Mrs. Pamela Nyong is the immediate past Controller of Prisons in Akwa Ibom state. She recently retired from the services of the Nigerian Prison service. As part of her retirement activities, she paid a farewell visit to the Chairman of Uyo branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, Eno-Obong Akpan Esq and the executive of the Uyo Bar, where she took dome time to speak with National Newstrack on salient issues concerning the Nigerian Prisons Service.
What have been the major highlights of your tour of Duties in Akwa Ibom state?
I have built very strong synergy between the prison service, security agencies, the judiciary and sister organizations. I have tried to ensure that the prisons are well fortified, I have not registered any case of riots or jail breaks in my time. I ensured that no security breaches were registered. Welfare of staff and inmates were well taken care of. I have ensured that a high level of discipline is in place both for the inmates and the prison staff. I feel contented when I go on tour of my prisons and I see neat, healthy and happy inmates. When they are happy I am happy. We have been trained to treat them humanly, to respect their dignity as individuals. So we treat them with humanity; we treat them with dignity. When they are not happy, when you cheat them, they grumble. When they get agitated, they can riot. I told you I have never registered any riot or jailbreak under my command and that shows the inmates are usually happy when I am there.
What can you say about the perennial issue of Prison congestion?
That has been an issue dear to me and I came with it to this meeting.; to discuss ways and means of tackling the menace with the NBA and the judiciary. One of the challenges facing the services is congestion and it has posed a multi dimensional challenges on the prison, the criminal justice and society at large. The over crowding of prisons can be traced straight to the slow dispensation of criminal justice. I am not indicting the judiciary but the speedy trial of cases will be the solution to the congestion in our prisons; it will help reduce the menace of over crowding. This is because 80 per cent of inmates of our prisons are awaiting trial inmates. You will know that even our courts are congested and that add to the problem in the prisons. The Justice ministry should help by first ensuring that cases taken to the DPP for advice by the police is treated expeditiously for speedy trial . The judiciary must ensure that criminal trials are not delayed, because delayed trials also constitutes a breach of the rights of inmates, because justice delayed, they say is justice denied. So, the police, the justice ministry, the judiciary and the prisons service must workout a plan for easy and effective, but speedy dispensation of criminal justice. To that effect, I would recommend this Cross River state model, where there is a committee known as Criminal Justice Administration Committee. This committee embraces all the agencies in one way or the other connected with criminal justice administration, police, justice ministry, judiciary, NBA, police and even the legislature. They meet regularly and review the administration of criminal justice system and tackle problems arising from time to time. They help reduce the time between police investigation, DPP advice and arraignment. They help in ensuring that cases are not unnecessarily delayed during trial and help in smoothening working relationship between the agencies.
What are other challenges facing the service?
Logistics too is a problem. You know inmates must have access to justice, which is their right, by going to court for their cases. Our prisons are signatories to the United Nations covenants on handling of prisoners, which insists that we must respect their dignity as persons; and respect their humanity. So access to courts is their right, which could be impeded by the lack of transportation to the courts. So we still need more operational vehicles to transport inmates to court for their trial. This is because trials are sometimes also delayed when inmates are not brought to court on time or are not in court all together because of lack of transportation. But all the same we try as much as possible to ensure that inmates are taken to court; as and at when due, to and fro.
What about Welfare?
The federal government ensures that the inmates are being fed and catered for. You can imagine that some free men who are on the streets cannot feed themselves but government is providing three square meals for the inmates. I want to say that the federal government cannot do all these alone. There should be partnership with state governments in the reformation and rehabilitation of inmates. If you look critically, every state that houses inmates knows well that more than 95 per cent are indigenes of that state. But some state governments will shy away from the welfare of these inmates and expect the federal government to carry the load alone. There should be that partnership.
What was your experience on this in Akwa Ibom state?
Akwa Ibom is the best state when it comes to the prison service and state government attitude to the welfare of prisoners. Do you know that Ikot Ekpene prison is the best prison in Nigeria? It is an ultra modern prison built by the state government. They have come in so many forms to assist the prison, medically, logistics and other areas. It was in my own regime that the governor of Akwa Ibom state, Mr. Udom Emmanuel made a move to relocate Uyo prison to a more befitting and permanent site because where Uyo prison is located is being ravaged by erosion. So you can see the humanistic instinct of the governor and the love he has for the inmates. Already an MOU has been signed between the state and the federal government to move Uyo prison out of the present location. As I am retiring to private life, I will be glad the day it will be commissioned, because it started during my time here. I want every other state in Nigeria to emulate Akwa Ibom state. Akwa Ibom state, I want to state here, is prison friendly. Senator Godwill Akpabio started on a very good footing. His successor came on board and kept the flag flying. I must thank both governors for all they did to make Prisons in the state discharge their duties to the prison inmates and the society.
How do you feel about retirement?
You know you must retire when you have served for 35 years or when you get to the mandatory age, whichever way you must retire. I am so grateful to God that when I enlisted I was wondering when it will come to an end. It was like the end will never come. But here I am happy that by the special grace of God, I am bowing out hail and hearty and in good health. I am grateful to God Almighty. God has not allowed the job to see my end, rather He has allowed me to see the end of the job.
What would you advice someone seeking a career in the prison service?
I will tell the person to first be humane. You must have the passion for the service because we dont make money. It is not a place for one to rush to make quick money. You must have the love to serve humanity. That should be the first consideration. You must not be fixated on materialism. When you have that state of the mind, then the passion for the job will come. And when you are doing it, do it happily, wholeheartedly. You cannot make money from the people you are serving here because they are already where they are. You must be somebody with contentment, humane and compassionate.