The plan by the Federal Government to privatise the nation’s prisons is absurd. We do not see the sense in the plan to hand over the management of the facilities to private concerns. In the same vein, the reported indication of interest in the management of our prisons by the nation’s ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and South Africa’s ruling party, African National Congress (ANC), is ridiculous. If the two political parties are interested in prisons management purely as a business concern, we think they will be better advised to concentrate on the management of their parties to make them play the role expected of them in a democracy.
The PDP, in particular, is clearly not living up to this expectation. Interior Minister, Patrick Abba Moro, who disclosed the government’s prisons privatisation plan when a delegation from the ANC visited him in Abuja at the instance of the PDP, said the government would not relent in its decision to privatise the nation’s prisons because their management has become one of the greatest challenges facing it.
In a glaring indictment of both his office and the Federal Government, the minister said the prisons are plagued by poor maintenance of infrastructure, poor management, and bad criminal justice system, which have led to many awaiting trial inmates and congestion of the prisons. He added that it is in the effort to get rid of these problems that the government decided on the privatisation initiative, while also planning to resuscitate prison farms, rehabilitate prisoners, reduce incidence of offences, as well as build an adequate database of prisoners.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), he explained, is to be signed with interested parties for prisons management as soon as modalities for the Public Private Partnership (PPP) are worked out. We do not support this plan to hand the nation’s prisons over to private organisations under whatever arrangement. Establishment and running of prisons is solely a responsibility of the Federal Government. Item 48 of the 2nd Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 vests responsibility for prisons in Nigeria on the Federal Government.
Prisons are under the exclusive legislative list, which makes responsibility for their management not even that of States or local governments, but the Federal Government. So, under what authority would responsibility for their management now be ceded to private concerns? The idea is not only preposterous, it is raises more questions than answers. It is not for nothing that the constitution vests this important responsibility in the Federal Government, and any arrangement to the contrary will be clearly unworkable in the Nigerian environment.
Before government can privatise the prisons, the constitution will have to be amended and we find no merit in any plan to amend this section of the constitution. We think prisons should continue to be Federal institutions because people from all over the country are sent to prisons and it is necessary to have a central administration and authority for the facilities to ensure uniform standards. Moreover, with the growing insecurity in the country, the prisons will be better managed by the Federal Government, which controls all the instruments required to ensure their security, including the police and the Armed Forces.
Again, the essence of privatisation, which is the transfer of some activities handled by the government to private concerns to improve services, and provide competition which will increase choices available to consumers of a product, is irrelevant to the prisons because in reality, prisoners have no say in the prisons to which they will be sent.
Privatisation of prisons would be an abdication of responsibility on the part of the Federal Government. If the government cannot ensure proper management of the institutions with its own staff, how would it ensure the same with private contractors, whose primary motive for running the institutions would be to make profit? The proposed involvement of a foreign political party in the management of our prisons is also questionable. Prisons management is a critical aspect of the internal affairs of a country. Why would a foreign organisation of whatever description be involved in such a scheme? This could compromise the security of the prisons and the nation.
Let the government and the Ministry of Internal Affairs carefully think out solutions to the challenges they have with the prisons. Management of prisons is not rocket science. Nigerians can do it if there is sincerity of purpose, and the misappropriation of funds earmarked for the facilities and the welfare of prisoners is stopped. We do not need esoteric proposals to manage prisons. A firm resolution to do the right thing is all that is needed. If the persons currently saddled with that responsibility are unable to do the job, a change of guards may be necessary to achieve the desired objective.