Aregbesola asks states to decongest prisons

The Minister of Interior, Mr Rauf Aregbesola, has said states have a huge role to play in decongesting correctional centres. He pointed out that about 70 per cent of inmates awaiting trial were state offenders.

He called on states to either fast-track the trial of the inmates awaiting trial or build holding facilities for them. He said the Federal Government was ready to provide personnel that would man the facilities.

Aregbesola, who spoke through his media aide, Sola Fasure, in an interview with our correspondent on Friday, expressed the readiness of the Federal Government to work with states in decongesting the facilities.

He stated, “The most important step in decongestion has to be taken by the states and this is where we should all be looking into. More than 70 per cent of inmates awaiting trials are state offenders.

“The states can do either or both of two things. First, and more importantly, is accelerating the criminal trial process so that the cases are promptly dispensed with. Long and seemingly indeterminate trials are responsible for the disproportionate number of inmates awaiting trial.

“In many of these cases, the inmates have spent more time in custody than they would have been punished for the offence they were charged with if they had received a guilty verdict in time. It is double jeopardy for them if they were found to be innocent in the end. The second is for the states to build holding facilities for awaiting trial inmates. We can provide the personnel to run them.”

He said the custodial centres were only to house and take care of the inmates and that they lacked the power to free anyone in the facility.

He added, “We cannot on our own bring anyone into custody and we cannot set them free. They come and go only through a valid court order. Our responsibility is to take good care of them and keep them safe while they are in our custody.”

He said further that the Federal Government was currently working on providing more custodial services to decongest the facilities in addition to constructing new ones.

He noted that the Nigerian Correctional Service was constructing six ultramodern custodial centres with 3,000 inmate capacity in each of the six geopolitical zones. He pointed out that when the facilities are completed, “we would have increased our capacity by 18,000 and this will go a long way in solving this challenge.”

He added, “The congestion conundrum in custodial facilities is basically an urban phenomenon. By implication, only facilities caught up by urbanisation are experiencing this conundrum. This means less than five per cent of the 253 custodial centres nationwide are congested.

“Secondly, we are improving our logistics so as to quicken inmates’ court attendance and redistribute excess numbers in congested facilities to less congested facilities. Most of our custodial centres are located in semi-urban and rural areas and are actually filled below capacity. In the past six months, we have provided operational vehicles, with the most recent being for Armed Squad Commanders in all the commands nationwide.”