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NIGERIAN PRISONS NEED URGENT DECONGESTION

By NBF News

If there's one man who isn't happy with the state of prisons in Nigeria, that man is Mr. Segun Bewaji, Assistant Controller-General, Nigerian Prisons Service, Zone A. Bewaji told Daily Sun recently that Nigerian prisons are groaning under the yoke of congestion. He urged the chief judges of Lagos and Ogun states to constantly inspect the various prisons in their jurisdiction in order to set deserving inmates free.

Bewaji also urged the Nigeria Police to ensure a speedy trial of suspects in the court of law so that the number of inmates awaiting trial would be reduced.

'We know there is congestion but the problem of congestion is not caused by the prison. It comes from the police and the judiciary. And that is why we are encouraging CJ (Chief Judge) to please go round occasionally.

'You see what is happening in some states where 200 inmates are released and so on? If similar things are done in Lagos, it will reduce the congestion. And the police too should speed up the trial so that the number of inmates awaiting trial will be reduced,' he advised.

Bewaji made a particular reference to the Medium Security Prisons, which should ordinarily accommodate 704 inmates. At the moment, the prisons contain more than 1000 inmates at present because of the new blocks of cells recently built at the prison yard.

The new ACG said he has mapped out strategies to meet with the chief judges in Zone A to see how the Maximum Security Prisons, Kirikiri, Medium Security Prisons, Kirikiri, Female Prison Ikoyi, Ikoyi Prison, Badagry Prison in Lagos State as well as the prisons in Abeokuta, Ijebu-Ode, Ilaro, Shagamu and Borstal Institution in Abeokuta could be decongested.

He urged the prison staff to run with the vision of the present management under the leadership of Mr. Olusola Ogundipe, the Comptroller-General, or be shown the way out of the service.

His words: 'It is either that you run with the vision or you perish. When a plane is moving, it moves fast. If you are not able to join the plane, what happens? You will be left behind.

'We don't tolerate laziness. We don't want backbiting. No trafficking. No passage of information between the prisoners and outsiders. And above all, the present administration is doing its best under the leadership of the Comptroller-General of Prisons to make life comfortable for the entire members of staff. For your information, all the controllers have official cars and it has never been like that before.

'The management is also trying in the area of housing. The Comptroller-General is building new houses, three-bedroom flats, even two-bedroom flats for junior staff and they are furnished.

'I want to assure you that the best is yet to come in the prison service. With the present leadership of the prison, you could see all the differences we are making. All of our staff could see some of the state-of-the-earth bungalows. Some staff are living in houses they never thought they could live in. The houses are well furnished, refrigerated and air-conditioned. Is that not an achievement? And more are still coming. You have not seen anything yet.

'But to whom much is given, much is expected. If you don't share the aspiration of moving the prison forward, then be sure that we will not hesitate in applying the law of whatever you sow, you shall reap. If you sow laziness, you will reap laziness. If you sow corruption, you will reap corruption. But I pray that you will sow hard work.'

Bewaji, who recently resumed at the zonal headquarters, has a word of advice on how the society should treat ex-convicts. Apart from accepting them, people should not run away from them so that they would not go back to crime, he said.

'If he commits another crime, you may be the victim and I may be the victim. And this time, the crime may even be more than he committed before. So, the best way is to embrace them and show them love. When you show them love, they will be able to use what they have learnt in the prison.

'When somebody is discharged, he gets home and everybody tries to ostracise him, his house is taken away from him and he has nowhere to live, what do you expect him to do? He will go back to crime. So, let the society show love to ex-convicts,' he said.

He stated that the management places a lot of emphasis on human development. Many staff, he said, have gone on training outside Nigeria since the new leadership came on board, he added.

'Courses internally are being intensified. People are encouraged to go to school unlike before when you would be hiding if you wanted to go to school. Now, it is not like that. The present head of prisons encourages us to go to school. He wants human development. He wants us to grow. He wants us to be developed.

'Our work is reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration. I will make sure that these three functions are properly adhered to so that immediately after the inmates are discharged, they can live a useful life,' he stated.