In this interview with the Editor, NETA NWOSU; a Marketing Communications expert, Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Management Science, National Open University, Abuja and Secretary, Central Working Committee, Policy Advocacy Conference on Decongestion of Correctional Centers of the Knights of St. Mulumba Nigeria (KSM), Lagos Metropolitan Council, Mr. Sam Ulaikere explains why Nigeria will continue to experience prison congestion. The Knight of St. Mulumba, Lekki Sub-Council also disclosed the Council’s plans geared at decongesting Lagos prisons
The Order of the Knights of St. Mulumba Nigeria (KSM), Lagos Metropolitan Council has been considerably involved in the Lagos Archdiocesan Prison Apostolate and welfare services. Please encapsulate the KSM Lagos Metro Council’s contributions in this regard and how it has enhanced the Archdiocesan prison apostolate?
Over the years, KSM Lagos Metro has been involved in the prison ministry in the Archdiocese of Lagos for a long time now. This is apart from the regular evangelization and paying of Examinations fees both at Ordinary and Advanced level (WASCE) for inmates. Also, KSM, Lagos Metropolitan council, as a matter of policy, mandates all subordinates’ councils within the Metro to pay a charity visit to any of the correctional centres closest to them at least once a year. Most times, members of the sub-council embark on these visits as a body with lots of material gifts, food and monetary dominations to inmates of all the correctional centres in Lagos and its environs. Also, Lagos Metro Council is deeply involved in the Lagos Archdiocesan Prison Apostolate and welfare services by building and furnishing the St Augustine Chapel at Kirikiri Medium security correctional centre, Apapa. An average donation of N500,000 is made monthly towards the provisions of basic needs, spiritual materials, payment of examination fees and provision of free legal services for those awaiting trial. We also help in payments towards the release of inmates in the case of fines, judgment fees, etc.
What informed the KSM Lagos Metropolitan Council’s latest project on the decongestion of the correctional centres?
Several reasons have led to this situation which denies the correctional service from rendering service according to their mission statement. First, because the Nigerian Correctional Service does not have the mandate to commence the reformation of those awaiting trial, it means that rehabilitation, which is a significant part of the mission of prison service, is not applicable to these poor souls awaiting trial. The total capacity of Nigerian prisons is just estimated to be about 48,000, and as stated earlier, those under detention is 65,831. Therefore, the high congestion level makes it simply impossible to treat prisoners humanely, as indicated in the revised Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules), to which Nigeria is a signatory. The rules specify how prisoners should be held under detention, which is currently not achieved because of overcrowding. We are aware that the process of handling accused persons has a number of fault lines. The first is that many are held for petty crimes for which a non-custodial sentence would suffice and at minimal cost to the State. Secondly, the criminal process takes a leisurely time with too many adjournments for all kinds of reasons. Thirdly, bail terms can be so tough that many cannot afford them and therefore remain behind bars. Fourthly, the logistical capabilities of the Correctional Services are often inadequate, and this hampers the capabilities to bring detainees to court when cases are due. Fifthly, we believe that since the states do not bear the cost of detention, they do not feel the burden of detaining people unnecessarily.
About 5 weeks ago, the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola said about 70 per cent of the total population of inmates in its custodial centres are awaiting trial inmates. What is KSM Lagos Metropolitan Council’s take on this unhealthy development? What plans does the Council have to help resolve this issue?
For us at KSM, it is a major concern as this is directly a reflection of our overstretched judiciary. We believe that there should be other means of dispute resolution, especially with civil cases, as most of the awaiting trial inmates are more of civil cases than criminal. We also believe that we should have specialized courts that handle special cases like rape etc., which we think will help in the quick dispensation of justices. Above all, after the conference, which is supposed to be an advocacy conference, there will be some policy formation along the line of our correctional centre decongestion.
The Minister also lamented that the population of inmates had been overshot by 18%. He also stated that most inmates have been in custody for a period longer than the maximum sentence their alleged offences carry. How does KSM Lagos Metropolitan Council intend to tackle these issues?
This is a matter for the Ministry of Internal Affairs. However, we have been involved in the payment towards the release of inmates in the case of fines and judgment fees etc. It will also be helpful for the Chief Justices of the federation and indeed State Chief Justices to regularly visit our correctional centres from time to time to review some of these cases for these inmates to be freed once they have served their teams and are not able to meet other conditions.
What specific programmes and interventions is the Council putting in place to address the myriad of problems facing the Nigerian prison system and criminal justice administration system in Nigeria?
Having been regular in the visitation of correctional centres, we believe that the conference organized by the Knights of St Mulumba Nigeria Lagos Metropolitan Council, which will be an advocacy conference, will address these problems. As they say, a problem discussed is halfway solved. Also, as part of the celebrations marking 60 years of Knight of Saint Mulumba, Lagos Metropolitan council existence, The Metro is planning a conference that will address all these factors and develop recommendations that will hopefully contribute to reforms and policies for the decongestion of the correctional centres.
Please tell us about your policy advocacy Conference on Correctional Centre reform scheduled to hold next week.
We believe the Policy advocacy conference will sensitize, educate, and compel government agencies and other influential stakeholders to implement policies for sound management of Correctional Centers in Nigeria. The Event will be Hybrid. This means that some presenters or Speakers or panels, and participants will be physically present at the event. At the same time, others will join on virtual platforms like Zoom, YouTube and a host of others. The date for the conference is Thursday, September 16, 2021. It would be held from 9 a.m to 3 p.m at Metropolitan Club, Kofo Abayomi Victoria Island, Lagos.