The proverbial saying, ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’ currently plays out at the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) where the new Controller General, Ahmed Ja’afaru is tackling mounting issues militating against the Service’sa performance in recent times. COBHAM NSA reports on moves by the management to reinvigorate the NPS for greater operational efficiency

When Ahmed Ja’afaru emerged as the substantive Controller General of the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS), it was in an atmosphere of pervasive uneasiness. Amidst allegations of recruitment scam, lack of accountability, organized jail breaks and poor staff welfare, the Prisons’ boss is currently re-strategizing to achieve a new mission vision of making the NPS mandate efficient and goals-oriented. Before his appointment, the Service has been enmeshed in alleged corrupt practices, involving illegal recruitment of 1,000 personnel at the cost of N300,000 each and issuance of backdated employment letters to unsuspecting job seekers among others. But the Public Relations Officer (PRO), Deputy Controller of Prisons (DCP) Francis Enobore told Forefront that working round the clock; the new helmsman is leaving no stone unturned in his resolve to create a serene atmosphere for effective service delivery at the NPS. Enobore, who assures that the Controller General is determined to put a permanent stop on the so-called illegal recruitments and sharp practices, recalls the success recorded by the Service in apprehending the arrowhead of a criminal group that specializes in exhorting unsuspecting Nigerians over recruitment scams. Narrating a recent encounter with the scammers, the NPS spokesman said, “We were in the office at the prisons Headquarters one day when we saw so many people who, on enquiry, said they had come for job documentation. In a strategic move, we asked the people to assemble in a hall, where we then provided them with files and papers to write their names and details. Upon intelligent scrutiny, we got to know the person behind the recruitment syndicate and arrested him. We published his picture and appealed to members of the public to be on the alert. After that particular incident, we have not been confronted again with any issue relating to alleged illegal recruitments. “Of course, you hear many people alleging recruitment scandal, but when you ask them to provide concrete evidence, everybody disappears. In this era, we cannot close our ears on any issue that needs clarifications. I can assure you that we will not rest on our oars and will diligently tackle any issue that is capable of tarnishing the image of the service”, Enobore said. He however urged Nigerians to be vigilant and guard against falling prey to scammers’ money-for-prisons’ jobs tactics. On speculations that the NPS was engaged in secret replacements of staff from some sections of the country, the image maker debunked the existence of such practice, insisting such exercise is only in the fertile imagination of mischief makers. The issue of bad eggs in the Service and the recurrent ‘jail breaks’ being linked to insiders’ abuses, especially the activities of some unscrupulous officers, also got the attention of Enobore with assurances that the Prisons management is on top of the situation. He explained that it is no longer business as usual and pointed to the Federal Government’s prompt action suspending 14 prison officials in the wake of escape from Kuje Prison by two high profile detainees, Solomon Amodu and Maxwell Ajukwu, both standing trial for culpable homicide. According to the statement by Enobore, the Civil Defence, Fire, Immigration and Prisons Services Board (CDFIPB) approved the suspension of four senior officers, while the Controller-General of Prisons in his capacity, approved the suspension of the 10 junior staff of the prison. Those affected are Officer-in-Charge; DCP Musa Tanko, SIP Buhari Musa Dogo, PIP Stephen Edogbanya J., PIP Patrick Teru, IP Usman Peter, IP Dennis B. Makum and IP Fassan S. Akin. Others are: SPA Daka James, SPA Adamu Luka, SPA Zakari Yunasa, PA Asnamal Samuel, PA Ejegwa Patrick, PA 11 Isah Ibrahim and PA 11 Ngede Salifu. The statement said the suspension is sequel to the outcome of preliminary investigations into the recent jail escape, adding that the decision was necessary to allow “for unhindered trial process.” “The commissioned officers among them are to be served with letters of query while the junior staff will be given Form 96 (Charge Sheet) to explain their role in the unfortunate saga”, the statement further explained. The prisons’ spokesman is however worried that the media has made sensation of recent events involving escapees in some prisons, stressing that what happened in Kuje, Kogi and Enugu was just an escape and everything has been put in place to avoid future occurrence. The present leadership under Ja’afaru is not leaving anything to chance to stave off a repeat of such incidents. “What we had was just jail escape and not jailbreak. When you talk of jailbreak, you are talking of massive escape of prisoners from a facility after a serious battle with security men that are attached to keep the facility safe and secure. In Kuje, you had only two prisoners escaping, and that cannot be described as jailbreak. In Enugu, only 25 prisoners escaped, and out of that over six of them were re-arrested. I am sure by now several others have also been re-arrested. The Prisons Service has looked into the matter and is already taking appropriate actions. We seek the cooperation of Nigerians to assist us in the performance of our reformatory mandate. As far as the NPS is concerned, we are dedicated to the task of ensuring security in all our prison facilities across the country and struggling to meet the expectations of Nigerians within our mandates,” the NPS spokesman said. Reacting to current spate of jail escapes in the nation’s prisons, DCP Enobore said, “Most of us believe that the new Prisons’ boss does have the capacity and drive to reposition the NPS for effective service delivery, especially in reforming the prisons where inmates live in squalor and are denied their dignity as human beings. Ja’afaru is also seen as capable of looking into these jail escape syndrome. He is already rising to the occasion in providing leadership required to move the NPS in the right direction. He has certainly demonstrated efficiency in resolving the disturbing issue of overcrowded prisons, with no access to adequate food, water, sanitation and medical services.” However, the issue of jail escapes in some prison facilities across the country has attracted comments from well meaning Nigerians, including the Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, who seems to agree with views that insiders’ collaboration may not be ruled out. On the recent Koton Karfe prisons escape, a visibly angry Governor Bello insisted that “This particular attack in early hours of Saturday, July 30th 2016 scan eems to be a conspiracy between insiders and criminals who came to free the inmates.” Collaborating reports of likely strong racketeering within the system where, in the face of such serious security breach, no single senior prisons official was on ground when he visited the prison yard, Governor Bello said unearthing the mystery behind these jail escape has become most urgent if government must address recurring claims that the Prisons establishment has been seriously compromised. On the issue of alleged suspected mess in the management of Nigerian Prisons’ Microfinance Bank Limited funds, the PRO said, “there is no deliberate attempt to cover up anything like that. The rules are clear and the operations of the bank are managed by professionals. I am not aware that there are issues with its operations. Everything has been going fine and I can tell you that there are no qualms in the operations of the bank. People may be tempted to ask questions and also allege something they know nothing about. But I can tell you that the bank is being managed in line with operational rules of such financial institutions.” Few months after taking over as CG of Prisons, staff and officers who spoke to Forefront are already expressing the hope that with Ja’afaru, a new-look Prisons Service is in the offing and that no effort is being spared to reinvigorate the NPS for effective service delivery. However, some officers believe a lot must still be done to lift the image of the Service in the public domain. According to them, some concrete steps should be taken urgently to remedy certain situations so that in situations of official misconduct, the management would not be seen as always comfortable with issuing routine internal memos to the fact that ‘Such compromising acts do not augur well for the security of a custodial institution like the Nigeria Prisons Service and also put the lives of innocent workers and inmates in serious danger.’ Besides, the recent Kuje jail escape, there has been other incidents where prisoners have made easy their escape from some facility. Just in the first week of August, no fewer than 25 prisoners escaped from Enugu prisons with six of them re-arrested while attempting to board commercial vehicles to flee the town. Insiders said using a ladder allegedly provided by prison officials, “the inmates at the ‘F’ line of the prison yard apartment which serves as the awaiting trial male, ATM cell, conspired within themselves, with an alleged hand at the prison yard who smuggled in the ladder which the inmates used to scale the perimeter fence of the yard. The ATM ‘F’ line was allegedly being used as punishment cell for inmates who are not in the good books of the officer in-charge of Nsukka prisons; while those in single cells allegedly enjoy the use of smart phones, ipads among others, with the alleged compliance of both the officer in-charge and the chief discipline officer, CDO, of the prison yard.”

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