PROCEEDINGS OF WORKSHOP FACILITATED BY THE EXECUTIVE-DIRECTOR OF PRISONERS’ RIGHTS ADVOCACY INITIATIVE, AHMED ADETOLA-KAZEEM AT THE 2ND COURT CENTERED DUTY SOLICITORS TRAINING WORKSHOP

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]INTRODUCTION

Lawyers across Nigeria with interest in Court Duty Solicitors Scheme had an enlightening and interactive workshop with Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem on Justice for Awaiting Trial Inmates on the 7th of May 2020 via Court Centered Probono Whatsapp Platform.

Court Duty Solicitors are Probono Lawyers working to decongest the Court and Prisons through a court centered mechanism.

So instead of going to the correctional facilities, duty solicitors simply sit in their designated courts and appear for inmates who do not have legal representation.

Bayo Akinlade:  Give us a brief overview about PRAI

Adetola-Kazeem: Thank you very much Mr Akinlade for the invite. I will be sharing my experience and also hope to learn from this esteemed group.

Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative (PRAI) was registered in 2012 to contribute its quota towards ensuring true reforms of the Criminal Justice Administration in Nigeria and also ensuring Nigeria’s Correctional Centres (Formerly Prisons) are truly reformatory. PRAI uses Advocacy, Legal Defence, Reformation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration as the tools to achieving its aims

PRAI has secured the release of over 250 inmates with more than 1000 inmates benefitting from its vocational skills training and educational interventions over the years. About 20 ex-inmates have been successfully integrated into the society through provision of Jobs, Equipment and Funds to start businesses by PRAI.

PRAI’s major focus areas at the moment is ensuring that the provisions of the Nigeria Correctional Service Act (NCSA) 2019 are given full effect to in order to combat the endemic overcrowding in our Custodial Centres as well as the inhumane treatment of inmates. PRAI recently sued the Federal Government and other stakeholders in the Criminal Justice Sector, on behalf of inmates of Ikoyi Custodial Centre at the Federal High Court in order for the court to make pronouncement on the innovative provisions of section 12 of the NSCA 2019. We are awaiting Judgment in the matter which is before Honourable Justice Liman.

Bayo Akinlade: How do we effectively fight for the rights of awaiting trial inmates

Adetola-Kazeem: We must first understand that the rights is beyond Awaiting Trial Inmates (ATIs), Convicts also have rights that should be protected. That said, we can only fight for the rights of ATIs if we know what their rights entails and the ramifications.

We can fight for the rights of ATIs through the following ways:

  1. KNOWLEDGE OF RELEVANT LAWS:

The first thing is to know the relevant provisions of the Constitution; the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules,2009; Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015; the ACJ Laws of relevant States; and the Nigeria Correctional Service Act 2019. This will open your eyes to different approaches for your interventions.

Familiarize yourself with substantive laws such as the Criminal Code Act, Criminal Code Law of the relevant state, the EFCC Act etc. to know what offence your client has been charged with, sometimes they would have spent more than the time required under the law awaiting trial. I have successfully used this on at least four different occasions.

  1. WEIGH YOUR APPROACH

Secondly, weigh your approach. It is not everytime you rush to court, sometimes a simple letter to the appropriate authorities could get you what you want. I have used this approach severally which have ensured the release of hundreds of inmates during the tenure of Mr. Ade Ipaye as AG of Lagos.

At PRAI we have used Fundamental Rights; Habeas Corpus; Letter; Class Actions; Media Advocacy; and Trial successfully in the interest of Awaiting Trial Inmates.

  1. GET THE BUY-IN OF STAKEHOLDERS

Make friends with Journalist and Bloggers. They will ensure your interventions get faster attention. This helped me a lot as a new wig to gain traction and still helps me at the moment. But let it be a relationship of value. I have added value to all the Journalists that I have worked with by consciously working with them to write award winning stories from the work I do.

In 2012 a journalist with Punch Newspapers did a beautiful story titled “One day in Court, Life In Jail” , the story chronicles the misery of ATIs using my first 3 Fundamental Rights cases against the Police and Lagos State as case studies. The story won him his very first award at the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence (DAME). He also won the Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) the next year for a story on underage children sent to prison by Special offences Court, which was then in Alausa. The story was titled “Court where Alleged offenders are rushed to Jail”.

Last year alone two Journalists from Punch and the Nation Newspaper won Awards at the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism and the DAME Awards respectively- I practically forced them to do the stories. PRAI also gave them Plaques in recognition of their support early this year.

Apply this to other stakeholders too. Have friends in the Police, Ministry of Justice, Courts, the Nigeria Correctional Service etc. This will ensure you are able to navigate the system easily and it will assist you achieve results faster. In all these do not compromise your integrity. You might want no read about Social Intelligence to understand the point I am trying to make here.

The list in endless but is suffices to stop here for now

Bayo Akinlade: How do we help resolve the issues around prison congestion?

Adetola-Kazeem: We can help by volunteering with NGOs and Initiatives like the Lagos Public Interest Law Partnership (LPILP) and the Court Duty Solicitor Scheme of the NBA to offer Pro Bono Services to Inmates.

We should also keep creating awareness about their issues, it helps a lot.

We can raise funds or donate to NGOs in the frontline of the defence of awaiting trial inmates.

Bayo Akinlade: What is our specific role as legal practitioners in ensuring that the wrong people are not remanded in prison custody.

Adetola-Kazeem: Our role is to keep mounting pressure on the government as individuals and in groups such as NBA and coalition of CSOs to reform the Police. We can’t curb the problem or arbitrary remand without curbing arbitrary arrests. The Police needs total overhauling in terms of discipline, remuneration, coordination and mindset shift.

 

I think the Police Duty Solicitor Scheme and the innovation by the Ministry of Justice to place staff in court to properly vet charges in court at the point of entry into the court is a welcomed idea that will stem the tide of imprisoning those who have no business there.

QUESTIONS FROM PARTICIPANTS

Questioner: It does seem that PRAI is only available in Lagos state, is this correct? If yes, are there plans of expanding to the South-East soon?

Adetola-Kazeem: PRAI activities cuts across, Lagos, Ogun, Kwara and Kaduna States at the moment

You can join the Network of ProBono Lawyers which I co-founded via https://netprolaw.com/. We have presence in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Benue and Abia states.

Questioner:  Is there limit to the extent of court for pro bono services e.g Magistrate and or High court; or it could go as far as Supreme Court?

Adetola-Kazeem: Pro Bono Services could go as far as the Supreme Court, you can act for clients at the regional courts like the ECOWAS Court etc

Questioner: How can you engage Lawyers in states where Court Duty Solicitors Scheme (CDSS) has not been introduced?

Adetola-Kazeem: Lawyers in states where there is no CDSS should volunteer for NGOs in those state or take cases on their own and eventually register their NGOs to scale. This was the way I started.

Questioner:  My question bothers on pro-bono issue, I am in NBA Ikorodu Branch Pro-bono Committee, please can I really and truly survive the rigour of moving out of jurisdiction on pro-bono matters as a Young Lawyer still struggling for survival, how do I cope, since all the expenses are all on me, where is the encouragement.

Adetola-Kazeem: Everyone should know his or her limits, do only what your finances and time can allow. You could mess up your client and yourself if you bite more than you can chew.

Questioner: Lawyers that are paid abandon their criminal matters and pro bono lawyers are forced to take it up.

Adetola-Kazeem: That is professional misconduct. I think the NBA should take it up against such lawyers to set examples.

Questioner:

The part that resonates with me is the Prison Vocational/ Entrepreneurial/Educational Empowerment.

  1. How do you go about this?
  2. Is the education like distant-learning? Are they attached to any school within the jurisdiction?
  3. What steps do your organization take to reintegrate them into society.
  4. Are they provided with tools of trade upon release?(in the cases of vocational Empowerment)
  5. Who teaches them these vocations?
  6. Who are the recipients of the vocational Empowerment? I mean do you concentrate more on those who have 6 months or less to stay?
  7. Do you have a kind of mentorship program among inmates where inmates with some kind of skills can teach others interested in learning? Like Prison Apprenticeship Program, which could sow seeds of leadership in their minds.

 

ADETOLA-KAZEEM:

  1. How do you go about this?

*You need proper planning, permission from those in charge of the facility, your team and financial resources to carry out the activities. At PRAI, we make use of volunteer teachers and we pay them stipends for transportation to ensure consistency. We established the first school at the Ijebu-Ode Custodial Centre and provided the furniture and stationary for takeoff.

We currently run the Career, Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Character Training (C-LECT) at Juvenile Correctional Centres in Lagos, we shall be expanding to other states after COVID-19 by God’s grace.

  1. Is the education like distant-learning? Are they attached to any school within the jurisdiction?

The tertiary education is distant-learning. Inmates attend the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) many have bagged Degrees, Masters and we have the first set of PhD students.

For Primary and Secondary, they have schools established for this in the facilities. The Primary Schools are ran as adult literacy classes.

  1. What steps do your organization take to reintegrate them into society?

We only deal with those we have known while they were in custody, either those we represented or those who took part in any of our trainings. When they are released we either raise funds to set up their desired business or we get them a job. In the past 3 years about 15 inmates have benefited from our interventions.

 

We also provide psychosocial support to help them stabilize. Last year we organized a post-prison assessment programme which had about 20 ex-inmates in attendance.

  1. Are they provided with tools of trade upon release?(in the cases of vocational Empowerment)

The Nigeria Correctional Service has an Aftercare department that provides this, but only ex-convicts are catered for, unfortunately this intervention is not regular. PRAI tries to fill the gap by supporting ATIs, we have supported about two ex-convicts in this regard. Some of the participants were provided with tool.

  1. Who teaches them these vocations?

The Correctional Service Officers, Inmates and Volunteers from various organizations.

  1. Who are the recipients of the vocational Empowerment? I mean do you concentrate more on those who have 6 months or less to stay?

In 2018 we organized a Pre-release assessment programme and our focus was on inmates due for release in the next succeeding three months. We were able to capture and support some of them.

  1. Do you have a kind of mentorship program among inmates where inmates with some kind of skills can teach others interested in learning? Like Prison Apprenticeship Program, which could sow seeds of leadership in their minds.

Yes, that is the standard in the Prison workshops. They have a skilled staff who is the overall head, and they have Inmates who form the bulk of those impacting the skills on apprentice inmates.

 

_ END _

 

To know about what we do at PRAI visit:

www.prai.org.ng

Facebook: @PRAInitiative

Twitter: @PRAInigeria

Instagram: @PRAInigeria[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Failed parenting leading kids to correctional homes –Adetola-Kazeem

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]he Director, Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative, Mr Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem, has said failed parenting is the reason majority of the children in borstal homes or correctional centres ended up there.

He said PRAI’s engagements, under its Juvenile Justice Support Programme, had shown that the borstal homes abound in raw talents and brilliant minds waiting to be harnessed.

Adetola-Kazeem said with the right help, the children, considered errant today, would turn around to become responsible citizens, making positive contributions to the society.

He spoke with The PUNCH at the weekend during PRAI’s mentoring visit to the Special Correctional Centre for Boys, Oregun and the Children Correctional Centre for Girls, Idi-Araba, Lagos.

The Saturday visit to borstal homes in Lagos came a week after PRAI visited the Nigeria Correctional Service, Borstal Institution, Adigbe, Abeokuta, Ogun State.

The programme featured a motivation speaking session with two Mandela Washington fellows, Onyedikachi Ekwerike and Amaka Ijiko, who shared their grass-to-grass stories with the boys and girls to inspire them. The children themselves made group presentations on topics ranging from sexual abuse to cultism during a speaking competition.

During a panel discussion, the children were enlightened on how to discover their talents and commercialise same.

The children, who also had an indoors games session, were fed by PRAI during the visit.

Speaking on the essence of the initiative, Adetola-Kazeem said, “In the past, PRAI worked with adult inmates in the conventional correctional centres but during a chance visit to a borstal institution I realised that the younger ones actually need us more because many of them are here because of the failings of their parents and the society at large.

“How do we now ensure that they get out of here as better persons and do not return to crimes? The essence is to give them an orientation that ensures a crime-free future.

“From our interactions in the borstal institutions that we have visited, we saw that there are lot of talents that need to be harnessed and what we have seen here today (Saturday) has reconfirmed that fact. The children have a bright future ahead of them but they need people to support them.”

On what parents and society could do better to raise responsible children, Adetola-Kazeem said, “Everybody can’t be rich but everybody can be responsible. We need more responsible parents that understand that children need to be properly guided.

“A parent that leaves home at 4am and returns at 11pm, what kind of children are they expected to raise? Children that are being taught through television and by peers or by parents who engage in vices, what kind of children do you think they will turn out to be? So, it is a failing of perenting and these children identified this fact during a speaking competition we organised for them.

“But irrespective of what their parents have done, how do we ensure that they live responsible lives? What support can we give as members of the society to ensure that they live as responsible members of the society and that is the gap we are trying to fill.”

The Principal, Special Correctional Centre for Boys, Oregun, Mr Salau Wasiu, said the centre was open to collaboration with PRAI and other like-minded institutions as “it will go a long way in shaping the lives of the children.”

Wasiu said, “In this place, we have raw talents that need to be harnessed because most of these children are children of circumstance. Their journey leading here may not be their fault; often it is a result of broken homes. Whether we like it or not, they are part of the future of this country and which is why we must help them.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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Group sues Fed Govt over custodial centre’s congestion

A non-governmental organisation, the Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative (PRAI), has asked the Federal High Court in Lagos to compel the Federal Government to build more custodial centres in Lagos.

It is praying for a declaration that the overcrowded state of the Ikoyi Medium Security Custodial Centre, where some inmates were electrocuted, is unconstitutional.

According to PRAI, congestion violates the inmates’ fundamental right to freedom from degrading treatment guaranteed by Section 34(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

The group said the Ikoyi Medium Security Custodial Centre was built in 1955 to accommodate 800 inmates, but held about 3,113 inmates as at December 3.

The Federal Government, Attorney-General of the Federation, Minister of Interior, Nigerian Correctional Service Controller-General, Lagos State Controller, Lagos Attorney-General and the Chief Judge of Lagos are the respondents.

The plaintiff said the overcrowding also violates Section 12(8) of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019, which prohibits keeping inmates in a custodial centre that has exceeded its capacity.

PRAI said the congestion breaches the Federal Government’s duties under Rules 1, 12 and 13 the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners (as revised in 2015) to maintain the minimum standard of accommodation of inmates, as well other statutes.

PRAI is seeking “a declaration that the arrest and continued remand, without proper arraignment and trial in a court of competent jurisdiction, of all inmates as of the day of judgment in this application, who have been in custody beyond the maximum imprisonment terms of the respective offences they have been charged is unlawful and unconstitutional as it violates their fundamental right to personal liberty and freedom of movement as guaranteed by Sections 35(1)(f) and 41 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended)”.

It wants the court to order the release of all such inmates.

PRAI urged the court to hold that the dearth of functional basic amenities, including vocational and recreational centres, health facilities, as well as failure to keep safe and conducive custody of inmates, which resulted in the electrocution incident, all breach the inmates’ rights.

PRAI sought an order compelling the Federal Government to keep the Ikoyi Medium Security Custodial Centre in the good shape by providing the necessary vocational, educational, recreational health facilities.

It further prayed the court to order the Federal Government to build more correctional facilities in the Lagos within 12 months from the date judgment is delivered.

The suit has been assigned to Justice Mohammed Liman and is fixed for January 13.

PRAI, in a December 11 letter to the Minister of Interior Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, called for a thorough investigation of the Ikoyi Custodial Centre electrocution incident.

It urged the Federal Government to pay at least N10million compensation to the verified next of kin.

At least five inmates were electrocuted at the centre last December 2; about 10 others were injured.

PRAI, through its Executive Director Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem, commended the minister for visiting the scene to personally assess the situation, and to suspend some officers to aid the investigation.

The non-governmental organisation, which advocates for prisoners’ rights, said the investigative findings should be made public.

It called for the sanctioning of those found culpable, to serve as a deterrent to others and to forestall a re-occurrence.

PRAI further urged the Federal Government to “disclose the identity of all the deceased and injured victims”.

It added: “This will ensure transparency and proper representation for those of them who may be lacking one at the moment.”

PRAI urged the Federal Government to “pay adequate compensation to families of the deceased inmates and those injured”.

“Nothing less than N10 million should be paid to verified next of kin of the deceased inmates as compensation for the loss of their loved ones.

“We shall be recommending payment of at least N3milion to the injured depending on the gravity of the injury.

“The injured should also be unconditionally released upon consideration of the offence they have been alleged to have committed and the gravity of the injury sustained.”

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Praises, concerns for new prison law

To the wide applause of stakeholders in the Nigerian criminal justice system, President Muhammadu Buhari, last week, signed into law the 11-year-old Nigerian Correctional Service Bill.

Nigerian prisons had been heavily criticised for their overcrowded state and poor conditions.

Experts said in such a state, the prisons in the country lacked the capacity to reform errant society members sent there for correction.

Rather than being reformed and turning a new leaf, many offenders sent to the prisons, according to experts, become hardened and turn to recidivists.

Obsolete legislation, slow justice system and inadequate funding are prominent on the list of challenges identified by stakeholders to be hobbling the capacity of the Nigerian prisons to reform locked-up inmates.

It was against this background that the signing of the Nigerian Correctional Service Bill last week by the President was hailed by many familiar with the system.

With the newly-signed law, the Nigerian Prisons Service had its name changed to the Nigerian Correctional Service, to reflect and satisfy the yearning of the concerned stakeholders for reformation of prison inmates.

But beyond the name change, the law has many provisions, which experts have described as laudable and cheering.

For instance, as a direct response to the overcrowded prisons, the law, in its Section 12 (8), empowers the State Controller of Correctional Service to reject the intake of additional inmates where the facility under his watch is filled to capacity.

The Section 12(8) read: “Without prejudice to subsection (4), the State Controller of Correctional Service, in conjunction with the Correctional Centre Superintendent, shall have the power to reject more intakes of inmates where it is apparent that the correctional centre in question is filled to capacity.”

In the same vein, the law also made a strong case for the use of non-custodial sentencing for minor offenders instead of sending them to already overcrowded jails.

The problem of prison congestion in the country is huge.

For instance, the March 2019 edition of the Lagos State Criminal Information System revealed that though the five prisons in Lagos State have a combined holding capacity of 4,087, they were holding 9,044 inmates as of March this year.

A former Controller of Prisons in Lagos State, Mr Tunde Ladipo (now an Assistant Controller General), said the Badagry Prison, which was built to house only a little over 100 inmates, was at a time locking over 700 inmates.

The Executive Director, Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative, Mr Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem, a staunch crusader for prison reforms, described the new law as “a watershed in the history of treatment of offenders in Nigeria.”

However, he raised concern about the practicability of Section 12(8), which empowered the State Controller of Correctional Service to reject additional inmates when the facility under his watch is full.

“The question then is: where will the inmates be taken to? Will such an inmate be released, particularly where he has been alleged to have committed heinous crimes? This particular provision is very unrealistic unless more prisons are built, considering our population as a country, and more particularly in urban areas like Lagos, Kano, Rivers etc,” Adetola-Kazeem said.

He believes that except more prisons are built, that provision of the law would not work as prisons in the country have already overshot their capacity.

Adetola-Kazeem said the need had arisen to move the prison from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List, so that both the Federal Government and the states can share the burden of funding the prison.

He said until this was done and more prisons were built, the law might be merely academic.

“It is suggested that the prison be removed from the Exclusive Legislative List, so that states can cater for many of the inmates in prison who committed or have been alleged to commit state offences; that will lessen the burden of the Federal Government. The state should build their prison,” he said.

Also, the Senior Legal Officer, Human Rights Law Services, Mr Collins Okeke, argued that making the states share in the responsibility of funding the prison would help to check indiscriminate imprisonment of people for minor offences created by state laws.

Okeke said, “Because of the way our constitution is crafted, prison is on the Exclusive Legislative List, under the control of the Federal Government, so, state governments really don’t care and magistrates just keep sending people to prison and the Federal Government continues to pay; and for the Federal Government, nobody is really asking questions about how much is going into servicing the prisons.

“I believe that there is a need somewhere along the line for an argument to be made that prisons should be removed from the Exclusive Legislative List and put in the Concurrent Legislative List, so that the states can participate in the building and funding of prisons.”

On the new law’s provision for the use of non-custodial sentencing, Adetola-Kazeem said lack of reliable data would pose a challenge.

He said, “The Correctional Services Act cannot work effectively unless some attention is paid to other aspect of our national life.

“The non-custodial measures, such as community service, probation, parole etc, may not work effectively if we do not have reliable data of every person in Nigeria.

“If you don’t have reliable information on people you can’t effectively trace them when they abscond. Furthermore, technologies, like trackers, need to be adopted to effectively track those on parole, for instance, to prevent them from escaping justice.”

On a general note, Adetola-Kazeem said for the law to achieve its main aim of reforming inmates, the prisons, most of which are old, needed infrastructural upgrade.

He said, “There is a need for infrastructural upgrade and training and retraining of correctional officers for the new Act to have any effect.

“In order for the Act to fulfill its aim of reforming, rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders, there needs to be fewer people in our overcrowded prisons and adequate officials, coupled with the provision of state-of-the-art training facilities.

“This will ensure that most inmates can benefit from educational and vocational training, which will be of immense benefit to them after their release.”

The Executive Director, Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, Mr Sylvester Uhaa, also hailed the final signing of the new law, which he said had been too long in coming.

However, despite describing it as “a great legislation with wonderful innovations,” Uhaa is concerned about the culture of poor implementation of laws in Nigeria.

He said, “I am concerned that the Federal Government, as we have seen in the past, may not adequately fund its implementation, especially with respect to the non-custodial options, which will require significant amount of financial and human resources, political will and commitment.”

Like other experts, Uhaa believes that it was time that states partook in the running and funding of the prison, without, which, he doubted, the new law could achieve its aims.

“If states are not willing to support the Federal Government, the financial implication of implementing the Act will soon become too heavy for the Federal Government. So, I urge state governments to support the Federal Government in implementing the Act,” he said.

While expressing his delight that his advocacy for rejection of intake of additional inmates in overcrowded facilities was captured in the new law, Uhaa said except the State Controller of the Correctional Services demonstrated courage, that provision would be easily frustrated.

He said, “The provision on rejection of inmates by the service is something I vigorously campaigned for; and I am happy it has come.

“But the implementation of this provision requires a lot of courage and determination on the part of the service, and I hope the Controllers will be courageous enough to do the right thing, not minding the conflicts this might generate between the judiciary and the States Controllers.”

Like Adetola-Kazeem, Uhaa emphasised the need for facility upgrade and commitment to the training of inmates.

He added, “I also want to see innovations in the area of prisoners’ rehabilitation and reintegration.

“For example, we can recruit teachers from the N-Power scheme to teach in prisons and also release some inmates to work on release programmes, among others.

“In addition, the successful implementation of the Act depends very much on the level of inter-agency cooperation among the Police, Judiciary and the Correctional Services, as well as on judicial and police reforms.

“If, for example, the high level of indiscriminate and unlawful arrest of innocent and poor people by law enforcement agencies continues, the courts and the correctional facilities will remain congested.

“So, every effort must be made to ensure that law enforcement agencies, judiciary and the Correctional Services respect the rule of law and human rights in their operations, and that there is accountability to check impunity, corruption and abuse of power, which are prevalent in the system and have undermined the credibility of our criminal justice system.”

Uhaa added that the society needed a change of orientation and attitude towards prisoners observing community service or are on parole and diversion, for the provision of the law on non-custodial sentences to work.

For Okeke of HURILAWS, the law has not done enough to address the wide call for abolition of death penalty in the country.

Section 12 (2) (c) of the new law provides that, “Where an inmate sentenced to death has exhausted all legal procedures for appeal and a period of 10 years has elapsed without execution of the sentence, the chief judge may commute the sentence of death to life imprisonment.”

Okeke, who said this provision was not extraordinary, said what the country needed was a moratorium on death penalty.

He said, “That provision is laudable but it is not something extraordinary because that has actually been the practice; it is just that it is not in the law.

“If you notice, over the years, what happens is that, in Lagos, for instance, the state has not executed anybody. What they have done over the years is that when a death row inmate has stayed up to between 15 and 20 years, they commute the sentence to life imprisonment. So, it is not new.

“What we are hoping would happen is a situation where the country would have a moratorium on execution of death row inmates. A moratorium means that government takes a definite position as it relates to death penalty, by saying we are going to formally halt death sentence.

“At the moment, we have an informal halt because execution of death row inmates is not taking place; but there is no legislative backing for that.

“What we advocate is a moratorium. Our argument is that our criminal justice system has a lot of loopholes that make it possible for many innocent people to find themselves on death row. So, we are saying, why don’t we have a moratorium while the government continues to reform the criminal justice system, instead of keeping these people on death row perpetually on the apprehension that they could be executed at any time?”

Correctional Service Act: cure or placebo?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Stakeholders in the criminal justice system have praised President Muhammadu Buhari for signing into law the 11-year-old Nigerian Correctional Service Bill. The Act, which changes the Nigeria Prison Service to Correctional Service, provides the legal framework for the reform of the sector. Is it adequate to spur the urgently-needed prison reforms? ROBERT EGBE asks.

The trio of Jide, John and Deolu (not real names) were arrested by the police in Ajah, Lagos State and handed over to men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in May 2015. Two of them, however, were barely out of their teens, while the third did not look above mid 20s.

They were subsequently remanded in prison custody, following a Magistrates’ Court order. But the police did not forward their case file to the office of the Director of Public Prosecution for advice on the matter.

By the time Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative (PRAI) was aware of their predicament and requested for a legal advice in 2017, they had already spent two years in custody.

Following a PRAI application compelling Lagos State Attorney-General (A-G) to state why they should not be released, they were charged to a High Court.

“Upon a perusal of the charge sheet, we noticed that they were charged for being disorderly persons, which is punishable upon conviction with three months’ imprisonment. We filed an application asking the court to discharge them, having spent three years in prison for an offence punishable with three months’ imprisonment. In response to our application, the prosecution withdrew the charges against them and they were discharged,” PRAI founder Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem told The Nation.

From Prison Service to Correctional Service

It is the plight of the three men and others like them, still in custody, that informed stakeholders’ push for prison reform.

President Muhammadu Buhari, on August 8, signed into law the Correctional Service Act 2019, which repealed the Prisons Act 2018 and changed the Nigeria Prison Service to Nigeria

Correctional Service. According to Section 2 of the Act, the new law aims at the following: compliance with international human rights standards and good correctional practices; providing enabling platform for the implementation of non-custodial measures; enhancing the focus on corrections, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders and establishing institutional and sustainable mechanism from the correctional service in response to the problem of high number of awaiting trial persons

11-year history

Since Decree No.9 of 1972, which initiated some reforms in the Nigerian Prisons Service, there have barely been improvements in custodial service. The re-organisations of the sector in 1986, 1993 and 1999 were inadequate to solve the problems.

The Correctional Service Bill was presented and read on the floor of the Upper Chamber in January 2008, by a former senator and current chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Victor Ndoma-Egba, in the sixth assembly.

When the bill was read for the second time in April 2010, Ndoma-Egba hoped it would address fundamental lapses in the Prisons Act.

He said it would also put in place a framework for the rehabilitation and transformation of inmates and address inadequate funding of prisons.

Features of the Correctional Service Act

Aside changing the Nigeria Prison Service to Nigerian Correctional Service, the Act also legalises sweeping reforms in the prisons system.

The Prisons Act was last amended in 2004, but the new law brings with it novelties – non-custodial service – such as community service, probation and parole.

In the new law, the goal of the institution will be to correct; reform; rehabilitate, reintegrate all persons legally interned; provide safe, secure and humane custody for inmates; identify the existence and causes of anti-social behaviours of inmates and initiate behaviour modification in inmates through provision of medical, psychological, spiritual and counselling services for all offenders, including violent extremists, and provide support to facilitate speedy disposal of cases of persons awaiting trial, and empower inmates through the deployment of educational and vocational skills training programmes. It will also facilitate incentives and income generation through custodial centres, farms and industries.

The law also prohibits torture, inhumane and abusive treatment of inmates.

Stakeholders praise new law

Prisoners’ Reform and Welfare Action (PRAWA) Executive Director Dr Uju Agomoh who praised the Act, noted that it contained “many positive things”.

Agomoh said: “In specific terms, the ways the new law will improve the prison system and the correctional service in general include the following:

Address problem of petty/minor offenders detained in prison custody

“It will help address the problem of having petty/minor offenders detained in prison custody as these can benefit from the non-custodial service. This will save funds for the government, avoid these low risk offenders being socialised into more criminal culture by high risks offenders and hardened criminals.

A boost for non-custodial sentences

Not every offence deserves to be punished by imprisonment. According to Agomoh, the Act will “help fast track the implementation of the non-custodial provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 and the Administration of Criminal Justice Laws of various states, by providing the needed support in terms of manpower for the supervision of non-custodial sentences across the states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Teritory (FCT) just as we currently have prisons (custodial centres) across these location. With this, it will encourage the courts to issue non-custodial sentences in deserving cases.”

Management of overcrowding

Sections 12(4), 12(5), 12(6), 12(7), 12(8), 12(9), 12(10), 12(11) and 12(12) of the Correctional Service Act is targeted at solving overcrowding in prisons.

Also, the Act provides that ‘’in the event that the custodial centre has exceeded its capacity, the state controller shall within a period not exceeding one week, notify the chief judge of the state, the Attorney-General, the prerogative of mercy committee, the state criminal justice committee and other relevant bodies’’.

It prescribes sanctions for any state controller, who fails to notify the relevant bodies when the custodial centre approaches full capacity within the stipulated time-frame.

It also empowers the correctional centre superintendent to reject more intake of inmates where it is apparent that the centre in question is filled to capacity.

Agomoh said: “It will make the correctional service to take a more active role in helping manage prison overcrowding by having them trigger an early warning system to alerting the judiciary, ministry of justice and other key stakeholders of the inmates population status viz-a-viz the prison capacity to undertake measures to help control the inflow and outflow of inmates in the facility in question.

Inmates’ mental health provided for

Section 24 of the Act provides for the establishment of the mental health review board to help review cases of inmates with mental disorder. “This will hopefully help address the problem of the so called ‘civil lunatics’ and ‘criminal lunatics’, who are often detained in prison without adequate review and mental health treatment. This will hopefully help reduce the burden and capacity gap on the service with respect to the management of these persons,” Agomoh said.

Young offenders’ facility

The provision of young offenders’ facility in each state is intended to help address the problem of having underaged persons in adult prisons. This is provided under Section 35.

Self-development

The Act also provides incentives to encourage inmates participation in training and vocational workshops and reintegration of inmates into the society (example through issuance of good behaviour to deserving inmates) “which will go a long way to encourage good behaviour in the custodial facilities,” Agomoh added.

Relief for prisons staff

Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) Public Relations Officer Francis Enobore told The Nation that the “Nigerian Prisons community received the news of the signing of the Bill into law with excitement and joy because “we all saw it as something that is coming to relieve the service of a lot of excruciating experiences that we have always had, particularly addressing all the perennial problems in the service”.

Enobore was particularly delighted about the non-custodial and similar aspects of the Act. He said: “To us it does not make a sound meaning if you arrest a street hawker and lock him up in a prison that is overflowing with armed robbers, kidnappers and all those other high profile criminals because at the end of the day you strengthen a street hawker to go out of the prison to become a hardened criminal.

“So, the signing of this Act by Mr. President is bringing a huge relief to us, the entire prison community because we now know that those, particularly first offenders that have minor infractions, instead of keeping them in prisons, you send them to community service.

“It is going to be a win-win situation, the society that the offender has offended will win because they will do services free of charge, the offender himself will win because he will no longer be in prison, rather he will be doing community service and still be relevant to himself and his family.

“So, that will to a very large extent reduce the number of people that will be behind bars. And under this non-custodial wing, we talk of probation. Under probation, you may be guilty of an offence, a Magistrate will look at you and say, look, you go for a period of six months as the case may be, be of good behaviour, make sure you don’t go out of your track, but if you do that, you will be punished for the new crime and the punishment for the old offence added to it for stiffer impact.

“This arrangement has a kind of deterrent effect, the person within that period of probation will be extra careful not to infringe on any law and over time, it will become part and parcel of him to live within the laws as defined by the society.

“We also have Parole, a prisoner after spending part of his prison sentence may be released on parole to a parole officer and given the charge that you are on parole for the next two years and if you go out of your way, the new crime you will suffer it, the balance of your imprisonment on which you were given parole will be added to it.

“So, from whichever way you look at it, it is a win-win situation for both the offender and the society because we will no longer have excess people in prison. For those that shouldn’t absolutely be in prison, the new order says that they shouldn’t be in prison.”

The act is good, but…

Legal Advocacy Response to Drugs Initiative (LARDI) Secretary-General, Emeka Nwadioke commended President Buhari for signing the Bill, but urged the government to ensure its effective implementation.

He added:“The new law will catalyse many of the noble designs on prison reform that have been gathering dust on the shelf.

“Aside from mainstreaming the non-custodial framework, which is now separate from the custodial system, effective implementation of the law will deal a fatal blow to the crippling distortion of the prison system by the awaiting trial crises.

“That some prisons harbour over 90 per cent awaiting trial inmates is clearly a recipe for chaos and dysfunctionality. The new regime will free spaces in the prisons and enable prisons authorities to really implement their three-pronged mandates of reform, rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners.

“The mandatory provisions on the building of borstals and female prisons will secure the rights of these vulnerable groups and ensure that they are treated with the dignity they deserve. The current situation where minors are incarcerated in prisons is an unmitigated aberration.”

President of the Association of Professional Negotiators and Mediators (APNM), Dr. Dorncklaimz Enamhe said the signing of the Bill into law by the president “is a welcome development that is long overdue”.

He noted that “proper implementation of the provisions of the new act will not only improve the correction and reintegration of convicted persons, but also breathe life into the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and the various Administration of Criminal Justice Laws dealing with Non-Custodial Alternatives“.

Correctional Service: Cure or placebo?

Adetola-Kazeem described the Correctional Services Act 2019 as “a watershed in the history of treatment of offenders in Nigeria”.

Nevertheless, he observed that the Bill may not fulfill its aims unless several things are done.

In his view, “some of the provisions of the Act seem very ambitious without a clear thought-out plan on how to properly implement same”.

Unrealistic provision

Adetola-Kazeem noted a potential problem with Section 12 (8) of the Act. This section provides that: “Without prejudice to sub-section (4), the state Controller of Correctional Service, in conjunction with the Correctional Centre Superintendent, shall have the power to reject more intakes of inmates where it is apparent that the correctional centre in question is filled to capacity.”

The question then is, where will the inmate be taken to? Will such inmates be released, particularly where he has allegedly committed a heinous crime? This particular provision is very unrealistic unless more prisons are built, considering our population as a country, and more particularly in urban areas like Lagos, Kano, Rivers, etc.”

Solution? States should build prisons:

Adetola-Kazeem suggested that Prisons be removed from the Exclusive Legislative List, “so that states can cater for many of the inmates in prisons, who committed or are alleged to have committed state offences. This will lessen the burden of the Federal Government. The states should build their prisons”.

Paucity of data:

The lawyer also observed that the Correctional Services Act cannot work effectively unless some attention is paid to other aspect of our national lives.

He said: “The non-custodial measures such as community service, probation, parole etc may not work effectively if we do not have reliable data of every person in Nigeria. If you don’t have reliable information of people you can’t effectively trace them when they abscond.

“Furthermore technologies like trackers need to be adopted to effectively track those on parole, for instance, to prevent them from escaping justice.”

Overcrowded jails, poor facilities: Another challenge to the new scheme’s success, Adetola-Kazeem noted, is poor prison infrastructure and inadequate training of correctional officers. “There is need for infrastructural upgrade and training and retraining of correctional officers for the new act to have any effect. In order for the act to fulfill its aim of reforming, rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders, there needs to be fewer people in our overcrowded prisons and adequate and state-of-the-art training facility. This will ensure that most inmates can benefit from the beneficial training be it educational and vocational tha t will be of immense benefit to them after release.

“In the event that the custodial centre has exceeded its capacity, the state controller shall effectively remedy the situation when such occurrence happens.”

Will the new law work as planned?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_media_grid grid_id=”vc_gid:1568670356047-9ea45f21-9a5b-3″ include=”3638,3637,3636,3635,3634,3632″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Lawyer raises concerns over power of state prison controller to reject inmates

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]An activist for prison reform and Executive Director, Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative, Mr Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem, has raised concerns over the power granted to the State Controller in the new prison law to reject extra inmates when jail facilities are full.

Adetola-Kazeem, a Lagos-based lawyer, described the new law as a watershed in the history of the treatment of offenders in Nigeria, addeding that for the law to fulfill it aims a lot must be done.

On his concern about the practicability of Section 12(8), which empowers the State Controller of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) to reject additional inmates when the facility under his watch is full, Adstola-Kazeem asks:

“Where will the inmates be taken to? Will such an inmate be released, particularly where he has been alleged to have committed heinous crimes? This particular provision is very unrealistic unless more prisons are built, considering our population as a country, and more particularly in urban areas like Lagos, Kano, Rivers, etc.”

The lawyer believes that except more prisons are built, that provision of the law would not work as prisons in the country have already overshot their capacity.

Adetola-Kazeem said that it more important than ever to move the matter of prison administration from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List, so that both federal and state governments can share the burden of funding the prison.

He said that until this was done, and more prisons were built, the law might be merely academic.

“The Correctional Services Act cannot work effectively unless some attention is paid to other aspects of our national lives. The Non-Custodial measures such as community service, probation, parole, etc, may not work effectively if we do not have reliable data of every person in Nigeria. If you don’t have reliable information of people you can’t effectively trace them when they abscond. Furthermore, technologies like trackers needs to be adopted to effectively track those on parole, for instance, to prevent them from escaping justice.

“There is need for infrastructural upgrade and training and retraining of correctional officers for the new act to have any effect. In order for the act to fulfill its aim of reforming, rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders, there needs to be fewer people in our overcrowded prisons and adequate and state of the art training facilities. This will ensure that most inmates can benefit from the beneficial training, be it educational and vocational, that will be of immense benefit to them after reledase. In the event that the custodial centre has exceeded its capacity, the State Controller shall know how to remedy the situation when such occurrences happen.

“It is suggested that the prison be removed from the Exclusive Legislative List so that states can cater for many of the inmates in prison who have committed or have been alleged to committed state offences; that will lessen the burden on the Federal Government. The state should build their prisons,” he said.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

PRAI organizes Post-Prison Release Assessment program for Ex-Inmates

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Prisoner’s Right Advocacy Initiative (PRAI) an NGO with its cardinal focus on Advocacy, Legal Defence, Reformation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration, has over the years secured the release of hundreds of inmates, organized educational and empowerment programs for inmates as well as advocacy campaigns for the rights of prisoners. PRAI have taken another step in furtherance of its integration efforts by organizing a post – prison release assessment program for ex-convicts and ex-awaiting trials persons. This novel event is aimed at following up on the ex-inmates to find out how they are coping with life after prison and provide psychological, medical and financial support where necessary. The overall aim of the program is to ensure that ex-inmates stay out of prison forever. There were mentors, counselors and entrepreneurs on ground to guide and inspire this participants, there was also a on one on one engagement and counseling sessions with the 12 ex-inmates present.

Mr. Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem, the Founder and Executive Director of PRAI encouraged participants to tell their story without the fear of stigma. He said, it is only when they tell their stories that people can support them. Participants shared their stories and media houses like BBC, TVC and Sahara reporters were available to document many of these stories.

TVC presenter @akashatnymat shared tips on how they can cope and move on in life. She said, “We face problems and trials for a reason and those trials are there to make us and not to break us”. She urged them to stay positive, and get something doing, even if it is starting small. “When people want to support you, they need to see how you have supported yourself”, she said.

A one on one counseling session followed where participants shared their challenges, progress and aspirations. Experts advised them on their family life, business and how they can cope with stigmatization. They were mentored on how they can start and and scale their businesses. On ground were representatives of organizations who will be providing them with grants and job opportunities.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_media_grid grid_id=”vc_gid:1568665383488-5efec51a-3771-3″ include=”4333,4334,4335,4336,4337,4338″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

“EDUCATE AN INMATE” PROGRAMME

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]PRISONERS’ RIGHTS ADVOCACY INITIATIVE (PRAI) “EDUCATE AN INMATE” PROGRAMME – Call For Volunteer Teachers.

PRAI “EDUCATE AN INMATE” is a programme created to educate and empower inmates for life within and outside the prison.

One of the reasons why prisoners return to prison upon release is due to lack of employment and acceptance from the society. Inmates need real skills and education to prevent them from going back to prisons.

Nigerian Prison Service is at the moment short of manpower to cater for the number of inmates interested in learning. PRAI “EDUCATE AN INMATE” programme is focused on teaching and providing resource towards academic advancement of inmates within and outside prison.

In 2018 PRAI’s intervention ensured improved performance of inmates across the 4 prisons we engaged. Many of the inmates who took part in our programme will be advancing their educational pursuit at the National Open University of Nigeria which have study centres within the prisons.

We plan to expand our activities to 6 prisons this year (2019). We shall, through our volunteer teachers be preparing inmates for GCE/NECO GCE from January-September 2019.

If you are interested in helping the inmates grow and develop academically, kindly apply via this link: http://bit.ly/EducateAnInmate[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_media_grid grid_id=”vc_gid:1547067550353-97de7069-5f79-2″ include=”4315,4314,4313″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

PRAI Organizes Pre-Release Programme for Inmates due to be released in December

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative (PRAI) organized a pre-release rehabilitation programme at Ikoyi Prison and the Kirikiri Female Prison. A US based psychologist, lecturer and PhD student at Kansas State University, Onyedikachi Ekwerike and Yussuf Funmilayo engaged inmates due to be released this December on “Life outside prison; Managing expectations, considering alternatives.” It was really life Changing. Nafisat Ajibola took inmates on how to build and sustain their businesses. There was a personal assessment sessions where needs, fears and expectations of the inmates were documented.

We hope to support the inmates with various needs like, barbing equipment, transport fare to their destinations upon release, education, job placement.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_media_grid grid_id=”vc_gid:1544007445290-991c55c8-31c1-6″ include=”4302,4303,4304,4305,4306,4307,4308″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

PRAI to Support Ex-convict

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Harrison is a two time convicted Drug offender who got released from prison on the 2nd of December 2018. He passed his GCE Examination excellently in prison and hopes never to return to prison again. PRAI welcomed him out of prison and gave him transport fare back to Jos. We will support his education, business and reintegration.

He and twenty other Convicts and Awaiting Trial Males participated in a pre-release rehabilitation programme organized by PRAI on the 29th and 30th of November 2018.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_media_grid grid_id=”vc_gid:1544007137846-a0db8cdc-da35-7″ include=”4296,4297,4298,4299″][/vc_column][/vc_row]