By SONI DANIEL, REGIONAL EDITOr, NORTH
ABUJA—A controversial clause on the appointment of the Comptroller-General for the Nigeria Prisons Service may stall the passage of the ‘Prison Act 2012’ before the National Assembly, investigation by Vanguard has shown.
Although the Prison Bill has passed second reading in the Senate, the House of Representatives is said to be upset by the clause restricting those to emerge as Prison comptroller to ‘serving general duty prison officers’.
General duty prison officers are those with low qualifications who rise through the ranks over the years while core professionals include medical doctors, engineers, computer scientists and other experts who handle critical assignments that keep the prisons running.
Vanguard gathered from reliable sources that if passed by the National Assembly, the bill is capable of destabilizing the Nigerian Prisons Service by edging out key professionals that actually run the prisons.
A reliable source told Vanguard that the bill, which was meant to smoothen operations of the Prisons Service and promote interest of staff and prison inmates, has however, been politicized by top prison officials and their backers to make it possible for only prison warders and other non-professionals in the system to emerge as comptroller-general of the service.
By implications, the promoters of the bill want to stop medical doctors, engineers and ICT experts, who have risen to the top echelon of the prison service from being appointed CGs.
Findings by Vanguard showed that there were many qualified core professionals in the NPS, who were being targeted by the bill so that they would not succeed the current CG and those to come after him.
Interestingly, when the bill was debated by the Senate, the senators did not take note of the dangerous clause which would curtail the promotion of excellence and professionalism in the prison service.
However, some lawyers and activists were said to have quickly draw the attention of the lawmakers to the clause, which states: “The Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Prisons Service shall be appointed from amongst serving General Duty Prison Officers by the President acting on the advice of the Prison Board”.
The House of Representatives, which is yet to debate the merits and demerits of the bill, is said to be uncomfortable with the clause, which seeks to limit appointment of prison CGs to only non-professionals.
A member of the House of Representatives told Vanguard yesterday that the matter would be taken up as soon as the lawmakers resumed from their vacation.
“We, in the House of Representatives do not want any Nigerian who is qualified to hold the post of CG of the NPS to be denied the position on account of being a well trained Nigerian professional.
“We should even encourage the real professionals like doctors and engineers, who have been in the system and understands the psychology of the prisoners to emerge as the CGs,” the female member who pleaded anonymity, said.
Already, the Network of Civil Society Organisation for Democracy, Good Governance and Development, NECSOGODD, has written to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, drawing his attention to the flaws in the proposed legislation and pleading with him to ensure that the dichotomy between professionals and non-professionals in the appointment of NPS CG, was removed.
The group’s National Coordinator, Ambassador Onoja and National Secretary, Tanko Tanko, said in a three-page letter to the Speaker and copied to principal officers and House Committee on Interior, that the clause was not deliberately aimed at denying qualified Nigerians from becoming NPS CGs.
A copy of the letter, which Vanguard cited yesterday, said, “This development will not only breed animosity and disharmony among staff of the Prisons service but will also defeat the very cardinal aim of transforming our prisons system, which has remained a burning national and international issue in our country.
“There is therefore, a great importance to note the exclusion of professional staff, which necessarily have the capacity, knowledge, skills, experience and competence to answer the call to service in such capacity as identify the cause of anti-social behavior, treat and reform them to become disciplined and law-abiding citizens of a free society, and who can train them towards their eventual rehabilitation on discharge for re-integration into the Nigerian society.
“The very essence of Reformation, Rehabilitation and Transformation of people in the prisons for reintegration into society is anchored on professionalism, experience and interdisciplinary knowledge with competence and the defining line,” the group said.
NECSOGODD therefore, pleaded with the lawmakers to allow the appointments of Deputy Controllers-General as their equivalent in the Military and other paramilitary institutions to be based statutorily on seniority, professionalism and competence and not on political considerations.