Nigerian First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, weekend, called on the state chief judges to pay more attention to problems of prison congestion and design ways of finding a lasting solution to it.
Mrs. Jonathan also called on prison authorities to device appropriate strategy that would properly take care of about 6,000 Nigerian children living in prisons and detention centres across the country.
Jonathan, who spoke at the commissioning of the Prison Staff School built by the Prisons Officers Wives’ Association, PROWA, in Abuja, noted that there were inmates that had no case to answer, but suffered injustice because they had no body to stand for them.
She added that the present situation of the country’s prisons had defeated the purpose of prison system to reform offenders, while urging state chief judges, including the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, to carry out periodic visit to prison for the purpose of examining the cases of suspects awaiting trial, adding that, her NGO was willing to render any assistance on the matter.
Mrs. Jonathan said: “It will interest you to note that a 2012 report by the African Union on the rights and welfare of a child has shown that an estimated 6,000 Nigerian Children live in prison and detention centres.
“Some of these children are said to have been born in the prison, while a majority are minors who are awaiting trial. I hope that the prison authorities will urgently look into the situation of babies born in prisons.
Such children can possibly be handed over to a responsible family member or to the Department of Social Welfare for proper care and integration.
“The issue of congestion in our prisons, it is painful to note that some of those found in this situation are persons awaiting trial. These are people who are sometimes being held for every minor offence. Some of them eventually spend more time in the prison than the law would have prescribed for their offence, if they were actually found guilty as charged.
“As the prisons are one of their constituencies, I urge the Chief Judges of our various states, including the FCT, to pay more frequent visits to the prisons, for the purpose of examining the cases of suspects awaiting trial.
“In this way, they will be able to determine those who do not have a case to answer and can be released promptly, or those whose cases are minor and can be released on the payment of a fine. My NGO can help to pay for such fines.
“This brings me to the issue of the physical condition of our prisons across the country. We must remind ourselves that the original purpose of the prison system is to reform offenders, and make them useful citizens who are capable of playing active roles in the development of their communities.
“It is my hope that the appropriate authorities will continue to take steps to rehabilitate infrastructures in our prisons so that they carry out the correctional and reformatory roles for which they were set up and make life more habitable for inmates.
“I want to discourage the stigmatization of ex-prisoners and encourage their rehabilitation into society. Religious organizations and civil society organizations can be useful in this regard.”
The First Lady commended PROWA for taking steps to “address the educational needs of children of officers and men of the service.”
Also speaking, the Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, noted that the project would unlock the potentials of Nigerian children to contribute their quota to the development of the society, while commending PROWA for such an initiative.
In her welcome address, the President of PROWA, Mrs. Ruth Ibrahim, noted that the school was designed “to ensure that children of staff are offered quality and affordable education”
According to her, “currently, prisons Staff Schools across the states have a population of over 8,000 pupils and students, tutored by over 500 academic and non-academic staff.”
She disclosed that, “a pilot survey for the construction of a standard secondary school in each of our eight zones has been completed”, while soliciting support from corporate bodies and individuals for PROWA to extend its educational programmes across the country.