State governments on Sunday faulted the plan by the Federal Government to cede the feeding and caring for inmates in custodial centres to states.
The governments of Ogun, Gombe, Ondo, Delta, Borno, Osun and Rivers argued that the Federal Government should review the current revenue allocation formula to put them in a better financial position to shoulder the proposed responsibility.
The states said these in separate interviews with The PUNCH against the backdrop of the statement by the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, that the Federal Government would stop feeding state offenders in custodial centres across the country from January 1, 2024.
He also stated state governments must include the feeding of their inmates in federal facilities in their budgets till they could build their custodial centres.
Aregbesola stated this following the recent constitutional amendment which placed Correctional Services on the concurrent list.
Speaking at the inauguration of the command headquarters of the Nigerian Correctional Service in Owerri, the Imo State capital, on Friday, the minister said, “This simply means that states are now empowered to establish their own correctional services and facilities.
“States which do not have correctional facilities would have to pay the Federal Government for the feeding and accommodation of their inmates.”
But commenting on the proposal, the Ogun State government faulted the approach adopted by the Federal Government to cede the funding of correctional services to states.
For a successful transfer of the custodial centres to the states, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Public Communications, Remmy Hazzan, maintained that the central government must be ready to yield more revenue to the states before talking about shifting the inmates’ responsibility, stressing that it could not be done by fiat.
He said, “These things are not done by executive fiat. There are procedures; there are things that are part and parcel of establishment matters and you don’t change establishment patterns just by executive fiat. It has to go through the due process.
“To be precise, states that are expected to take over the responsibility, to what extent have they been incorporated into this discussion? So, things don’t just happen by executive fiat. Are they also going to cede the part of the federally collected revenue going into the federation account based on this requirement for the correctional services?’’
The Gombe State Commissioner for Information and Culture Meshack Lauco, contended that states were managing to survive and wouldn’t be able to shoulder additional responsibilities.
For the Federal Government’s proposal to work, the commissioner submitted that states must be given additional funds to handle the new responsibility.
He stated, “Right now, if you check the states and how they are coping considering the resources available to them, most of the states are just managing to survive.
“Now, if you give them additional responsibilities, will you give them additional funding to take care of the responsibility or are they going to say, ‘Okay, each state takes away prisoners, in this case, your indigenes.’ And if that happens, can’t we see the tendency for even some states to say ‘Since we don’t have the money to maintain you (inmates) in custodial centres, we release you to society.’ Are we not looking at that angle?’’
Gombe faults FG
Laucko wondered why the Federal Government was trying to outsource its responsibility to states, noting that there could be consequences if this was allowed to happen.
He noted, “Since the creation of states in Nigeria, the correctional service has been under the Federal Government; why is the Federal Government running from its responsibility?
“There is going to be a lot of consequences if they say the state government should take charge. The state government is trying to reduce some of the burden it’s carrying; now they want to transfer the custodial centres. Will the federal government only take care of the custodial centre in Abuja?”
Asked if the state would construct its own correctional facilities as directed by the minister, the commissioner baulked, saying that remained the duty of the central government.
“Why must we? Let the Federal Government clearly define the role of the state government in the maintenance of the custodial centres. Is it just the responsibility without any commensurate compensation?’’ he queried.
Speaking further, he added that states were involved in the construction of federal roads, insisting that the Federal Government cannot delegate its responsibility to states without considering the financial implications.
In its submission, the Ondo State Government said it would feed the inmates in the state provided there was an increase in the resources allocated to the state.
The Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in the state, Mr Charles Titiloye, explained that the state had no money to finance any prison presently.
Since the correctional services are longer on the exclusive list, the Attorney-General submitted that the state should get increased monthly allocation which would enable it to bear the added burden of caring for the inmates being held in the state.
He said, “There are some things that must come in first before that is done, in terms of the revenue allocation. Because the revenue allocation done currently is based on some figures and statistics available as to what the Federal Government caters for.
“The defence, prison, and immigration sectors receive a big chunk from the federal allocation on a monthly basis. Now that prison is now on the concurrent list, when states are sharing those functions with the Federal Government, that means more money has to be given to the states to be able to function very effectively in that regard. But that cannot be done with the meagre money states are receiving currently.”
For the proposal to work, the Delta State Government asked the FG, to as a matter of urgency, review the current revenue sharing formula and allocate more funds to enable the states to take care of their responsibilities.
The State Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Aniagwu, stated this in an interview with The PUNCH in Asaba.
He said, “Let me tell you that we even fund the police far better than the Federal Government because we are closer to the people, so we feel their pains. Did you know how much we spent assisting security agencies in the state, including the prisons when it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to do so?
“We are ready and accept those responsibilities but more funds should be given to the states because we are closer to the people. Why does not Federal Government give money to states and let the states take care of their prisons, roads, railway and other responsibilities?’’
Aniagwu said the state had been spending on the facilities because the users are the people of the state.
But the Borno State government said it was baffled by Aregbesola’s statement, saying it had yet to receive any official communication on the plan espoused by the minister.
“Although we do not know the reason behind the decision as it has not yet been officially communicated to us, it is quite confusing and baffling,” Babakura Jato, Borno State Commissioner for Information and Home Affairs, told The PUNCH on the phone.
He disclosed that the state would examine the arguments and reasons for the proposal even as he accused the FG of attempting to shirk its responsibilities.
Jato said, “We wait to see the reasons and constitutionality of the decision. Constitutionally, custodial centres and their inmates are under the Ministry of Interior; they are a part of the exclusive responsibility of the Federal Government. Why is the Federal Government shirking this responsibility now?’’
The commissioner declared that the state government cannot cater for the inmates, saying, “Releasing of funds for the running of the custodial centres and catering for the inmates come from the Federal government, not the states, according to the constitution; the states cannot shoulder these responsibilities.
“Again, it is not in the constitution that states own custodial centres to which convicts are taken to serve their terms; will the constitution now suddenly transfer the responsibility to the states?” the commissioner wondered.
Osun explains position
Speaking with one of our correspondents, the spokesperson for Osun State Governor, Olawale Rasheed, said the government had directed the relevant ministry to study the position of the Federal Government on the feeding of inmates.
He, however, said the constitution had placed the prisons on the exclusive list, noting that for the state to play any role, there must be an amendment to the laws
Rasheed said, “The state government is studying the entire development including the issue of feeding within correctional services. The state governor has also directed the relevant ministry to study the situation and make appropriate recommendations.
“But preliminarily, the management of the correctional services remains the statutory responsibility of the Federal Government. Until the constitution is amended to move prison matters from exclusive to the concurrent list, the Federal Government will continue to shoulder the responsibility.
“The matter is not even about the capacity of the states to take up those responsibilities; the fact on the ground is that it is the constitutional mandate of the central government.”
On its part, the Rivers State Government called on the Federal Government to set the appropriate machinery in motion if it desired the states to build prisons and feed inmates in their jurisdictions.
The state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Chris Finebone, observed that appropriate procedures must be followed before the FG can transfer the responsibility of managing custodial centres to states.
He added, “Well, the issue is that it is a key policy issue and I don’t know if the instrument for its implementation has been worked out. It will be a little too premature to comment until the necessary framework either by way of legislation or so is in place.
“You will realise that that is a key issue in restructuring. Therefore, it has to be done through a proper framework either through constitutional amendment or other statutory law-making.
“It is not something that will be taken by its surface value. The prisons are a fundamental issue like every other issue that is already on the exclusive list of the Federal Government.”
The Ekiti State Government said it was studying the constitutional amendment which placed the correctional centres on the concurrent list.
The Special Adviser to Ekiti State Governor on Media, Olayinka Oyebode, declared that the state would soon announce its position.
Oyebode said, “We will review the situation, we are studying the amendment and we will take the appropriate decision on it.”
The Kwara State Commissioner for Communication, Mr Saddiq Buhari disclosed that the state executive council had yet to take a decision on the FG’s inmates feeding plan.
Buhari insisted that “The maintenance of the correctional facility and the feeding of the inmates have been the responsibility of the federal government and the state government is yet to be informed of the new decision announced by the Minister of Interior.’’
Asked if the state would build correctional facilities as directed by the interior minister, the information commissioner explained that this was not included in the 2023 budget of the state.
‘Feeding cost N144bn’
Meanwhile, the regime of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) had spent over N144bn on feeding inmates in the past eight years.
According to the appropriation bills analysed by our correspondent on Sunday, the amount was spent on inmates’ feeding across the country between 2015 and 2023.
A breakdown of the money showed that N22.4bn was spent on inmates in 2023; N20.1bn in 2022; N15.1bn in 2021; N15.1bn in 2020 and N15.3bn in 2019.
The regime also expended N15.3bn in 2018; N16.6bn in 2017; N18.7bn in 2016 and N5.054bn in 2015.
According to the figures published on the website of the Nigerian Correctional Service, as of April, 74,872 inmates are currently being held in 244 custodial centres nationwide, out of which 51,939 inmates are awaiting trial and 22,933 are convicts.
The NCoS spokesperson, Abubakar Umar, in a recent interview with our correspondent, stressed that the state governments must provide facilities at the custodial facilities, noting that more than 70 per cent of inmates in custody were convicted by state courts.