It gives me great pleasured to be here and I must thank the leadership of the Nigerian Corrections Service (NCoS) for the kind invitation to be part of this retreat.
I must commend the NCoS for the foresight of this retreat, meant to build up on the Ministry’s retreat held in Ilorin last year and to forge a five-year plan for the service.
A retreat is a kind of getaway that organisations usually embark upon for the purpose of bonding with one another, contemplate their purpose and motives, and work on one or more specific goals. It is during a retreat that groups also review their past works and set future goals.
It is my hope and belief that this retreat will be a watershed for the NCoS in reviewing their past, set new goals and prepare to serve the nation like never before.
As we all know, this NCoS is integral to the justice system. A criminal suspect is sent to the custodial centre by a competent court while the trial is ongoing.
A convicted criminal is also sent to the same institution to serve a term, for life or for execution, depending on the nature and severity of the judgement.
It is the primary duty of the institution to keep them in safe custody and keep society safe from them, while their incarceration lasts. The bigger duty, of course, is to reform them and reintegrate those who are serving terms back into society. The goal has always been to make them better than they ever were, at the time of leaving our institution. Therefore, it is in light of this that this retreat, and your entire processes, should be centred around.
You will again recall that in late 2019, going into 2020, the whole world was thrown into a tailspin with the emergence of COVID-19. This affected practically everything, including NCoS. For months, the whole world, nay the nation, was in a lockdown. Productivity was brought to the nadir, affecting national, organisational, family and individual’s economies. The government deployed huge resources to contain the possible effect of this, yet many of our compatriots were unfortunately not covered by the largess.
One of our worst fears then was the possible transmission of the virus in the custodial centres.
I must commend the immediate past Controller General and his team for the yeoman’s job they did in keeping the virus away, such that not a single case of infection was reported in any of our facilities.
One of the policies we quickly put in place then was a decongestion programme under which thousands of inmates were released on compassionate ground.
The follow up to that is the consideration that we should find further ways to keep decongesting our facilities. We started work on the idea of compiling the list of convicted inmates serving light terms for not too serious offences, who were in custody because they could not pay their fines.
If we could get well-to-do Nigerians to pay their fines, they would be released and more space would be freed at the custodial centres. It is my hope that this would be considered as a serious issue and the modalities for the implementation will be perfected at this retreat.
In the heat of the pandemic, the fact of economic deprivations, restrictions on movement and confinement to their homes, put people on edge and unleashed a fury of their demons which culminated in the #endsars violent demonstrations across the country towards the end of 2020. This negatively affected our facilities as they were attacked from the outside by demonstrators.
It snowballed into a barrage of consistent attacks on one custodial facility one after the other, with many inmates freed, in a way that has never happened in the country. Our system was designed to protect from inside since it was unthinkable that any person would contemplate attacking a custodial centre, knowing they were always built near police or military fortresses.
This tasked us immensely but I am happy that we came out to be on top of our game. Our facilities are safe and secure now, inside out.
Nevertheless, we still have the challenge of escaped inmates. Many of them have been arrested.
Some came back by themselves while families, vigilantes and other watchmen brought some back. But many are still out there, portending great danger to our communities and people. There being out there is an affront to our justice system. It is curious that there have been reports of upsurge in violent crimes around the areas where these facilities have been attacked and inmates freed. They therefore have to be brought back for minds to be at rest.
This retreat must critically look into this and come up with the right strategy for bringing them back, working in concert with relevant stakeholders and sister agencies.
It is practically impossible now to live a normal life without leaving digital footprints in communication, finance and other areas.
You have their biodata and pictures. Rev up your contact with Interpol for the possibility of those that might try to or have left our shores. Work well with sister agencies and financial institutions to track their movements and bring them back. Work well with the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and all the banks. The escapees’ database of their fingerprints, pictures and other details you have with you should be harmonised with them.
In our desire to have greater control and ease the recapture of escaped inmates, it is very important to also have their DNA the moment they come into your care. The usefulness of this is more than recapturing escaped inmates. DNA will give you a near absolute certainty on the identity of the inmates in your care, 99.99999 per cent, according to the experts.
This retreat should also give you the opportunity to work out the modalities for easily obtaining their DNAs, the storage and retrieval system and data safekeeping.
I want you all to know that this is a very important responsibility that has to be carried out.
Bringing them back in will establish deterrence – send a very strong signal to the outside world that no one can escape justice and it will be futile to attack our facilities again.
It is my sincere hope that you will also consider how to maximise the human resources at the custodial centres, productive use of inmates, first for their own training and secondly for their use in the areas of national need. The current apprenticeship and entrepreneurship scheme needs to be broadened to make it more inclusive and more active. Productive and rewarding physical engagements will most likely keep people away from crimes.
This retreat should also afford you the opportunity to work well with the media.
You have a lot of good stories to tell, chief of which is how you managed to keep covid out of your facilities. You have done fantastically well in rehabilitating inmates, getting many to acquire formal and informal education. Currently, inmates are undergoing postgraduate programmes comprising of PhD, Masters and postgraduate diplomas. Also, inmates are studying various degree programmes such as Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution, Criminology and Security Studies, Political Science, Law, etc. Commission documentaries on these and get them to the public through the media.
Your agriculture programme as well needs to be mentioned.
Inmates are being trained in agriculture and they have been contributing to the production of their own food. This and many more under your belt should be made available to the public on a regular basis. You should let the public know also about your improved capacity for medical treatment of inmates and bringing awaiting trial inmates to court.
I must not fail to thank President Muhammadu Buhari for his kind assistance and favourable disposition to our ministry and agencies. I must commend the CG of Corrections for the great work he is doing and through him thank all the staff and officials under him, for their sacrifice, diligence and patriotism.
I wish you a very fruitful and successful deliberations and safe journey back to your various posts.
I thank you all for your kind attention.