THE call by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, for the decentralisation of our correctional administration is a very welcome idea. It is long overdue in view of our overstuffed prisons populated mainly by those awaiting trial.
Malami, at the recent National Summit on Correctional Centres Reform in Nigeria in Abuja said he had canvassed the idea at a meeting with state Chief Justices and Attorneys-General.
In order to reduce the congestion of our colonial-era prison facilities, Malami said that state offenders should be kept in state prisons while federal offenders will continue to be held in federal centres under such an arrangement.
It is sad that over the years, our leaders have not thought it wise to invest in the upgrade of our correctional administration which we inherited from the British colonialists beyond mere name change from the Nigerian Prisons Service, NPS, to the Nigerian Correctional Service, NCS.
This reminds us of the recent change of the name of the disbanded Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, FSARS, to Special Weapons and Tactics, SWAT, as a result of the recent #EndSARS protests.
Cosmetic attitudes to demands for change bespeak of our obstinate inability or unwillingness to move with the demands of the times for the greater good of the country.
In an ideal situation, correctional administration should not be in the Exclusive List as it is in Nigeria. This was a colonial creation which, for obvious reasons, the colonialists refused to decentralise when Nigeria became a federation even before independence.
Despite the series of constitutional changes, no thought has been given for the creation of regional or state and local council prisons even though states have constitutional powers to run their court systems up to the State High Court.
Most crimes, policing and correctional activities are generally local. Governments at the lowest level of local administration should be able to hold and reform certain classes of convicted or awaiting trial offenders. We believe that the 240 federal correctional centres are obviously inadequate to cope with the number and sophistication of legal offenders in our society.
Just as the states have proved capable of operating their own courts, the constitution should be amended to allow them (and even local councils) to establish and administer correctional centres. Decongestion will help the states to achieve the noble objective of making correctional inmates better citizens (rather than hardened criminals) when they return to free society.
It is a sad irony that, despite the fact that many of our past and present leaders have been to our prisons for one reason or the other, yet they continue to neglect our correctional administration, forgetting that they may find themselves back there after their tenures of office.