan, Oyo State, said one of the main causes of delays in the justice system in Nigeria was the backlog of cases in the courts.
He said: “Many cases are pending in the courts and the slow pace of the legal process made many of the cases take years before it would be resolved. Another factor contributing to the delays is the inadequate number of judges and courtrooms in the country, this resulted in a situation where judges are overworked, leading to delays in the legal process.
“The absence of synergy and multi-agency collaboration amongst the key players in the justice administration system in Nigeria is also a notorious clog on the wheels of justice delivery. The police being the first responder to crime, the court, and the correctional centres have an important role to play.
“The cumbersome process of perfecting forensic analysis required to prove a criminal case beyond reasonable doubt and the court’s requirement of laying a foundation for the admissibility of electronic evidence is also another issue to be resolved to get justice.”
Kasumu noted that one of the major consequences of poor coordination between criminal justice administration players in Nigeria is the high rate of pre-trial detention.
He added: “Many suspects are held in detention for extended periods without trial, and inefficiencies in the justice system led to overcrowding in prisons, human rights abuses and lack of access to justice for those who are detained and low rates of prosecution. Due to lack of coordination and resources, many cases are poorly investigated, and evidence is often not properly collected or preserved.”
The Controller of Correctional Centre, Lagos State Command, Ben-Rabbi Freedman represented by the Deputy Controller Correctional, DCC Obiosi Okonkwo in charge of Welfare and Care Lagos State Command said Nigerians and Corporate organisations had been collaborating with them and they have assisted them in so many ways.
Freedman noted that religious bodies, corporate organisations, and individuals had been of help to the centre for a long, adding that they come in different forms to assist the inmates and the facility.
“Sometimes they approach us to ask for our needs and they have assisted us legally, render pro-bono services. They also rendered counselling to our inmates and medicals. Even in infrastructure areas, they are also helping us,” said Freedman.
On the aspect of stigmatisation of the inmates, Freedman said: “Many of the families of the inmates, religious bodies, organisations always rallied around us even before inmates are released from the correctional center because of that, the stigma must have gone. It is because their family members care for them. I would say the stigma was not well pronounced after they are released from prison.
“Some of the challenges we have in our correctional centers are old, dilapidated structures, poor welfare for prisoners and prison staff, delays in the court process, underfunding of the service, a large population of awaiting trial inmates, attitudinal problems of prison staff, lack of necessary logistics, challenges of feeding inmates, poor coordination and synergy between the prisons, the police and the court. Thank God we have put some of these issues behind us.”
Jumping in, Popoola explained that there were many areas in the correctional center that needed improvements, adding that the only way they could get it was through the private sector, individuals, and corporate organisations.
Popoola added: “Correctional centres have a lot of ways to be improved upon. Prior to 1999, our correctional centres were in hell, and in those periods, it was totally bad and impossible to access the warders then, but things have changed now.
“In those periods you dare not use a phone as an inmate, there is no desk for human rights in the correctional center then. We now have human rights desks in all our prisons in Nigeria. One of the basics of the desk is to protect the rights of the inmates.
“Prior to the same 1999, RCCG didn’t have access to the correctional center. The Welfare departments now allow inmates to reach their family members and their lawyers through their phones. It gives the inmates to pass information to the outside world on a daily basis.
“Anyone they pushed into the prison then is totally in a dark world, as such a person doesn’t know what happened outside. There was also no education but by the Special grace of God RCCG had taken adult school and Open University to the inmates in the prison. Just last year, we just built an Open University at Akure correctional center for the benefit of the inmates. There was nothing to take care of the prisoners then, but we have facilitated that to the benefit of the inmates also.”
He further said some of the inmates then were just like an animal who were not allowed to express their views by the warders.
His words: “If an inmate wanted to talk to a warder, then such a person must kneel before he could be allowed to talk. But after 1999, those who were employed then were psychologists who understood the inmates, their feelings, and their emotional balance.
“It was during the tenure of Olusegun Obasanjo that we had a major transformation in the correctional centers in Nigeria. Prior to then the leadership of the correctional centers was colonial in nature. It was Obasanjo reforms that change so many things in Nigeria’s Correctional centers.
“It was during his tenure he said those who will be warders had to be professionals and graduates. While those who had stayed long in the service were retired and paid off. Right now, you cannot see any correctional centers that are not manned by a graduate. We now have professionals on all desks. It was then social workers, Nongovernmental Organisations, and religious bodies are now coming into the facilities to assist them in one way or the others for the benefit of the inmates.”BEWARE All Rights Reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without prior express written permission from Juliana Francis