How CG Ahmed’s Prisons Reforms Get UNESCO’S Mark

The Public Relations Officer (PRO), Nigeria Prisons Service, Frances Enorbore in an interview with our Managing Editor, Deshi Munkuwe revealed how the Leadership of CG Jafaru Ahmed has made tactic effort by touching all components of the Nigerian Prison for better service delivery to international standard.

 There were issues regarding prisons congestion in Nigeria and other countries, mostly the developing nations. What do you have to say on the present position of this dreaded issue in Nigerian Prisons? 

Well, on the issue of congestion, otherwise known as overcrowding, it has been a perennial problem with the Nigerian Prisons Service and I’m glad you mentioned it is not just peculiar to our own environment, even in the developed societies you have this similar problems of overcrowding of prisoners above the carrying capacities of prisons cells.

Specifically with the Nigeria situation, the phenomenon is still very much worse; we have a situation where most of our prisons are located where urban areas are inmates over their carrying capacity.

If you put the entire prisons population in Nigeria currently osculate between seventy five and seventy six thousand and if you want to talk specifically of some prisons, I will give a typical example of the Port Harcourt Prisons for instance that is originally built to accommodate not more than 804 prisoners. But if you go out there today you will have over 4000 inmates there even though there have been attempts by the management over time to add one or two cells where space allowed.

If you go to Owerre for instance you will also find the situation similar where you will have a prisons that that has a capacity of not more than 800 inmates but will have over 3,000 inmates there. If you go down to South West specifically Ikoyi prison which was built to accommodate 800 persons, today we have not less than 4,000 there.

This is the same scenario in most of the Prisons we have in other centers across the country. However, there are locations where you find some prisons having inmates not up to the required capacity; in fact there are some that don’t have up to half of the capacity.

Now, the question I know you’re tempted to ask is why don’t we transfer prisoners from the overcrowded areas to the prisons with less than their required capacity? The inmates in the prisons that are over populated are those that are awaiting trials who ordinarily will have to stay in prisons close to the courts that are hearing there cases.

For instance, in Gusau prisons which by any ramification a standard prison, it takes a capacity of up to 1,500 inmates but they are likely about 800. But you cannot transfer people, excess prisoners from Kano to Gusau because if they are to go to court, you have logistic problems. How would it be possible for you to go to Gusau in Zamfara State and be bringing prisoners to court in Kano on a daily bases, that is practically impossible.

So the situation we find ourselves really is having most of our prisons populated more than the required capacity because of those awaiting trials. So if you hear of prisons overcrowding, it is logical to tight it to the situation of awaiting trial that has over populated our prisons because of their cases that are not speedily as expected.

Prisons Farms Policy which is one of the oldest policies of the Prisons Service in Nigeria aimed at benefiting both the Prisoners and government, can we say from inception till date the policy is a success?

On this issues, let me bring you down to memory length a little to secure the understanding of people. Management of Nigeria Prisons Service recognizes the interring relationship between poverty, hunger with criminality.

In trying to address the problem and rehabilitation of prisoners in a more holistic and sustainable way, in 1975 the government came up with a white paper for farm centers to be established in the Nigerian Prisons Service where inmates would be trained in modern approach in agriculture and ease extended value chain to get this inmates when released from the prisons and have them secure credible jobs.

Because we also recognized the fact that the saturated labour market would be ten times difficult for an ex-convict to penetrate. So, the idea to have farms centers across the country was made and for a start ,10 farms centers were established in Enugu, Rivers, Cross Rivers, Edo, Kaduna, Lakushi Farm in Plateau, Birnin Kudu Farm in Jigawa State, Maiduguri Farm in Borno State, Sokoto State and Owerre Farm Center in Imo State. Over time, the system suffered scarcity of funds and by extension the activities of these farms centers went down.

However, in 2016 the leadership of the Prisons Service under Jafaru Ahmed made a vibrant presentation to the Federal Government reiterating the dear need to resuscitated these farm centers for obvious reasons.

He canvassed the need for federal government to fund large scales productivity in these farms due to high cost of food stuffs to feed these inmates. Because we just realized that we have the labour, the land, and we have the consuming population waiting to consume the product, then what was stopping us then we discovered that it was just money needed to revived the farms get the inmates to work in the farms then we generate the whole of what they will need for feeding.

And while doing that we are able to secure the source of the food stuffs to guarantee the quality of the food stuffs. The inmates that are working there get trained not only in production in other areas in the value chain, we generate money to the federal government and drive the burden of feeding inmates would be greatly reduced. When these facts were presented to Mr President, he unanimously granted increase in funding and because of the several years of negligence, most of these farms had already gone dilapidated that they needed large sum of money which of course one section of government would not be able to fund.

So, instead of taking it large to all the ten centers that would end of not working, the CG decided to identify three farms to concentrate on major crops. One we picked Kojama Farm center in Kaduna State to concentrate mainly on grains specific maize production, Lakushi Farms center in Plateau State to concentrate mainly on rice production and the Uzara Farm centers to concentrate on the production of palm oil.

Of course you should know that the choices of these farms were based on comparative advantage, what is naturally vibrant and crops that do well in those locations. So, to strengthen that, tractors were bought accompanied with the necessary implements and went into operation. I am happy to tell you that though the production is still nursing, but they are getting very encouraging results in those locations.

We also observed that the prisoners been trained majority of them now leaves the prisons get jobs with local farmers having gotten the knowledge on how to mixed and spray herbicides. So, this is the outcome of the new approach in reviving agriculture through the prisons farms policy which current administration has achieved a lot.

With these achievement recorded by the current leadership of Nigeria Prisons Service, can we say the goal has been achieved or more is expected?

No, I just told you that we started with just 10 farms centers but presently we have 17 farms, 7 were added in others states to the 10 making the total of seventeen farms centers. Added to these farm centers, we also have what is called Agric Projects. These are agric related projects that are attached to existing prisons.

You may have a prison and a little poultry, piggery and or fish farm attached. But where we have a large scale of land as prisons farm, the workers there are all convicts sent there to learn. Now, the three which I regard as pilot projects, we are using them to get the feeler of what it will be if we are to extent that approach to go through the farm centers we have across the nation.

For this three, we would be able to realized where gab exist, areas of strength and areas of weaknesses so that we would be able to attain the position of giving a new orientation of prisons farms in Nigeria. So, we are not where we want to be yet but we have made a paradigm shift from where we were to where we want to be.

 Were there any Prisons Reforms since the inception of the present leadership of the Nigeria Prisons Service? If yes, what are they?

When we talk about reforms, they are into different streams. Prison is a system, it has many parts and all the organs must work together for the system to function effectively. We have the Staff component, Infrastructural component, Inmates component, Public Relations component and I tell you that the present leadership of the Controller General, Jafaru Ahmed has made tactic effort to touch on all these components to ensure that a system called Nigerian Prisons is reposition for better service delivery.

And I will take it one after the other, let’s talk about infrastructure. Before now is common thing to hear people say that our prisons buildings are dilapidated, prisoners sleep in hot cells and all of that, I tell you now the narrative has changed. All of the new structures of prisons you see now are all constructed by the present administration. So significantly, the present administration has impacted on structural repositioning of the system by moving forward from when little attention was giving to where inmates are kept.

Because we realized that one of our key mandates is to reform and rehabilitate inmates, if you don’t kept people that you want to rehabilitate in a clean environment, there is no how you can rehabilitate their minds? So you will first position environment to be able to rehabilitate his mind.

And perhaps the climax on the issue of infrastructural intervention is the concept of 3,000 capacity prisons building project that this administration came up with. That of the North West specifically the one in Kano State is almost ninety percent completed. The one in central Nigeria located in Abuja is ongoing. Each of the six geo-political zones is expected to have one. The beauty of the new concept is that you are going to have a kind of a complex building that will involve court, hospital, school, drug reduction week, etc.

It is designed to meet the international standard by all ramifications, and you know with these new concepts you know, the problem of transporting inmates from one prison to court and suffer the problem with the risk of being attack will be no more. It will just be from the prison to the court and back just within same location. So it is one of the most fantastic concepts that the present administration came up with.

Human Capacity Reforms.

Now, about human capacity reforms, the CG observed that no man gives what he does not have. Talking about reform and rehabilitation is only that understand the concept that will go out there to impact that same concept. So, the CG started by capacity building, as I talk to you we have six training institutions which are all functioning now 24 hours of the day. Times to time sets of officers are sent to undergo compulsory courses or a refresher course.

Nothing is taking for granted anymore; officers are trained from diverse fields. The CG also discovered that staffs motivation is paramount, so he went and fished out staff that were abandoned, some fourteen fifteen years on a particular rank without promotion and promoted all of them. As I speak with you between, 2016 to date the prisons service has promoted over 15,000 officers and men.

Prisoners Welfare.

Prisoner’s welfare is necessary apart from providing conducive accommodations to inmates. In the past, there was a challenge of medical care of inmates which is no more. The present CG went ahead and procures a large cartage of drugs.

Between 2016 to date, there is no prison formation, you go today and the officer in charge is telling you there is panadol for the sick inmate, nor, we have sufficient drugs. However, you may have some specific illness just as we have anywhere that the type of drugs to treat such illness are not available, he also made available resources for such drugs to be bought.

So, we can to a large extent say that we have a comprehensive healthcare package for our prisoners. Now, we have ambulances and others necessary facilities needed healthcare management.

Logistics Provisions

Let us talk about logistics. Of course in the past as media personnel you most have heard that there no vehicles to carry inmates at some point in time, but I tell you now that story belong to the past.

Between 2016 to date, the present administration has procured 382 operation vehicles to facilitate inmates assess to court. And that used to be one of our biggest challenges, causing prisoners riots as the result of dissatisfaction. I want to assure you that from over years now, there was no prisons break or riot in Nigeria. This is all the results of the effort of Mr President through the current prisons administration under the leadership of CG Jafaru Ahmed.

Talking about rehabilitation of Prisoners, apart from the agricultural training through Prisons Farms Policy, what other aspect of training do the Service consider?

Training of inmates is of course a concern to the management. We have a lot of training programmes in the prison which includes shoe making, heir dressing, iron bending, welding, and so on.

The challenge we are facing is that, because of the few numbers of those who are convicted in the prisons, you will see some of these workshops with only few convicted persons participating. We still bring the awaited trial persons to come and benefit from the workshops.

Education is also another fantastic area that the Nigeria Prisons have made a great victory. Raging from adult literacy progamme for those who have never gone to school, then primary, secondary and tertiary which include NCE programme, NAPTEP and others.

Now we are in collaboration with National Open University of Nigeria where we are making inmates to have access to University education. We currently have 465 inmates in the university, 23 out of them are doing their second degree and one doing PhD. They were two doing PhD but Ogun State Governor granted amnesty to the other seeing the progresses the man was making to develop himself and the level of remorse he has shown.

 With the above mentioned achievements of the Nigeria Prisons Service under the current leadership of Jafaru Ahmed, is there any recognition or award received?  

In 2018 what has never happened in the history of Nigerian Prisons Service since inception came to be. We won 4 international awards, the highest among the awards is the one given by UNESCO where we won a price for illiteracy and skills development.

This is because they saw our reformation and rehabilitation programmes, the recognition came in respect of our package and commitment in making inmates have access not just to skills acquisition but also consider their formal education as a necessity.

On this regard, the Nigeria Prisons Service is going into partnership with UNESCO to extent this programmes to other countries under their jurisdictions. They (UNESCO) partner with us so that we can show them how we were able to start and maintain such reformation programmes.

The federal government also is not relenting in making sure all these including inmates having access to justice is realized. This is done through the office of the Anthony General of the Federation. The National Stake Holders Committee on Prisons Reforms recommendations. They have been going round the nation releasing prisoners and all of that.

 What is the secret of this organized administrative system seen in the service compared to others?

I think prisons as an institution embedded with the responsibility of rehabilitating human being, staff are trained on human relations which is paramount as a prison officer. Just as if you’re a teacher, it is expected you know for than your students.

As I mentioned earlier, the component of staff training and retraining and reorientation is not taken for granted, we worked on it seriously and sometimes the system attaches strong value to staff’s training exposure in determining your progress from one rank to the next. All this long that is what we do and the CG is committed to ensuring the Nigeria Prisons meets the international standard.