The Minister of Interior, Mr Rauf Aregbesola, has stated states have a big responsibility to play in decongesting detention establishments. He pointed out that around 70 per cent of convicts awaiting trial were state criminals.
He urged on governments to either fast-track the trial of the convicts awaiting trial or establish holding facilities for them. He said the Federal Government was ready to supply employees that would man the facilities.
Aregbesola, who said via his media assistant, Sola Fasure, in a conversation with our reporter on Friday, affirmed the preparedness of the Federal Government to engage with states in decongesting the facilities.
He remarked, “The most significant step in decongestion needs to be made by the states and this is where we should all be looking at. More than 70 per cent of detainees awaiting trials are state criminals.
“The states may do either or both of two things. Secondly, and more critically, is speeding the criminal trial process so that the cases are expeditiously disposed with. Length and apparently interminable trials are accountable for the disproportionate number of detainees awaiting trial.
“In many of these instances, the detainees have spent more time in detention than they would have been sentenced for the crime they were charged with if they had gotten a guilty conviction in time. There is double peril for them if they were determined to be innocent in the end. The second is for the states to create holding facilities for awaiting trial detainees. We can give the staff to operate them.”
He stated the detention facilities were merely to shelter and take care of the detainees and that they lacked the ability to liberate anybody in the institution.
He continued, “We cannot on our own put somebody into prison and we cannot let them free. They arrive and exit only with a legal court order. Our obligation is to take excellent care of them and keep them secure while they are in our custody.”
He added further that the Federal Government was presently working on providing additional custodial services to decongest the facilities in addition to establishing new ones.
He stated that the Nigerian Prisons Service was establishing six ultramodern correctional institutions with 3,000 prisoner capacity in each of the six geopolitical zones. He pointed out that when the facilities are done, “we would have boosted our capacity by 18,000 and this would go a long way in overcoming this challenge.”
He continued, “The crowding problem in correctional facilities is fundamentally an urban phenomena. By inference, only facilities caught up by urbanisation are suffering this problem. This implies fewer than five per cent of the 253 detention institutions countrywide are overcrowded.
“Secondly, we are enhancing our logistics so as to speed inmates’ court attendance and disperse surplus numbers in crowded institutions 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.”