TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2019.
Over the years, the subject of how best to correct or punish offenders has been of a major concern to both government and citizens alike. The recent renaming of the Nigerian Prison Services to the Nigerian Correctional Services bears eloquent testimony to this ongoing dialogue. Similarly, the dilemma of how best to handle the treatment of juvenile offenders in the justice system has been in the front burner.
2. The question has always been, how do we bring about a reform in the way we correct young offenders, especially the juvenile ones? This also includes, concern about how we manage their re-entry into the society after they shall have served their prison terms. Experts have always counselled against the practice of incarcerating juvenile offenders with older and, sometimes, very hardened criminals. The result, they fear, has always been that these juveniles come out becoming more of hardened criminals – a phenomenon that negates the very goal the society was seeking in setting up correctional institutions.
3. Nigeria, certainly, is not alone in this dilemma. It could be recalled that the United States (US) government last December passed the First Step Act. This is a legislation designed to eliminate all legal impediments to the rehabilitation, restoration and re-entry of first time offenders into the society for certain category of offenses. The ban against their having gainful employment, because of their status as convicted felons, was also lifted. The results recorded since the Act came into effect, have been encouraging. Many of the ex-convicts who have benefitted from this Act, now find gainful employments. Others today live decent lives and have become useful citizens of their communities.
4. This government is indeed, committed to any set of reasonable reforms in the correctional system, especially measures that seek to correct and not condemn, rehabilitate and not reject; restore and not cast away. The necessity to salvage our young ones from the dark clutches of perpetual delinquency cannot be over emphasized. We would therefore, leave no stone unturned to ensure the reformation, reorientation and re-entry of juvenile offenders as useful members of the community.
5. Consequently, under the Rebuild Agenda of the present government, we are looking into setting up the State Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy. In the same vein, we are working at reviewing the Law on Children and Young Persons’ Act II, on the treatment of juvenile offenders and the institution of juvenile courts. A critical aspect of these efforts is the need for the establishment of Borstal Training Institutions in the state. By this we mean, homes where juvenile offenders are remanded and given both educational and vocational training to rehabilitate and reform them before reintegrating them into society.
6. Presently, there are only three Borstal Training Institutions in Nigeria located in Kaduna, Ilorin and Abeokuta. Unfortunately, we do not have any in the whole of the South-East and South-South regions. We are, therefore, here today to engage the Imo State Command of the Nigerian Correctional Services on how we can set the ball of reforms rolling.
7. Part of our Rebuild Agenda is our commitment to ensure that Imo State is not left behind in all departments of economic and social development. According to a UNDP survey, over 40 percent of Nigeria’s population are less than 18years old. In a State with a population of over 5.1 million, this amounts to over 2 million young people. We are talking about a very delicate and very valuable segment of the society and, indeed, an asset for both state and national development. We have a duty, therefore, to ensure that they are properly nurtured, treasured and harnessed for national development. It is for this reason that we have made capacity development one of the cardinal points of our Agenda.
8. I am aware we cannot do this alone. Consequently, I call upon the church, faith-based and nongovernmental organizations to lend their hands in the effort to make convicted offenders, especially the juveniles among them, better members of the society. Research has shown that faith-based correctional and re-entry initiatives have proved very impactful in reducing recidivism or the tendency for a reformed offender to return to crime. This is altogether not surprising because faith-based organization supply a very important missing link in the process – the God factor.
9. To this end, I would like to urge you to evolve ways we can partner with relevant faith-based organizations towards achieving these laudable objectives. We are ready to do all within our ability to salvage our young ones from the slippery slopes that leads to the inexorable dark hole of habitual criminality.
10. On this note, it is indeed, my sincere delight to thank the Nigerian Correctional Service for their support and goodwill in welcoming us to their premises. I thank the rest of us present here to witness this simple event, which is, no doubt, a very significant step in the life of this administration. I am looking forward to the outcome of this engagement, as it would be an invaluable contribution to the policy process.
11. I therefore, hereby, declare the three-day event open as I thank you all for your attention.