At least 4,900 inmates are currently undergoing trials in various courts in Lagos State, says the Controller of the Lagos State Command of the Nigerian Prison Services, NPS, Mrs. Catherine Ononye.
Ononye, who was at the State House, Ikeja in Lagos, southwest Nigeria, to receive four vehicles donated to the NPS by Governor Babatunde Fashola, said because of the large number of inmates in prisons who needed to appear in court, it became difficult for the prison officials to bring them to court.
“We have about 4,900 inmates facing trial in the various courts in the state and transporting some of them to the courts has been a problem. We are happy with these buses as it will add to our fleet to facilitate the movement of inmates from one place to another,” she said.
Ononye said the state command was still faced with many problems, such as poor prison infrastructure and called for the state government’s assistance, adding that the NPS would continue to collaborate with the state government to ensure effective criminal justice system in the state.
She, however, implored the governor to continue to take deeper interest in the welfare of the prison system in the state and assist especially in the area of improving the infrastructure of the prisons.
Promising to make judicious and effective use of the vehicles, Ononye said the sector also needed court cells where prisoners brought to court for trial could be kept prior to their trial in court, pointing out that the lack of such cells in court had sometimes resulted in the death of some of the prisoners in the “Black Maria” where they were confined in the court premises.
The occasion witnessed the donation of four brand new buses to the NPS and 14 other buses to tertiary institutions in the state.
The beneficiary institutions were the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Lagos State University (LASU), Yaba College of Technology (Yaba Tech), Lagos State Polytechnics, Ikorodu (LASPOTECH), Federal College of Education and Technology, Akoka; Michael Otedola College of Education and Abraham Adesanya College of Education all of which were handed over the keys to the Hiace buses.
Speaking at the event, Fashola said the time had come for governments at the appropriate levels to begin to pay adequate attention to the management of the prison system in the country, saying that the vehicles represented the government’s “widow’s might” to assist in the management of the prison system in the state.
The governor decried the seeming lack of adequate attention from the Federal Government in the efficient management of the nation’s prison service and prison system, pointing out that criminal justice system did not start and end with the policemen but continued down the line with managing an efficient prison service and an efficient prison system.
Describing as unusual the fact that it is the states that now support the Prison Services to survive, Fashola told the Controller,
“Given the very public knowledge that we have of how the finances of our Federation is run, I thought that you would get more than enough of what you need from the 52 percent that the Federal Government keeps. But strangely it is out of the 26 percent that the 36 of us share that you still get from.”
“It raises very serious questions about the commitment, the seriousness with which we have approached the management of the criminal justice system. It doesn’t start and end alone with policemen. It also continues down the line with managing an efficient prison service and an efficient prison system,” he added.
The governor wondered how the Command, which had been unable to buy buses, would be able to fuel or maintain them, saying that,
“I think all of us should begin to pay attention to how you have managed to keep the system going. And it raises very deep questions about what is even happening inside. Are we able to feed prisoners, are prisoners able to get education, are we able to prepare them for life after they have served their sentence and if they are penitent?” he asked.
According to him, “There is a cry out there, I won’t join the debate, about death penalty or no death penalty. But what happens to those people who are not even subjected to death penalty? If we want to impose longer tenure of confinement, what will they be doing? Can we fund it?”
He further told the Controller, “We do this because you are in our territory. Many of those people that you process and manage are people for whom we are equally responsible. So temporarily, it may seem that Federal fiscal lines are blurred but we remain focused about what should be done at appropriate levels and what we must do really.
“If the Prison Services cannot be funded and if the states have to do it, then they should surrender the Federal share of the budget to the states and let’s get on with our lives really, because we seem to be doing everything by ourselves these days,” the Governor said.