In the book: “Release, Rehabilitate, Reintegrate (Agenda of a better justice system),” Comrade Martin Omobude’s concern is to show that the traditional approach of punishing individuals who have committed crimes is flawed. The idea of punishing crime by incarcerating and isolating the criminal without much emphasis on rehabilitation or reintegration into society has failed, thus the need for a fresh approach. Therefore, the author has propounded in this book the three Rs model: Release, Rehabilitate, Reintegrate, “a more humane and effective approach to criminal justice” which will provide individuals a second chance and bring about societal harmony. (p10)
Thus, the book, Release, Rehabilitate, Reintegrate (Agenda of a better justice system), published in 2023 by Omobude Legal Aid Network, addresses the very soul of Nigeria’s criminal justice system, the correctional services and the policy makers, pricking them to the need for a change of approach.
In the first chapter of this eight-chapter book, the author traces the history of prisons with particular emphasis on isolation and punishment of individuals who violate the law. But the author insists that this view of the prison is narrow and plays down rehabilitation, therefore contributes to a high rate of recidivism. So, modern perspectives have shifted to recognise the importance of rehabilitation. “The primary objective of prisons should be to reform offenders, helping them reintegrate into society as law-abiding citizens. However, statistics shows that some people come out of prison worse than they were.” (Pp15-16)
This issue of hardening of prisoners is attributed to overcrowding or overpopulation of prisons or correctional centres. This is a grave challenge as limited resources are over stretched to serve an overpopulated facility. The overcrowding makes supervision and rehabilitation impossible, and it therefore leads to risk of violence.
For the author, a modern prison system must focus on providing inmates with education, vocational training, mental health support, and equal opportunities for all individuals (pp16-17) to mitigate recidivism. Successful reform and rehabilitation of the prison system must include the involvement of community-based organisations to implement transition from prison to society programmes, incorporation of restorative justice practices (p18) within the prison system to allow offenders to take responsibility for their actions and make amends.
Omobude’s concern in the second chapter of the book is the role of the government in reforming and decongesting prisons. Since the congestion of correctional centres has created stress for the facilities, prison officials and society at large, the author believes that the government must step in to address this malaise by implementing reform policies. Thus, he opines that “governments should focus on implementing alternative sentencing measures for non-violent offenders, such as engaging in community service, probation, or rehabilitation programmes” (p22) to reduce overcrowding and deploy resources effectively.
Indeed, the author calls on the government to improve the criminal justice system for more efficiency, implement effective rehabilitation programmes to free inmates from underlying issues like mental health problems or substance abuse. The rehabilitation programme should include necessary skills that will make them ease back into society. In fact, added to the alternative sentencing like community service, the author avers (p23) that governments can “establish halfway houses, work-release programmes and electronic monitoring systems” to provide cost-effective, humane prisons.
The book: “Release, Rehabilitate, Reintegrate is not entirely about engaging the prison system in Nigeria.”
The author also brings his years of successful activism and advocacy to play in the third chapter where he counsels fellow citizens on how to avoid going to prison. Of course, this chapter is well in order in the sense that in all societies, there are laws, restricting structures, and attendant consequences for violations of the laws and institutions. So he writes that responsible decision making, understanding of the law, making responsible choices and positive channelling of our energy, and seeking legal guidance can help us to avoid prisons.
In the book’s fourth chapter, the author goes philosophical about the aftermath of prison life for individuals. For many, it is time to look back at the experience and extract the lessons. For some, it is a period of reflection on the opportunities, challenges and lessons. And the author dwells at length on these, especially the challenges of ex-convicts as they yearn for reintegration into the society. These ex-prisoners indeed face huge challenges. They have to contend with stigmatisation, limited employment opportunities, and the like.
In the fifth and sixth chapters of the book, the author discusses the harrowing experience of a certain Amed Olajuwon and Isau Abayomi. The author states that after spending three months in the custody of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Ikeja, Amed was charged to court on criminal offences of robbery, conspiracy and illegal possession of firearms. Afterwards, he was remanded at Kirikiri Medium Prison where he spent eight years and ten months awaiting trial. According to the author, the travails of Amed highlight the bitter tale of injustice and the resilience of the human spirit. So in this work, the author gives the reader a blow-by-blow account of the trajectory of Amed Olajuwon and the role of his Omobude Legal Aid Network in securing freedom for Amed. In a similar vein, the case of Isau is a case of unlawful detention in Agodi Prison Ibadan, and a violation of rights.
In the cases of Amed and Isau, the author is able to show that there is an urgent need for reforms in both the prisons (now known as correctional services) and the judicial system. The author is emphatic in insisting that these reforms have to be speedily done and all relevant stakeholders need to be involved in cleansing the systems.
The author dedicates the seventh chapter of the book to the role of the police force in decongesting prisons and promoting justice. The author laments that rather than maintain law and order in the country, “the Nigeria Police has been characterised by impunity, intimidation, violation of the rights of ordinary citizens and over-monetisation of bail…” (p46). This monetisation of bail, according to the author, makes innocent people suffer unlawful detention if they (or their family) cannot afford the humongous amounts that the police impose on them.
For the avoidance of doubt, the author avers that bail is free, as enshrined in Sections 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as Amended), and queries the rationale behind the exploitative demand for exorbitant sums of money as bail charges.
In the last chapter of this book, the author challenges the judiciary and charges this critical arm of government to review its processes and institute reforms that will help in decongesting the prisons in the country.
In the final analysis, this book is indeed a timely addition to the on-going advocacy by non-governmental organisations for a reform of the prison and judicial processes. It is a strong statement on the call on governments at both national and sub-national levels to embrace community service sentencing and other non-custodial options. These will help free up space at the correctional centres, reduce contact of minor offenders with serious offenders, and help to decongest the correctional centres nationwide. It is a book that promises to trigger far-reaching reforms for the ultimate benefit of society at large.
. Olatunbosun is a broadcast journalist, fact-checker and book reviewer at Splash FM 105.5, Ibadan. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org and on X @miketunbosun.