By G9ija

Sexual Assault

THE Federal Government said, yesterday, it was on the trail of about 3,906 inmates, who escaped from Correctional Services in different parts of the country.

Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aragbesola, who disclosed this when he appeared on a media briefing organised by the Presidential Media Team at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, vowed that the security agencies would recapture the escaped inmates, saying they could only run and not hide.

He also debunked the allegation that there was Boko Haram cell in Lagos State.

But some Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, blamed the frequent jail-breaks across the federation on the government, asking it to consider other punitive measures that would ensure reduction in the population of prisoners in the country.

The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and African Bar Association, AfBA, also blamed the frequent jail-breaks in the country on congestion of correctional centres across Nigeria.

However, fielding questions from State House correspondents, the minister said a total of 4,860 inmates escaped from correctional centres from 2020 till date.

Of this figure, the minister said, 954 had been recaptured, adding that government had captured biometric details of all inmates working with INTERPOL.

He explained that the biometrics would enable the escapees to be tracked and rearrested.

On the cause of  the attacks, Aregbesola said:  “My answer is this, the security situation of every space, community or society or nation reflects on all aspects of that society.

“So, whatever we are witnessing is a fallout of challenges we are having nationally. As for specific causes, it’s not specific. It’s a little bit varied and diverse. Yes, attacks could be for specific causes in the centres or simply to harass the government.

“Whatever is the cause, our duty is to make the other facilities impregnable to enforce the will of the state on those who are legally kept there.  And we are committed to ensuring that. It’s not just only to ensure the will of the state, it’s to prevent the danger to society should they be out before their time.

“That said, I can’t say some things because of confidentiality. What’s clear is this, the state will never allow anyone trample on its authority as an enforcing organ. Whoever attacks our facility has violated a major code of the state and wherever they run to around the world, we will get them.

“Regading Pablo Escobar who tried to escape justice, he was eventually brought to justice.  All the criminals who think they can test our will ultimately face justice.”

On the number of escaped inmates, he said, “We have the total escaped inmates as 4,860, recaptured 954, 3906 still at large.  That is the fact for now. The breakdown is here but that’s just the summary.

“How long can they continue to run from the state? The state is a patient bird. You can run but you can never hide.

“We have their biometrics. Whenever and wherever they appear to transact any business, their cover will be blown.

“I will like to inform Nigerians that we have captured the biometric information of all inmates in the facilities of NcoS, working in partnership with the Nigerian Identity Management Commission, NIMC.

“Therefore, we have the capacity and are tracking all escapees from our facilities. In addition, we are working with and have shared the details of escapees with INTERPOL, to check the risks of cross border movements.”

Asked whether any arrests had been made in connection with the attacks on the facilities, the minister said:  “We are on the attackers. A couple of them were arrested in Imo. But I can tell you we are on them and they know we are on them. They can run but they cannot hide.”

He also said 465 inmates were running various degree programmes around the country, adding that 85 of this were running postgraduate programmes, including four doing Ph.D programmes. 

He said 560 inmates had been enrolled for WAEC/NECO examinations while 2,300 were enrolled for adult literacy classes in several custodial centres.  

Nigeria issues 2.74m passports in 2 years

The minister assured that the problem associated with procuring international passports will soon be over, announcing  that a total of 2,742,207 passports had been issued by the Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, in the last two years. 

He said: “It is important to inform you that we have witnessed growing demand for the Nigerian passport, both locally and by Nigerians in diaspora. A total of 2,742,207 passports of different categories were issued between 2019 to date.

“The year-on-year increasing growth rate is, however, putting a lot of pressure on the current processing structure and resources and further justifies the need for a reform in the passport application and processing system in line with the current reality,.”

The minister announced that since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country, not a single case had been recorded in the custodial centres. 

He said his ministry was not unaware of the challenges Nigerians faced trying to process passports, adding that efforts were being made to deal with the problem.

He said: “The ministry is aware of the challenges faced by applicants for processing and reissue of passports. I want to use this unique opportunity to assure Nigerians that the current experience will soon be a thing of the past. New production and capture centres will be opened in the next few weeks to ease access by Nigerians all over the world.

“I am pleased to inform Nigerians that the ministry has taken substantial measures to address the issue of shortages of the e-passport booklets. This year alone, the ministry approved a special deployment of over 600,000 passport booklets, the largest of its kind ever done, to cushion the effects of shortages being experienced.”

On the effort to tackle corruption, the minister pointed out   the recent sting operation carried out by the acting Comptroller General of the NIS, Isa Jere, at the Ikoyi Passport Office, saying reforms such as new appointment management system were being put in place to root out corruption.

Aregbesola also stated that 174,000 jobs had been created for Nigerians through the administration of Expatriate Quotas and Business Permits.

He explained: “Between 2019 and October 2021, over 87 000 expatriate quotas were granted, 951 business permits were granted and 598 licenses were issued to public places of worship for the conduct of statutory marriages.

“172:000 understudy jobs have been created through the expatriate quota administration system. We recently inaugurated a Ministerial Task Force on the Monitoring of Expatriate Quota. 

“The primary objective is to audit, monitor and enforce the conditions for the approval of expatriate quota and foreign business permit. Nigerians may wish to note that one of the conditions for the approval of Expatriate Quota is that for every expatriate position, the company must employ two Nigerians to understudy the expatriate.”

On the response to the recent collapsed multi-storey building in Ikoyi, Aregbesola said the Federal Fire Service, FFS, did not shirk in its responsibility, saying the operatives did their best in the rescue operation.

He said the FFS were the first responders at the site and did their their utmost in the circumstance.

On the allegation that there was Boko Haram cell in Lagos State, Aregbesola said: “I receive intelligence reports on security every day. The only person that gets more intel than my office is the president. I have no record that Boko Haram has a cell in Lagos.”

Responding to the allegation that he had sought President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval to deploy officers of the Civil Defence to the homes of some politicians, the minister said the allegation lacked substance.

He said: “Did I abuse my office? Absolutely no. It’s a pity that such a report will come from such an organisation (human rights group). It’s a hatchet job paid for to discredit me. 

“I was a governor of that state for eight years. I have told Nigerians that I will never run for a senatorial ticket. Please dismiss it as a figment of the imagination of whoever put that together.”

Reacting to the frequency of jail-breaks across the federation, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, yesterday, urged the Federal Government to consider other punitive measures that would ensure reduction in the population of prisoners in the country.

Yunus Uztaz, SAN, in his reaction, said: “The fact is that our security agencies should work in harmony. If the security system is intact, all these things will not happen.

“The courts have done their own by sending them to prison. If there is jail-break, it is not the fault of the court. Most importantly, our security agencies should not connive with inmates or compromise the system by leaking information to them.

“What is leading to over-population in prison are the prosecutorial powers of the Ministry of Justice. It is not every case that should go to court. In America, they have what they call District Attorney. They are the ones that often decide cases that should go to court and the ones that should not.

“I was the Secretary of Prison Decongestion during the Babangida regime, that was our finding. There are many minor cases that ought not to go to court, talk more of leading to a detention.”

Similarly, Mr. Paul Ananaba, SAN, said: “Most of the Correctional Centres are very over-populated. A major reason for this is the fact that our justice system is slow in determining cases.

“So, the prisons become over-crowded. To a large extent, it has direct relationship with protests by prisoners. Have you seen when prisoners are brought out, they don’t look healthy. The correctional system is no longer correctional.

“If the justice system is working effectively, awaiting trial inmates will not be much. It will be easy for the correctional system to take good care of the inmates.

“Some of the awaiting trial inmates are people that were randomly picked up by the Police and dumped in the prison. Sometimes, conditions of bail imposed by court are very stringent and many people often find it very difficult to perfect the bail conditions.”

Also reacting, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, National Publicity Secretary, Dr. Ralph Nduka, said congestion of prison was largely responsible for jail breaks.

He said: “There are several factors but top on the list is the number of inmates in each facility. It’s quite impossible for the facility officials to take care of such number. That’s why our courts should adopt more non-custodial sentencing. The facilities are out of date. Most were built during the colonial era.

“Again, most inmates who succeed in the jailbreak are never apprehended, spurring others to try. Furthermore, the insecurity outside the correctional facilities affect these facilities because the inmates have some fraternal relationship with a lot of criminal elements who are not yet within the confines of the correctional facilities.”

Reacting in a similar manner, President of African Bar Association, AfBA, Hannibal Uwaifo, blamed the prevailing insecurity in the country as major cause of the problem.

He said: “I am of the respectful view that the incessant jailbreaks now being experienced in Nigeria can be linked to a number of factors. Chiefly amongst them can be linked to the insecurity and lawlessness pervading this country.

‘’There are numerous agitations with different security dimensions. Some of these agitators are in prison and their supporters and their financiers have good links.with the insiders in the correctional facilities. Of course, corrupt officials help them plan these jail breaches some due to their ethnic, religious and social cultural leanings, others for their financial gains and other corrupt advantages.

“Another factor could be linked to nepotism in the appointments and promotion.of men and Women of the correctional services. Some of these connected officials are into the business of compromising security and lawlessness.

“In Nigeria such officials have godfathers and are never investigated or called to account. Instead they are promoted to higher offices. The insecurity in the prisons is further worsened by the lack of  adequate facilities and the outright stealing of Prisoners entitlements  like poor feeding, poor hygiene and extortion. These factors put pressure on criminals.

“Another factor is linked to injustice. The number of detainees awaiting the beginning or conclusion of their trials is too high. Prisoners become desperate and are prone to suggestions of early road to freedom.

“Much attention needs to be paid to our facilities and the humane treatment of prisoners. Changing the name from prisons to correctional centres without corresponding curriculum and attitude, without the proper attention, especially with the poverty rate is a waste of time and a fraud on the system.”

Human rights lawyer and NBA Welfare Secretary, Kunle Edun, attributed the increasing cases of jailbreak to slow justice system among other factors.

He said: “There are factors that may be responsible for jail-breaks and the major cause is the congestion of the prisons. A situation where there are 5,000 inmates in a prison originally built to accommodate less than 2,000, the consequence would be an uncontrolled crowd of inmates that would overwhelm the security architecture in the prison.

“Linked to the congestion of the prisons is the prolong delay in hearing criminal cases to the extent that the number of awaiting trial inmates quadruple the number of convicts in the prison. There are many inmates in the prison whose trial are still going on for more than six years for offences that are not capital in nature.

‘’The criminal justice system is still annoyingly slow in spite of the laudable intervention of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and the ACJL of States regarding speedy trial, non custodial sentences and regular visitations by the Chief Judges, Judges and Magistrates to the detention centres.

“The reason for this is not unconnected with the congestion of the dockets of the criminal courts and the few number of judges to hear such cases.

“Furthermore, many of the prisons are located in places that are not strategic. It makes no sense to locate prisons in a residential areas in .

‘’In the event of a jail-break, the inmates would easily mix up with the residents of the area. Prisons should be located in terrains that will pose difficulties for the inmates to escape.

“I think it is high time that prison should be removed from the Exclusive Legislative List and the states allowed to also have their own prisons since most of the inmates are tried in states’ courts.”