The Comptroller-General of Nigeria Prison Service, Mr. Ja’afaru Ahmed has been around for a while. As a seasoned administrator, he has to his credit by taking charge of a number of prison formations across the country.
He was, until the recent appointment, the Deputy Controller General (covering duty) in the Directorate of Administration and Supply at the Prisons National Headquarters, Abuja.
Born on the 21st of July, 1959 in Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State, Ja’afaru started his early education in Nasarawa Primary School, Birnin Kebbi and then proceeded to Government Secondary School also in Birnin Kebbi.
He attended Sokoto State College of Arts and Science and then attended the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where he obtained a Bachelor degree (B.A. Hons) History.
In this interview with the Economic Confidential anchored by the Managing Editor, Ewache Ajefu, the Prison Boss bares his mind on how the service is quietly but courageously tackling the challenges of prison congestion and Criminal Justice System, apart from harnessing the potentials of the various farming centers to achieve self-sufficiency in feeding the prison population.
EC: What are your Initiatives on Prison Reforms?
CG: When I came on board precisely on the 21st May, 2016, I met the service with many challenges. First among them is the issue of indiscipline, lack of personnel, infrastructure, logistics and the issue of repositioning our farm centers.
To be frank with you, no institution thrives on lawlessness. And therefore that institution is governed by rules and regulations.
And what is of utmost importance to me when I assume duty was to instill discipline, to make sure that the personnel conduct their activities in accordance with the rules and regulations governing the affairs of the Nigeria Prison Service (NPS), which are encapsulated in CAP 29 Law of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, apart from the various standing orders that we have within the service.
What were the situations when you came in as Controller-General?
I met a situation where people deliberately commit offence and punishment never come even some of them up to the time they retire!
The personnel assumed you could do anything and go scot-free. But gone were those days when we were confronted with challenges especially escapes from prisons and attempted jail-brakes.
It is not only on the part of staff but also on the part of prisoners. To the extent that when we want to restore standards that were good for running the service, even the prisoners and staff resist them.
So, the starting point was to instill discipline, punish in accordance with rules and regulations. We are not looking at faces when we dish out our punishment to offenders as all are done in line with laid down procedures.
The position has helped us greatly as everyone now goes about performing his or her duties, including the normal routine of searches we carry out within the prison are now done without any hitches.
What about the infrastructure?
We have issues with dilapidated infrastructures across the prisons in the country. Like I have said in several fora, some of these prisons you see are over one hundred years old or even more.
Some of the buildings are of mud in nature, some have wooden doors, and we need to give them a facelift, to create an enabling environment for both prison staff and inmates, so that secure and humane custody can take place. It is from here you have reformation, rehabilitation and subsequent reintegration back to the society.
So in 2016, the government was very magnanimous in giving us enough capital to intervene and rehabilitate many of our prisons and infrastructure nationwide.
If you visit some of the prisons now, most of them wear new looks, as these have boosted staff morale apart from giving the inmates a conducive environment to take their sentence.
Do you have Challenges on logistics?
On the issue of logistics, we faced a lot of challenges. One of the conditions we have to fulfil on the part of prisoners is to take them to court as at when due, especially those awaiting trial persons.
If we fail in carrying out this assignment, it then means we have contributed in not dispensing justice as the case may be. So what we did in 2016 was to purchase many vehicles we intend to distribute so that logistics becomes a thing of the past in terms of taking prisoners to and from the court.
How are you addressing the farms centres and other industries?
On the part of our farm centres and industries, some of the prisons are so choked up that there is no space even to establish any meaningful industry.
So what we are doing through the office of the Minister of Interior is to partner with state governments to relocate the prisons from the towns and give us new space that is accommodating.
This will give us enough space to establish industry and other ventures that we require for reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners.
Let me take the case of Akwa Ibom that intend to relocate the Uyo Prison, and the Minister has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Akwa State Government to that effect with fifteen(15) hectares land. Once it is completed we move into it and the state government will do whatever they like with the old prison.
And finally, we intend to reposition our farm centres, for not only training of inmates, but also looking at the possibility whether the prison service can feed its inmates. That is one of the things we intend to do.
So how far have you gone in this process of trying to farm-to-feeding programme?
CG: In 2016 budget we purchased so many farm machineries like tractors and other kinds of implements. We have also dug so many boreholes, fish-farming and the rest of them.
These would be used to reposition our farm centres. What I intend to do when the budget for 2017 is passed is that I have picked three out of 14 farm centres. The idea is to make sure that we specialize in different farming processes.
Like Kujama, I intend to set it up strictly for the production of maize. I want to see the production of maize all year round, not only during the raining season but also during the dry season.
We have budgeted some amount of money to sink boreholes for irrigation purposes to ensure the success of these programmes.
We have picked Lampushi Farm centre strictly for rice production and the possibility of producing rice during both raining season and dry season. We have also taken Ozalla for the production of palm oil.
These are three pilot projects we intend to do this year to see the possibility of whether the prison can actually feed itself. We will continue these programmes in 2018 anybody who takes over from me will continue in like manner.
Will there be enough for feeding and also for sale?
CG: That is what we are looking at. We are looking at mechanization where the crops to be produced would be in large quantity both for self and sale outside.
The process would reduce the manual labour and subsequently enhance production. The development will no doubt bring on board storage facilities when fully integrated so that all the areas will have comparative advantage.
How many tractors do you have on ground now?
We have about 22 tractors. Though we have them already at the farm centers, we are just adding to the existing ones.
What is the current statistics on Prison Population in relation to Awaiting Trials and Convicts?
As at March 6, 2017, total inmates population stands at 68,259. Out of this number, 46,351 are awaiting trial persons, and the remaining 21,903 are convicted.
In terms of percentage, the convicted is 32 percent, while awaiting trial persons is 68 percent. Though the figures are not static as they go up and down.
What can be done to address the issue of awaiting trial persons?
We have three arms of the criminal justice system. They are the judiciary cum the prosecution authority, which is the ministry of justice, the police and the prisons.
But out of three, the Prison is the last bus stop and is only a custodian. So long as anybody knocks on the door with valid warrant and appropriate papers, we have no option but to receive such persons.
The other thing is that there has to be a collaboration among the three arms of the criminal justice system to enhance synergy so that anybody brought to prison as awaiting trial, the case will be determined as quickly as possible.
The other arms have to do their part so that there would be quick dispensation of justice. On our part, our advocacy has been effective in the sense that the figure has hit almost 70, 000 before now.
When I came on board, I called all the officers including those in charge and gave them a marching order to engage other arms of the criminal justice system in their respective states to ensure that the numbers of awaiting trials are reduced drastically.
I am happy to report that the other arms have been cooperating, and awaiting trial persons have reduced tremendously. Remember too that each member of the criminal justice system have its own roles to play and so do their challenges.
If you approach any of them they will tell you what their challenges are in respect of awaiting trial persons. But accusing fingers should not be pointed to just one arm alone.
Are Your Personnel enough to carry out this arduous task?
The personnel we have currently are not enough. We are hopeful that there would be improvement. We have to collapse from three shifts to two shifts because of lack of personnel to man certain areas. We hope that government will see our challenges and address them this year.
You said earlier that your budget for last year was a great improvement. What are your hopes for this year’s budget?
We are asked to maintain the figure for last year. That is to tell you that government has good intentions to improve the service through budgetary provisions.
Hitherto, the service received peanuts in terms of budget, but there has been a great improvement which is why you see all these programmes we are putting in place.
There was a time you complained about some states not including the Prison Service in their Security Council meetings. Is there any update?
Yes we are canvassing to state governors for their understanding. Of all the security agencies that seat around the table for meetings are for peace and tranquility within the state. And to do that, it translates into arrest.
And once any one is arrested, all other agencies have certain time limit within which to keep such persons, except of course the Nigerian Prison Service and they have the power to approach the court for them to be committed.
There is need for the Governors to realize that Prison plays a pivotal role in the security apparatus of any state.
What advice do you have for past prisoners?
Someone who has undergone prison sentence is not the end of his life. In fact it’s a beginning of another life.
All those committed to prison has in one way or the other learnt some skills and if out should be given a second chance. He or she should be given a second chance by the society, his family to the effect that the person has reformed.
Every human being errs, and to tell you that to err is human but to forgive is divine. So there is need to see that and help the prisoners to integrate into the society. But again I want people to realize to put their searchlight on what happens in the prison environment, taking cognizance of the importance of the prison in ensuring internal security.
There are cases where prisoners released do come back for another jail terms. Some have gone and out of prison twice, thrice and so on. The reason is that when they go back to the society, they are rejected and have no option but to go back into the world of crime all over again.
We need that understanding among the general public and the family to accept such persons. I am happy to inform you that some of discharged prisoners have become employers of labour.
Through our after-care services, we give them necessary tools to do their work, whether it is tailoring, carpentry, hair dressing saloon, barbing saloon, welding, computer appreciation and the rest of them.
Do the inmates receive certificates on their skill-acquisitions and experiences?
We collaborate with the Ministry of Trade to give them Trade Test Certificates between Grade three, two or one. We follow up by visitation to ensure they are settled down.
The rehabilitation process has become largely successful. We want individuals and the general public to contribute their own quota towards this rehabilitation process in order for them to be fully integrated into the society.