By Eric Elezuo
After 11 years of back and forth, President Muhammadu Buhari finally signed into law the Nigerian Correctional Service Bill. The bill, which was originally proposed in 2008 by Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, who is presently the Chairman, Niger Delta development Commission (NDDC), had been rejected on many occasions, no thanks to constitutional technicalities.
In April 2019, Buhari had declined to sign the bill after lawmakers first passed and sent it to him, claiming that the bill violated Sections 81 and 84 of the Nigerian Constitution, which guarantees the independence of the judiciary. it was however, amended in May and re-presented.
Paramount on the list of achievements of the bill is the fact that it changed the name of the Nigerian Prisons service to Nigerian correctional Service. Pure nomenclature!
Among other qualities, the law empowers the State Comptroller of Prisons to reject additional prisoners where the prison in question is already filled to capacity as well as divides the Correctional Service into two main areas vis a vis The Custodial Service and Non-custodial Service.
While the Custodial Service will, among other things, take control of persons legally interned in safe, secure and humane conditions and provide support to facilitate the speedy disposal of cases of persons awaiting trial, the Non-custodial Service will be responsible for the administration of non-custodial measures like community service, probation, parole, restorative justice measures and such other measures as a court of competent jurisdiction may order.
Like before, the law will seek to focus on correction and promote reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders and provides of the Controller-General as the administrative head, to be assisted by a minimum of eight Deputy Controller-Generals.
Again, it is believed that the Service must initiate behaviour modification in inmates through the provision of medical, psychological, spiritual and counselling services for all offenders including violent extremists. The law also states that where an inmate sentenced to death has exhausted all legal procedures for appeal and a period of 10 years has elapsed without the execution of the sentence, the Chief Judge may revert the death sentence to life imprisonment.
A cursory look at the provision of the new law adequately balances with the former. One would have expected that thorough welfare of prisoners will be made a priority because that forms the basis of down to earth reformation. More so, the prison facilities across the federation are in sorry state just as the welfare of officers tending criminals. This has formed the bedrock of warders colluding with criminals to perpetrate more atrocities even while in incarceration.
While we applaud the efforts of the Federal Government and the lawmakers, it is worthy of note that old wine cannot thrive in new wineskin neither could new wine thrive in old wineskin. A name change is not all that the prisons across the nation require.
Consider how many times the name of Nigeria’s electricity system has been changed…from National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and now to Distribution and Generating companies (DISCOs and GENCOs), yet no tangible improvement has been recorded.
The FG must go beyond name change in addressing the Nigeria’s perennial issues.