From Wilson Okereke, Afikpo
Newly promoted Assistant Controller-General of Corrections and immediate past Controller of Corrections, Ebonyi Command, of the Nigeria Correctional Service, Ndubuisi Ogbodo has blamed the failure of some governors in signing death warrant of convicts as one of the factors responsible for congestion of the correctional facilities.
He also talked about strategies already mapped out to decongest correctional centres in Nigeria.
What was your experience managing the Ebonyi State Command?
I started work in Ebonyi State on August 2020 and handed over to my predecessor on 24th June, 2022, and concerning my experience, though the state is the most peaceful in the whole of South East region but the number of inmates is on the increase because of enormous communal clashes, cultism and terrorism.
These are the things that make crime rate to be growing up and the congestion is still there; the capacity of Abakaliki Correctional Centre is 548 but we have 1,227, and 16 inmates on death roll (IDR). So, the congestion is still there because of the increase in crime due to high rate of unemployment and internet fraud which have become the order of the day in collaboration with communal clashes and drug addiction which some persons are engaging themselves in; in order to deny themselves the mental agony of joblessness.
Notwithstanding, I commend Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi who has the passion to help the state; presently there is a new standard Correctional Centre, courtesy of the same governor; he had equally provided the two Correctional Centres in Ebonyi State in Abakaliki and Afikpo, with all the necessary facilities and CCTV in every cell and on the perimeter fences to enhance the security.
He had equally put solar light in the two places and we the personnel are grateful to him.
Additionally, Nigeria Correctional Service Act of 2019 has been an instrument of change to the criminal justice system in Nigeria because presently we have Custodian and Non Custodian Sections.
You have earlier talked about some governors’ failure in signing death warrant of criminals, please can you explain further?
It is also part of the factors responsible for the congestion, a situation where someone might have passed all the judicial processes involving Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) who may have diligently prosecuted the person and the competent judge who handles such cases equally condemned the criminal to death; why should a sitting governor refuse to sign the death warrant to serve as a deterrent to others? Some people are into crime believing that at most, they will spend around 20 years or more in prison and therefore they will be released. Before now, we had executions in the centres, I can recall that the former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomole did it some time ago and when the Amnesty International was criticizing him, he did not listen to them rather he went ahead and executed the person.
Punishment for sin is death as it is contained in the Bible, there must be punishment but surprisingly, the governor stoutly refused to help the situation; imagine keeping someone perpetually who knows that he is supposed to die, who might have spent 20 or 25 years in the custody and an officer will be there managing him, why not do the needful to correct the society?
Is there any remedy to the situation?
Yes, the policy is this, if any governor refuses to sign the death warrant, 10 years after, the Chief Judge has the power to convert the ruling to life sentence because to manage anyone who is on death roll is not easy, thus, Awaiting Death Roll can be converted to life imprisonment.
Another reason why some governors find it difficult to sign death warrant is because most of the guns used for the evil acts were shared to the criminals during the political campaigns without considering the fact that the punishment for armed robbery is death.
What do you mean by Non Custodian Section?
It is a new measure geared at decongesting the existing correctional facilities, for instance, if one gets involved in the crime of stealing of an item as plantain and the offence stipulates 2 years jail term, if the person happens to spend 4 years, such action is an indirect way of harming the offender.
It is so because what we do now is corrective not punitive as it was before, it is on this note that the non-custodian section is established to take care of some kinds of offences and other related categories.
The four areas of non-custodian section are: Community service-Let’s use COVID-19 lockdown as a case study; then, there was no movement and there were a lot of offenders and the correctional facility had not been expanded to contain all the offenders, thus, if all the offenders are put into a custody, over congestion will be noticed. At that time, the same strategy was used in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, which means that instead of serving jail terms in a Custodial Centre, the offenders were made to sweep some streets or village squares and worked in some establishments such as schools or hospitals.
It must be where the offender will serve the community and by so doing the society will benefit more; it will equally have correctional effect as such service will effect the offender and the onlookers because there is tendency that people will be eager to know why the person is in such service.
For instance, some people will be asking why is the person sweeping the streets of Abakaliki and in the long run, they will find out that it is as a result of the offence which the person had committed and others will take correction; the offender may likely learn a skill through that way. This measure is known as community service and in the course of the service, the offender or offenders will be monitored by our officers.
Another one is called parole: on this stage, we believe in the school of thought that nobody was born a criminal, everyone was born with open brain and after the birth, whatever that enters remains there; this is why there is need for good parental upbringing, the community and have roles to play, with these roles being put together, the child will either be good or bad, if the child turns out to be bad, it is still the onus of the community to correct the person.
This is why we have parole which means that if someone is convicted over an offence, while inside the correction centre, if the person is of good behaviour for a number of years, let’s assume that the person is sentenced to 10 years and after the person might have served for five years in good conduct, the parole authority can decide to grant the remaining five years over the good conduct and tell the person to go and sin no more but if the person after being released commits another offence, he will still come back to the correction centre to complete the remaining five years, all these are part of the measures to decongest the facilities.
There is also probation: This is when the judge has proven that the offender has committed an offence for the first time in his life (first offender) such as the offence of breaking and entry, the person’s character will be examined and based on the findings, it may not be right to keep the person in the custody.
Under this category, the same offender may be put on probation and an officer will be attached to him to monitor whether he will re-offend, in short, this strategy means that the conviction is hanging and if the person commits such offence again, he will be convicted without option but if he performs well, it will be assumed that the matter is closed, so, probation is another window of decongesting the custodian facilities.
The fourth one is Restorative Justice, though it is not practiced in Sub-Sahara Africa, it can only be found in South Africa and in the Western world. In this case, most of the crimes are against the state, for instance, if one steals another man’s car and the vehicle is being used somewhere else and the offender is sentenced to imprisonment of about two years, in most cases, the justice system will be thinking about the offender without caring about the victim’s plight. But under restorative system, the victim is taken care of, in this case, the magistrate can request from the offender to return the vehicle to the owner so that he will be freed, similarly to the case of rape that has a psychological trauma for women who have fallen victim; sometimes even when the justice system wants to help them, they will run away because it has a stigma. What the restorative system does is to bring the victim and the offender together and begin to reconcile the two parties.
In this process, the victim will be able to know why she was raped and what prompted the offender’s action, the offender on his part will appeal for forgiveness; on this note, the feelings of the victim will be assuaged, the offender will equally assure that he won’t commit such act again.
This can help to resolve some marital issues involving some women who had been raped because they are usually afraid when it comes to sex.
The state usually helps by providing counselors who give psychological trainings to the ladies to enable them forget their ugly experiences mostly after the offender must have confessed and apologized over his behaviour. These measures can equally save money for when the offenders can be used for community service for anyone involving in the act of stealing and other minor offences; the offenders can be used for community service.
How does custodian section effect decongestion?
We have the visits of the Chief Judge from time to time who looks at the cases; it is known as jail delivery and if he finds someone who is supposed to serve a jail term of two years already spending four years, the judge can release the person; so, the essence of the visit is to review cases.
Sometimes, there are some persons who might have committed higher offences as armed robbery which has the maximum sentence of death but one can find out that Director of Public Prosecution (PDP) has not finished his investigation for 15 years and the person is being dumped at the correctional facility; these are the cases that after looking at it by the judge, he will grant the person bail on liberal or on labourer term; it is usually done by the combined effort of the members of the Legal Aid Council or other lawyers present.
There are some people due to ill health or old age, for example, if someone involved in armed robbery at the age of 20 years and he is being sentenced for life and while at the correction centres he clocks 70 years, this means that the person will no longer constitute a problem in the society again because of his age; the Chief Judge can grant him outright release based on old age. Same thing applicable to the sick ones; if one has any sickness capable of leading to death, the Chief Judge can also release the person.
Do you consider de-radicalisation as a strategy?
We also credit Governor Umahi over the issues of de-radicalising the violent inmates; this de-radicalisation had already been introduced in the Northern part of the country and Lagos State.
The setting up of de-radicalising institution is in synergy with the federal and the state in the two facilities in Ebonyi, with this particular institution, the violent inmates will be brought in and assessed psychologically; both the psychologists and psychiatrists will do a logistic analysis of one’s personal history for about 30 days and study how the person will be corrected; other reformatory will be established to gainfully engage some counselors and religious organisations that will bring in reformatory processes. Once these are done, then rehabilitation will come in and after rehabilitation, the person will be taken half-way home.
In this case, the person won’t be put into the society immediately, he will be put in a place in form of a hostel where he will be going out for work until he is fit for the society. The essence of the approach is to kill the motive that makes the person to carry gun, whoever that carries gun is having psychological illness; therefore, we thank the state governor over the idea.
What is your advice to Ebonyi people as you are leaving the place?
The people are blessed with active governor who has vision; the people can’t rate the status of Ebonyi State around 10 years ago with now; he had looked ahead and found out where flyovers are needed.
Ebonyi State is blessed with fertile land and mineral resources, they need to work hard and extend love to one another because the incessant communal crises are enormous. Ebonyi is the number one in South East as far as communal clashes are concern.
I was once told by one of the professors while I was in University of Nigeria, Nsukka that Ebonyi people did not go to school early because of the richness of their land; that they have a linear relationship with their land; then, they had everything that they needed unlike Owerri, Oguta and other areas where their land is not good (for farming) and because of the situation, they found it easy to reach to the white men as their environment could not satisfy them but in Ebonyi, they are comfortable with their land.
Concerning the de-radicalization, no one was born as a wicked person; once a person is given correct psychological and psychiatric treatment, the person will recover; what is needed now is the services of these two personnel being psychologist and psychiatrist in conjunction with vocational service and rehabilitation centre; once one passes these processes, the person can’t commit any crime again and the person’s spiritual being will be touched too and he will become a refined human being.