On August 14, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari signed a bill changing the name of the Nigerian Prison Service to Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) into law.
The new NCoS Act provided for custodial service and non-custodial service as well as strengthening efforts to institutionalising reformatory services to make custodial centres impactful to inmates among other provisions to enshrine best international practices.
With the Act and Presidential directive to implement, the NCoS Enugu State Command, with its three custodial centres in Enugu, Nsukka and Oji River, had performed excellently well in 2020 notwithstanding COVID-19 slow down and restriction.
The Command’s Public Relations Officer, ASC Monday Emeka, said that 2020 commenced with the news of five inmates bagging Masters Degree in various fields of learning at the special study centre of the National Open University of Nigerian at Enugu Custodial Centre.
Emeka also noted that no fewer than 130 inmates made credit passes in English language and Mathematics in the recent NECO Examination.
“In the area of vocational skill development, about 90 inmates were trained in various skills – carpentry, tailoring, metal works, shoe making etc.
“While in an effort to reintegrate the inmates back to the society, the NCoS under its amiable Controller-General, Mr Ahmed Jafaru, empowered three inmates from custodial centres within Enugu State Command with start-up packs in the areas they have been trained on.
“The vocational development unit of the Command participated in 2020 Enugu International Trade Fair where products made by inmates were displayed to the amazement of everyone present at the fair.
“Furthermore, in an effort to decongest the custodial centres, the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Priscilla Emehelu, in company of his brother judges of the State High Court, visited custodial centres in the command in July and December for jail delivery.
“During these jail delivery sessions, Justice Emehelu released 80 inmates who were either discharged or granted bail.
“While some magistrate courts handed down non custodial sentences of a week community service to some offenders within the Agbani and Oji River axis of the state,’’ he said.
While the hallmark of event of the Command was Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, on June 11, 2020, pardoning 25 inmates of custodial centres in the state – 19 Enugu, five from Nsukka and one from Oji-River custodial centres.
These achievements, laudable and highly commendable, do not becloud the need to deepen and implement some sections of the NCoS Act as ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari moving forward in 2021.
The NCoS Enugu State Command had gone into training and re-training of its staff and collaboration with government agencies, commissions and Non-Governmental Oganisation to see that mandates in the new NCoS Act are understood and achieved within record time.
One area of attention is how to ensure that no juvenile is put into correctional facilities with adult offenders, which the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is currently working with the NCoS Enugu Command to achieve.
The NHRC graciously on Dec. 21, 2020 secured the attention of Justice Emehelu to perform a juvenile jail delivery; where one juvenile was discharged, two granted bail and nine other cases referred to the Chief Judge’s Court for review in January, 2021.
Mr Richmond Iheme, Deputy Director of Investigation with NHRC, said that the commission was gratified that the process of ensuring that juvenile inmates were not kept in adult custodial centres had started in Enugu.
“It is a gradual process to get all the juvenile inmates released or granted bail or kept in a remand home for proper care and reformation.
“The good thing is that the process has started and we are happy with the outcome of today’s juvenile jail delivery.
“It is clear that based on the Child Rights Act, which had been domesticated in most states, children are not suppose to be in custodial centres with adult offenders. They should be treated within the stipulations in the child law,’’ Iheme said.
However, the Controller of Corrections in the state, Mr Joseph Emelue, said that custodial centres in the state were not taking-in juvenile offenders since it runs against the new NCoS Act.
According to Emelue, the mistake of taking-in juvenile offenders comes from the police that at times give wrong age declaration of a suspect.
“However, henceforth, we have set-up a small committee that will subject any suspect suspected to be underage to physical and psychological age test verification before admitting such a person notwithstanding what the police record says,’’ he assured.
Also, in 2021, there is a need to put more emphasis on non-custodial provisions of the new NCoS Act and the decriminalisation and declassification of petty offences as advocated by an NGO – the Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA).
The Head, Enugu Office of PRAWA, Mrs Chioma Anuna, said that criminalisation of petty offences, such as prostitution, common nuisance, alms begging, street trading and environmental offences by state governments and law enforcement agencies, had continued to breed and deepen poverty among the poor and vulnerable as well as increase custodial centres inmates’ population.
Anuna noted that there was a need to improve awareness on the impact of excessive custodial sentences as it relates to petty offences, including applying standards and principles of human rights in protecting the poor and promoting equality and fairness.
She said: “The enforcement of these laws also perpetuates the stigmatisation of poverty by mandating a criminal justice response to what are essentially socio-economic issues’’.
As the New Year unfolds, the NCoS Enugu State Command is already planning an elaborate skill acquisition training for inmates on a programme tagged “one inmate, one vocational trade’’.
The Controller of Corrections in the state, Mr Joseph Emelue, noted that as “one inmate, one vocational trade’’ goes on stream in 2021 and make impact; we will ensure that the educational pursuit of inmates would be sustained and supported for more successes.
Mrs Franca Emelue, Chairperson of Nigeria Correctional Officers’ Wives Association (NICOWA), Enugu State Chapter, said that for 2021, the association has a lot of initiatives to better the lives of inmates.
She said: “One is that we have a plan of implementing Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project for inmates in the custodial centres to protect them better from COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have already made a move for skill acquisition for all female inmates in the state but we were stopped in 2020 due to the restrictions on visitation into the custodial centres due to COVID-19 but we hope it will be achieved by 2021’’.
For 2021; Ven. Jonathan Agbo, South-East Coordinator of Prisons’ Fellowship of Nigeria, called for an open door and love towards released inmates notwithstanding their previous offences.
Agbo, who recently led `Yellow Ribbon Project’ sensitisation walk within Enugu metropolis, urged Nigerians to stop stigmatising and rejecting reformed and released inmates.
He noted that released inmates had undergone corrections and were now reformed, adding that most of them learnt crafts, handiwork and some have completed their education to Masters Degree level.
Agbo, who is the Archdeacon of Ogui Anglican Archdeaconry in Enugu metropolis, noted: “It is regrettable that families and communities, even the Church, discriminate against them through some pronouncements and attitudes.
“Ex-inmates need love and understanding from everybody and it is good we help them achieve their potentials’’.