The Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola has called for comprehensive review of Nigeria’s criminal justice system to reduce the alarming number of inmates awaiting trial.
A statement by the Media Adviser to the minister, Sola Fasure on Friday in Abuja, said Aregbesola made call the while inaugurating the Imo Command Headquarters of Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) in Owerri.
He said in spite of massive investment in making inmates’ reformation impactful through increased budgetary provision and upgrade of custodial facilities, prison congestion has remained a problem.
“One big challenge we have at corrections is congestion, especially in urban centres where the population density is high and human relations are more complex.“
This, he said, has led to higher crime rate and the need to keep some people behind bars.
The minister added that the federal government had taken steps to address the challenge through the construction of six mega custodial centres in the six geopolitical zones of the country.
“The ones in Kano and Abuja are ready and with regular funding, the remaining will be completed.
“It is also hoped that state governments will take advantage of the constitutional amendment recently signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, which makes corrections a concurrent affair.
“It is on record that more than 90 per cent of inmates in our facilities are state offenders. It is important, therefore, that state governments begin to invest in corrections,” Aregbesola said.
He said that it was “even more important to reform the criminal justice system.
“I have been making this case and I will continue to do so, that 70 per cent of inmates are awaiting trial and constitute the majority in our facilities.
“The sad thing about this is, we cannot statutorily begin their process of reformation because they are assumed to be innocent, except for those who voluntarily wish to participate in any of our programmes.”
The minister expressed concern that most of the awaiting trial inmates “have spent time in detention longer than the maximum sentence their alleged offence carries.
“This predispose them to violent conduct and they are the biggest source of the challenge of discipline and control at the custodial centres.“
The minister, therefore, stressed the need for state governments to reform their justice administration system by putting a cap on trial period of accused persons and ensure swift dispensation of justice.
This, Aregbesola said, would end long court trials and perpetual detention of accused persons.