By Ifeanyi Nwoko
The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) has launched a new capacity building programme for correctional officers of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS).
The programme targeted at rehabilitating and possibly reintegrating alleged Boko Haram insurgents who are being remanded in NCoS facilities is sponsored by the German government.
Speaking at the launch on Monday in Abuja, Dr Oliver Stolpe, UNODC Country Representative in Nigeria said that the move became even more necessary in view of the number of inmates held since 2016 for alleged links to the insurgents.
According to him, the newly launched programme which will be executed through the NCoS will focus on providing detainees with social reintegration support including education, vocational training and other constructive activities.
“New Partnership forged with the Nigerian Correctional Service and the government of Germany in close coordination with other relevant stakeholders.
“We are gathering to launch a new programme aimed at strengthening the capacity of the NCoS to rehabilitate and reintegrate prisoners held for alleged association with Boko Haram.
“Based on our extensive experience in the field of prison reform, “UNODC will seek to improve prison conditions while providing detainees with social reintegration support including education, vocational training and other constructive activities.
“We will be doing so not directly but through the Nigerian Correctional Service.
“This type of support will be embedded in capacity building aimed specifically at the correctional staff to further strengthen compliance with prison management in line with international standards,” he said.
He pointed out that a visit by the UNODC to the Maiduguri Maximum Security Prison showed that there were over 1,200 people including 12 females, held for alleged involvement with Boko Haram.
He said that of the number, only a handful had been tried while a vast majority of them were just being held on remand.
Stolpe therefore stressed that the new programme will also strife to advance the de-radicalisation drive of the NCoS while ensuring that the prisoners were treated with human dignity.
“Through the de-radicalisation programme of the NCoS, there has been measures introduced to facilitate the treatment of violent extremists in Nigeria.
“While many of the detainees may be eventually discharged, the need for social integration and support is obvious in light of the extended time period of detention and their poor economic social background.
“The stigma of having allegedly been associated with Boko Haram further aggravates the obstacles they will face in rebuilding their lives after their release.
“It is exactly on this point that this new partnership is focused on,” he said.
For the Acting Controller General, Nigeria Correctional Service, John Mrabure, he said that support from the UNODC backed by the German government was indeed commendable.
He said that coming at a time when the nation was grappling with diverse security challenges; the programme would indeed enhance the capacity of the correctional officers.
“At this sad period in our history any assistance that comes with genuine intentions to ameliorate any form of insecurity is a step in the right direction and deserves commendation.
“NCoS by virtue of its mandate and mode of operation is designated as the lead agency for the de-radicalisation of violent extremist offenders, a programme which has recorded success.
“It is heart warming that this support is geared towards strengthening the capacity of the NCoS to rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders.
“This intervention will go a long way in enhancing the technical depth of the de-radicalisation programme,” he said.
Explaining the cause of delay in trying the alleged insurgents, Justice Ishaku Bello, Chairman, Presidential Committee on Correctional Reform Decongestion said that a lot of hitches were being experienced.
He said that to on the issues were that family members were unwilling to be associated with the detainees, therefore leaving the buck of legal representation with the Legal Aid Council.
He added that even witnesses refuse to come forward despite assurances of witness protection while judges are also overwhelmed.
As a solution, he called for the donation of judicial competence to other high courts to facilitate trial of the allrged insurgents.
He also called for the construction of more Juvenile facilities across the country for proper remand of juvenile offenders.