STATES AND AWAITING TRIAL PRISONERS
Last Tuesday, Senator Sha'aba Lafiagi brought a radical motion seeking reform of the prison system by drawing attention to the plight of Nigerians awaiting trial in prisons. A former governor of Kwara State, Lafiagi, said available statistics at the Nigeria Prisons Service indicated that about 33,692 out of the 48,124 inmates of Nigerian prisons were awaiting trial men and women.
'More than half of these poor and voiceless individuals end up spending more years in the prison than they would have probably spent if they were properly sentenced. 'The various prison decongestion programmes of the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Nigeria Prison Service are well intended and well-thought out programmes, however, the ineffectiveness of these programmes are disturbing.'
As panacea, some Senators canvassed a deregulation of the prisons system in such a way that states would build and operate prisons.
Such move, they reasoned, would ensure that prisons are not congested because states would be responsible for their welfare without any burden on Abuja. In further support of the prison reforms, Senate called for an amendment of the 1999 Constitution which would remove prison management from the Exclusive Legislative List as it currently stands, and move it to the Concurrent Legislative List.
To achieve this, Senate has mandated its committees on Judiciary and Interior to undertake a holistic review of the laws regulating the criminal justice system in order to find a lasting solution to the problem of prison congestion. Senate President, David Mark, said for prisons reforms to be effective, its management should be moved from the Exclusive Legislative List which can only be done with an amendment of the Constitution. 'If we want states to own and operate prisons, then we have to amend the Constitution. We have set up a committee for that and I think they should take note', he said.
Mark added that there should be a review of the management of prisons in Nigeria so that the purpose of reforming the inmates would be achieved. He bemoaned a situation where 'some inmates who were put in prison for minor offences eventually became hardened because of the way the prisons are managed, defeating the aims of the prison system.'
Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Senator Ahmed Lawan, called for an urgent upgrade of the prisons system in view of an impending new law which would allow Nigeria and other countries to swap prisoners.
'If we don't upgrade our prisons, there can be serious uprising because those Nigerians who will be brought here from abroad to serve their prison sentences will be alarmed by the great difference between where they are coming from and what is obtained here', he said. But Chairman of the FCT Committee, Senator Smart Adeyemi disagreed. He blamed prison congestion on the contradictions in the federal structure and reiterated an amendment of the Constitution to allow states build and operate prisons in the country.
Thereafter, Senate directed Committees on Judiciary and Interior to evaluate the various measures taken so far by the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Nigeria Prison Authorities towards decongesting the prison and recommend a coordinated approach to it. In another development, Senate approved night travels in the country based on the recommendation of its Joint Committee on Police Affairs and Federal Character and Inter-Governmental Affairs over the growing danger of night movement of commercial buses on Nigerian highways.
Early in the month, Chairman of the Navy Committee, Senator Chris Anyanwu raised a motion seeking a ban on night travel in the country. To make night travel safer for Nigerians, Senate called for equipping of the Police and Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) to enable them conduct patrols and rescue operations on the highways, even as it urged the Ministry of Works to provide and maintain lightings, road marks and signs on the highways.
Awaiting Senate decision on 2012-2015 MTEF
It's more than a month when President Goodluck Jonathan submitted the 2012-2015 Medium Term Fiscal Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) to the National Assembly as stipulated by the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
There's nothing unusual about sending the MTEF to the National Assembly. The process actually started with late President Umaru Yar'Adua but this time, the document got national attention because of the proposal to remove oil subsidy as from next year.
Deregulation of the oil sector has always been a touchy issue with Nigerians. This time, with an economy that is not only wobbling but is about to buckle at the knees, Nigerians are united in their opposition to Aso Rock. With less than six months into the Jonathan administration, Nigerians are vexed that this is not what they signed up for when they voted massively for him at the April polls. And so, when information filtered out that the President's economic team led by the Finance Minister, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has advised a removal of oil subsidy, Nigerians, regardless of class, creed or tribe vowed to resist the move.
Perhaps, conscious of the national outcry over the unpopular move, Senate is yet to set a date for the debate of the MTEF even though the House of Representatives has dared the odds by allowing the document go through Second Reading. Meanwhile, Nigerians await Senate's decision on the MTEF and particularly, on oil subsidy removal.