August 14, 2020, marks exactly one year since President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Act changing the name of Nigerian Prison Service to Nigerian Correctional Service. This was a defining moment for prison administration in Nigeria, which for many years had suffered severe neglect.
Although prison reform did not feature prominently in President Buhari’s reform agenda, it was generally agreed that it was long overdue. It was, therefore, not surprising that the President wasted no time in signing the Bill when it was passed by the National Assembly. It was a clear demonstration of the President’s concern and commitment to comprehensive prison reform.
Prior to this historic transition from Nigerian Prison Service to Nigerian Correctional Service the state of Nigerian prisons was deplorable and dreaded. Rather than being a place for reform, it became a breeding ground for criminals; this was in addition to providing cover for thriving illicit drug business and other sundry crimes.
The welfare of prisoners and prison officials was nothing to write home about. Indeed, the condition in the prisons were so dehumanizing that the inmates were exposed to frequent outbreak of diseases, which accounted for loss of many lives in the prisons. This was also largely responsible for frequent jailbreaks in various prisons across the country. It was also discovered that some of the jailbreaks were encouraged or in connivance with prison officials, who, out of frustration of poor condition of service, became willing instruments in perverting the purpose of prison administration.
There was also the issue of congestion of prisons in the country, which had compounded the problem of prison administration.
It was against this backdrop that one would begin to appreciate the commendable effort by the present administration to reform the Nigerian prison system from the dread image of the past to a true correctional centre, where the prisoners would have the opportunity to be reformed and rehabilitated back into society.
However, it must be acknowledged that the present reform goes beyond the change of name, it is rather a process set in motion since the inception of the administration of the present Comptroller-General of Prisons, Ja’afaru Ahmed, which began in 2016. Backed with deep knowledge of the rot in the Nigerian prison system and a desperate need for reform, Ja’afaru Ahmed took his assignment with a missionary zeal borne out of a sincere commitment to bring a new face to prison administration in the country.
At first it would seem a daunting task, considering the myriad of problems that have bedeviled the Nigerian prison system. But with incredible panache, focused leadership and sincere commitment, he has been able to achieve what would ordinarily appear to be an impossibility.
His tenure has witnessed massive improvement in every facet of prison administration in the country, which has impacted positively on the lives of prison inmates and officials. One of his most laudable performance indicators is the area of welfare of prison inmates and officials, which has received a tremendous boost. With the understanding that a demoralized workforce will always constitute a clog on the wheel of progress of the organization, the CGP had ensured that priority was given to the welfare of his officers and men, which in turn has enhanced their commitment to service delivery.
Similarly, rehabilitation of dilapidated prison infrastructure across the country had been pursued vigorously and holistically. As a result, many prisons in the country today have received tremendous facelifts. It is no longer the story where the prisons where more like dungeons; all the prisons in the country can at least pass a test of being habitable, unlike in the past. There is also enhanced security system in and around the prison premises, which has curtailed or eliminated the nauseating stories of jailbreaks in the country.
Equally, a comprehensive training and skill acquisition scheme has been given adequate attention to ensure that prison inmate will acquire one skill or the other, which will enable them to face life outside the prison. Indeed the concept of correctional service is to reform the inmates and rehabilitate them into society. This would also make their adaptation into society less difficult.
There is no denying the fact that CGP Ja’afaru Ahmed has performed remarkably to transform the image of Nigerian prisons. This explains why President Buhari extended his tenure, to enable him continue with the good work he is doing. He has set a high benchmark for succeeding administrations to attain because of his numerous achievements.
However, these achievements cannot be removed from the support of Honourable Minister of Interior, Dr. Rauf Aregbesola, who has been very instrumental in getting the necessary government attention for the success of prisons reform.
By and large, the face of Nigerian prisons has changed significantly under the present administration. The transformation from Nigerian Prison Service to Nigerian Correctional Service is a welcome development; it is one that would go a long in changing the negative perception about the Nigerian prison system.
•Udutchay, [email protected]
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