Any crime committed by an individual, be it misdemeanor or felony, is punishable by law. An incarcerated individual still has his rights although some may be restrained such as the right to freedom of movement, as is the case with imprisoned fellows.
A lawbreaker is not sentenced to imprisonment to die due to congestion, transmittable diseases, poor quality food or any of the plethora of deplorable conditions plaguing all Nigerian prisons.
A greater percentage of prisoners held in Nigerian prisons are not convicts but Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs) while the remaining lesser percentage are those actually convicted for their crimes and serving their jail terms.
Vice President Yemi Osibanjo lamented over the deplorable state of Nigerian prisons and also denounced the savage treatments inmates go through in the various prisons in Nigeria.
Government officials who have taken a walk to any prison in Nigeria always have a thing or two to say about it.
More recently, the Federal Government Committee on Prison Reforms, led by Justice Ishaq Bello, also lamented that not only the overcrowding of prisons but also “the attendant psychological and emotional impacts” also affect inmates too. He effected the release of 13 inmates from Imo State Prisons.
Strictly and truly speaking, the conditions of Nigerian prisons is nothing to write home about. If the Vice president of the federal republic of Nigeria would open his mouth to confess that due to the apologetic conditions of the prisons, that anybody who goes into that place as a human being is coming out as an animal, then you can realize that there is no gainsaying in just how bad it truly is.
In this article, we will discuss the various conditions, practices and illegalities plaguing Nigerian prisons and the criminal-justice system as a whole.
Problems/Conditions of Nigerian Prisons:
This is the major problem or one of the deplorable conditions of Nigerian prisons. Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, who was represented by the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau, at the recent official presentation of Nigerian Prisons Survey Reports, complained that “there is no room for prisoners and anybody who goes into that place as a human being is coming out as an animal”.
In the same vein, Sylvester Uhaa, the Executive Director of Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), a human rights organization, also linked the deplorable physical and emotional states of inmates to this same situation of overpopulation.
According to the cell description of an ex-convict of the Owerri Prison, he said “his cell (1 ward 2 cell) measured 32ft in length and 28ft in width, one bathroom and two toilets with approximately 100 inmates staying there”. You can imagine how congested such a cell would be and also the condition of the one bathroom and two toilets.
The cause of this overpopulation in Nigerian prisons is due to the retention of the wrong people. Data from the surveys done by the Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) and the Nigerian Prisons Service shows that out of 68,110 inmates only 21, 354 were actually convicts while the remaining 46,756 were merely accused individuals awaiting trials.
So, the retention of Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs) in prisons, shoots up the population thus leading to congestion and increased risk of infections.
2. Inadequate Healthcare Services
Although prisons are provided with healthcare facilities and personnel, these available facilities are inadequate in the treatment of very serious health conditions such as lungs, liver or kidney problems. The available ones are those that can ameliorate minor health conditions such as headache, malaria, toothache, cholera, typhoid etc.
Thankfully, there is the availability of retroviral drugs for the HIV positive inmates. Due to the inadequacy of healthcare facilities and services, deaths are often recorded among inmates in prisons.
3. Poor Quality Foods
Foods served to inmates in prisons are very poor in quality, which is the only explanation for the undernourishment and deficiency diseases common among prisoners. They lose more than the amount of weight considered to be healthy.
In the words of an ex-convict of the Owerri Federal Prison, he said “their soup is called Chakpadim, which is as a result of its wateriness”. He went further to describe the sizes of meats and fishes as being that of a tom-tom sweet and their beans as a water lettuce’s leaf floating on water surface.
From this experience of his, you can only imagine what these prisoners pass through every single day.
4. Lack of Toiletries and Household Items
Inmates in Nigerian prisons are only provided with food. Items such as toothpaste, soaps, toothbrush, tissue paper, body creams, sanitary pad, underwear, slippers etc. are self-provided. The inmates are allowed to provide themselves with these items.
The listed items which these inmates are deprived of, are just as essential to life as food is. Failure to brush the teeth and remove stuck food particles leads to halitosis, bacterial growth and subsequent gum and other mouth diseases.
5. Financial Constraints
Majority of inmates remain in jail and await trial due to their inability to afford the service of a lawyer. This is a frustrating factor which can be remedied by proper government intervention via making available, public lawyers which are payable by the governments. Also, organizations can also come to the aid of these people by hiring the service of a lawyer for them.
6. Incidence of Missing Case Files
There are prisoners whose case files have gone missing either accidentally or deliberately. There is no point denying the corruption level of our Nigerian Police Force. Some unscrupulous police officers may deliberately destroy the case file of an individual for a fee.
The outcome of this inhumane act is the permanent awaiting of trial by such a victim unless there is a proper intervention.
Data about inmates should be keyed into and stored in computers rather than written on papers and stored in files.
7. Sexual Immorality/Abuse Among Inmates
The existence of no sexual abuse among prisoners is something that is near to impossible. Although this offence is punishable within the prison, it still exist. There are cases of homosexuality and lesbianism recorded in Nigerian prisons.
Female inmates in some cases face the threat of rape. Some ladies leave the prison with babies while some leave with pregnancy, how such cases come about is what I can’t say.
8. Drug Abuse
Even right inside the prison, some convicts still take hard drugs and smoke Indian hemp. One would wonder, how is it possible for a confined individual to gain access to Indian hemp? It’s not as if it’s an endogenous substance produced within our body nor are they dug out of the grounds around the prison environment. So how come they still have this with them?
The authorities are to blame for the incidence of drug abuse within the prison. This is one of the factor contributing to the prevalence of mental illness among prisoners.
Extortion is a common situation in which inmates find themselves in. Guards and prison officials reportedly extorted inmates or levied fees on them to pay for food, prison maintenance, and release from prison.
This is Nigeria, we all know how things work; the poor gets guilty while the rich is innocent. The innocent gets convicted while the guilty is celebrated, guarded and followed around by police convoys.
Some people end up in prison not because they are guilty but due to the successful conspiracy between the complainant and the judiciary personnel.
This conspiracy usually and more commonly manifest in the form of long term adjournment, some judges would go as far as giving a sine die adjournment to cases which is inappropriate.
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