We applaud the timely call by the Honorable Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, to decongest Nigeria’s custodial centres by 30%.
We, however, urge the federal government to create a workable plan for properly reintegrating pre-trial inmates into society to avoid recidivism.
On 10th October 2022, the Honorable Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, made known his move to meet with the state governors to agree on the mass release of at least 30% of inmates from custodial centres because the majority of the incarcerated persons are state offenders.
This intervention is commendable as it aligns with the provisions of Section 175 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), Section 2 (1)(a)(b)(c), Section 12 of the Nigeria Correctional Services Act 2019, and the general provision of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 on the speedy dispensation of justice.
The Nigerian Correctional Service Statistics show that 70% of incarcerated persons are pre-trial detainees.
Pre-trial detention appears antithetical to the idea of fair trials and speedy dispensation of Justice, which the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees. Moreover, our Correctional Centers do not have adequate resources and facilities for properly correcting individuals housed therein.
As civil society organisations providing direct access to justice to indigent pre-trial detainees and providing rehabilitation and re-entry support, we urge the federal government to consider the following as it embarks on the decongestion intervention:
1. Engage all stakeholders in the decongestion process. These include not only the state governments but the National Human Rights Commission, the Judiciary, the Nigerian Bar Association, and Civil Society Organizations working around issues of the criminal justice system in Nigeria.
2. Prioritise the release of petty offenders. Part 44 and 45 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015) and Part 2 of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act (2019) make provisions for utilizing Non-Custodial measures for petty/minor offences.
3. Prioritize proactive measures to drastically reduce the number of persons that get remanded in Correctional facilities by ensuring thorough enforcement of Section 34 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015).
4. Consider pre-trial inmates who have spent more than the statutory punishment for the offence, including first-time offenders charged with minor offences.
5. For sustainability, the government must work to implement Restorative Justice, Community Service and other diversionary measures as provided by our legal framework.
6. Create a plan for the proper re-integration and re-entry of the released persons back into society.
Cumulatively, we have provided direct support services to thousands of indigent pre-trial detainees in Nigeria. These include legal aid and reintegration support.
We thus reinstate our commitment to supporting the government as it works towards the 30% decongestion of correctional facilities in Nigeria.
1. Center for Legal Support and Inmate Rehabilitation
2. Citizens’ Gavel Foundation for Social Justice
3. Connect Hub NG
4. Headfort Foundation
5. Hope Behind Bars Africa