By Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA-The federal government has given its nod for the purchase of 350 operational vehicles for the Nigerian Prisons Service, NPS.
This followed a memo presented by the Minister of Interior, Gen. Abdulraman Dambazzau (rtd) to the Federal Executive Council, FEC.
Briefing newsmen at the end of FEC meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa, Abuja on Wednesday, Dambaazzau who was joined by his colleagues, Mr. Babatunde Fashola from the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing and Mr. Ibe Kachikwu from Petroleum Resources said that development was part of the effort to strengthen the criminal justice system in Nigeria.
He decried a situation where many prison inmates and even the accused had been incarcerated wrongly for lack of vehicles and other logistics to take them to court for fair hearing.
The minister further explained that about 65,000 prisoners with about 70 percent persons awaiting trial had suffered unjustly in detentions for lack of vehicles to take them to about 5,022 courts which were scattered in the country.
Dambaazzau however stated that the vehicles would be procured from local manufacturers.
He said: “In our efforts to strengthen criminal justice system and to also contribute towards decongesting the system, we presented a memo for the procurement of 320 operational vehicles for the prison service at the cost of N3.5 billion.
“This procurement is from local manufacturers, assemblies and vendors with Nigeria and the effort is to follow through government policy to ensure that most of the procurement of the equipment and such vehicles are done locally. That will also provide opportunity for job creation and things like that.
“But for the prison system in particular, we are making efforts in a way. You know the prisons being one of the legs of the criminal justice system, the others being the police and the judiciary, is to see how best we improve in terms of conveying prison inmates to courts in particular so that we do not jeopardize their chances of their getting justice.
“And this has been happening because for a very long time the prison system has suffered lack of operational vehicle and as such quiet a number of prisoners remain in prisons longer than necessary, because they do not have the opportunity to be conveyed to the courts. So this is the essence of this.
“So we are glad that council approved this procurement. And along the line we want also to ensure that we provide for maintenance to ensure that the vehicles are well maintained and that there used for purpose there are meant to be used.
“The prison population as at today stands at about 65,000 prisoners, out of this about 70 per cent are awaiting trail. And part of the problem is lack of logistics, because there are 5,022 courts that on daily basis you have to transport prisoners to attend to their cases.
“There are other issues that has to do with other two legs of the tripod, that is the police and the court. One of the problem of the courts is adjournament of cases, that is also tied to the issue of conveying prisoners to court. This is in addition to the fact that some of those delays are caused by the lawyers.
“The third part of the issue is how to strengthen the police in terms of investigations because if the cases are not properly investigated, that too can cause delay in the trails.
,”We are trying to see how we can reduce the number of inmates awaiting trial. But the criminal justice Act of 2015 has also made provision for alternative to sentencing, otherwise known as non-custodian sentencing. The courts can now use that to rather than sending the individudal to prison, depending on the crime committed, apply other means of dealing with his case.
“There is inter-ministerial committee looking at that issue of decongestion”.