- Blames prosecutors for prison congestion
BY TIMOTHY AGBOR, OSOGBO
A retired Federal High Court judge, Justice Taiwo Taiwo, has said the Nigerian Correctional Centres have turned to breeding grounds for hardened criminals that are being released into the society.
The legal luminary also decried worsening prison congestion across the country, owing to the increasing number of awaiting trial inmates, saying the centres which were supposed to serve as rehabilitation and reformation abodes, now compound the problems.
Recall that the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, had said the increasing number of inmates awaiting trial was taking its toll on the custodial centres and the available resources for the Service. Aregbesola had blamed the congestion of prisons on the slow dispensation of justice and proposed that the period from the arrest of suspects to the conclusion of their cases in court should not go beyond 12 months.
Bemoaning the rising cases of convicts who finish their jail terms returning to crimes almost immediately after leaving prison custody, Justice Taiwo maintained that inmates left prisons hardened because there was no reformation and sufficient empowerment in the prisons.
“As far as I am concerned, there is no rehabilitation in Nigerian prisons, it’s more like we breed more criminals than necessary. The prisons in Nigeria are meant to be reformatory but it is not so here. Cases abound of somebody imprisoned, released today, the next day, he is on the streets doing the same thing that he went to the prison for in the first place. Why did it happen? It’s because, some of these people when they go out, some don’t even have anywhere to go. It’s like you are pushing the criminals back to the streets. So, a lot has to be done on rehabilitation and reformation of those in prison in Nigeria,” he recommended.
Reacting to the alleged role of the Judiciary in prison congestion during an interview, Justice Taiwo exonerated judges and heaped the blame on some lawyers, security agencies and their prosecutors whom he accused of bringing trivial cases to court, abandoning some in the middle of trial and buying time.
He said, “The issue of bringing accused persons to the court is not in the hands of the Judiciary. It is in the hands of the authorities entrusted with that power. Now, when you bring them to court, people expect judges to either grant them bail or not, depending on the gravity of the offence. But, I must just say that there is no offence that is not bailable depending on the circumstances and the facts before the court, and of course, your position and the fears of the prosecution as to the standing of the person before the court.
“So, the issue of decongesting the prison is an issue that every stakeholder must hold dear. There are some situations where the accused person would not have to be taken to the prison. When you go to prison, you will see people in detention for crossing the road, minor traffic offences. These are things that clog the wheel of justice and of course, the ACJL has laid down the procedure; bail can be granted by the police, bail can be granted by the court, it depends on the gravity of the charges before or against the person.
“I honestly feel that the issue of decongesting the prison is not caused by the judicial arm of government. When you file a charge before the court and you follow-up on it, it makes it seamless for the court to decide as timely as possible whether to grant bail. And of course, I want to also say that some other stakeholders, like lawyers, can be a clog in the wheel of justice. Some lawyers know how to buy time; they want to buy time for their clients and they will not come to court and when they come to court, they will seek for adjournment where there should not be adjournment and where adjournment is not meant to be granted.
“And of course, the judge too can put his foot down in many cases, that no, I am going to hear this case today. If the prosecution is not ready, then I will strike it out, if the defence is not ready, I will go ahead with it. Now, a judge has to be careful in doing this because if the prosecution comes and delays the matter, and the court strikes it out, the public will not understand the reason the judge has done that. You will now see that some people will now start backbiting or they will be blackmailing the Judiciary.”
The retired judge said the fault of members of the bench in case delay was “minimal”, stressing that “the prosecution has its faults in this matter and so also the defence. The fault of the judge is minimal. It is minimal to the extent to which the court can take in a day. When a judge has about 20 cases or 30 cases to hear in a day, even with the most careful case management, how far can the court go?”