Seyi OduyelaTuesday, September 23, 2003
[email protected]
Hyattsville, MD, USA



Conditions prevalent in the Nigeria prisons in the present democratic dispensation are far from the recommendation of the Standard Minimum Rules of the United Nation than under previous governments. This is inspite of the fact that the President and some of his Ministers once spent some time in the same prisons. The consequences are avoidable death and disabilities.

ne of the cardinal objectives of the prison system is to wear prisoners away from crime and other anti-social activities and give them directions that will enable them lead normal lives again. The idea is to employ the period of incarceration to impact on the offenders the need to be law-abiding.

Prisons are conceived as corrective institutions. They already are or are fast becoming so in many part of the world. They are usually structured to identify the peculiar problems of each inmate and device means of guiding the individual out of the problem.

Investigation however, reveals that rather than being reformatory and rehabilitative, Nigeria's penal system is punitive, degrading and dehumanising; and leaves the prisoners with the least opportunity of re-entry into the society. Investigation further reveals that those who are lucky to come out alive find it exceedingly difficult to re-adjust to normal lives and eventually end up in crime. Prison sources disclose that prison life has become somewhat cyclic for several ex-prisoners, the number of recidivists - those who commit crimes repeatedly and have refused to stop even after being punished - is on the increase, with some being convicted as many as six or more times.

According to the latest edition of the Annual Abstract on statistics, in 1990, no fewer than 482 of the 13,036 offenders were found to have been convicted six times or more, 758 were found to have been convicted five times, 1,017, four times, 646 (641 men and five women), three times; 1,252 (1,2377 men and 15 women), twice, 2,598 (2,572 men and 26 women); once while 10,417 were fist offenders.

The greatest problem facing Nigerian Prisons today is population explosion and this is central to various other problems of the nation's penal institution.

At present, Nigeria has 148 prisons and about 83 satellite prisons, 10 prison farms and nine cottage industries for the training of inmates. The actual capacity of the Nigerian prisons is about 33,348 but the prison currently holds 47,000 inmates. In May 1999, the prison population was 40,899. Of this number 21,579 (52.8%) were awaiting trial prisoners. In a more recent statistics of the Nigerian Prison Service, (November 2000) the inmate population was put at 47,000 with awaiting trials constituting 24,953 (59%) of this figure.

According to Nigeria Prison sources, the prison population has shown that congestion is mainly evident in some identified prisons. The analysis shows that only about 30 of the nation's 231 regular and satellite prisons accounts for 50% of the country's total prison population. Of the total inmate of 22,609 in these 30 prisons, 16,461 are awaiting trial prisoners.

More disturbing than the mere head count of inmates is the rate of growth relative to prison capacity. The most crowded is the Awka prison in Anambra State. 452 prisoners occupy the prison, which has capacity for 98 inmates, but as at last year, this represents 361 per cent more than its capacity. Ogwashi-Uku prison in Delta State against its 51 capacity has 227 inmates, representing 345 per cent increase above capacity. Onitsha prison in Anambra State has 1,290 inmates in a 326 capacity prison, about 295 per cent above its designed capacity. Funtua prison in Katsina State has a population 176 against is 51 capacity representing 245 per cent above capacity. Kirikiri Medium Security Prison in Lagos with a capacity of 704, has 2,200 inmates about 212 per cent above capacity has 240 inmates (178 per cent above). Minna Prison in Niger State has 235 inmates in a prison designed for 87 prisoners (170 per cent above). Lapai Prison also in Niger State has 161 inmates against 60 capacities, Ilorin Prison in Kwara State with 121 capacities has 179 inmates, and Owerri Prison in Imo State has 1,004 in a space meant for 548 inmates.

On the whole, Anambra an incredible 310 percent increase above capacity. The five prisons in Lagos State have an aggregate capacity of 2,665, but 5,534 inmates are crammed in them, that is about 107 per cent above capacity. Of this number, Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison has 1,782 inmates for a capacity of 1,056, the Medium Security Kirikiri Prison with a capacity of 704 has 2,200 inmates; Ikoyi Prison has 1,460 inmates against its 800 capacity. Of this, male prisoners account for 5,442 (98.33 per cent), while female inmates are a paltry 92 (1.66 per cent). Kwara State's two prisons have an inmate capacity of 154 but 314 prisoners are crammed in them (103 per cent above capacity). Katsina State has 1,075 prisoners in its four prisons meant for 618 inmates. Delta State's five prisons with a capacity of 921 prisoners accommodate 1,593 minutes. The four prisons in Rivers State have an inmate population of 2,131 against 1,312 capacities.

In Niger State, a total of 975 inmates are crammed in the states seven prisons meant for only 618 prisoners. Edo States six prisons with inmate capacity of 1,310 accommodate 1,811. Enugu State's four prisons with 1,024 capacity here 1,305 inmates.

Investigation reveals that remand population constitutes a greater segment of the prison population. Remand prisoners, according to prison sources, are those awaiting trials; those who have been tried awaiting sentence and those convicted awaiting execution. About 80 per cent of the entire prison population are awaiting trial prisoners.

It was reliably gathered that of the 2,131 inmates in Rivers States prisons, 1,327 are awaiting trial. In Sokoto State 420 of the 873 inmates fall into this category. 397 of Ogun State prisons' 684 inmates are awaiting trial. 761 of the 1,301 prisoners in Akwa Ibom; 716 of Borno State's 1,618 prisoners' and 803 of Enugu State's prison population of 1,306 belong to the awaiting trial category.

Research shows that the awaiting trial population is the major problem of Nigerian prisons, the group out numbers the convicted prisoners and swells the prison population out of proportion. Investigation further reveals that a good number of them have been waiting to be taken to court for upwards of 16 years, some for civil offences that carry minor sentences. Majority of them have actually over-stayed the sentence which would have been passed on them had they been tried and convicted.

It was gathered that several factors are responsible for the preponderance of this category of prisoners in Nigeria's penal institutions and the swelling of the entire population. Prominent among these are rising crime rate and the confused criminal justice, which manifests in unlawful, incessant and arbitrary arrests by various security agencies, over-use of prison sentences, stringent conditions of bail, delay in administration of justice occasioned by acute, shortage of courts and hands to take on the cases, incessant adjournment, length of time needed to investigate cases such as murder, armed robbery, obtaining by trickery and cases requiring laboratory tests. Others are lack of co-ordination and communication among the police, prison authorities and the judiciary inadequate transport facilities to convey the remand population to court, corruption and avarice of police officers who demand money for bail and to take this category or prisoners to court.

Findings revealed that there is hardly any record of those detained and more often than not, detainees languish in prison custody without the opportunity of trial as many of them have little or no access to a legal assistance. According to the provision of section 31 (I) c of the 1999 constitution, a person must be taken to court within 24 hours from the date of arrest, where there is a court of competent jurisdiction within the radius of 40 kilometres or within two days or such period considered by the court to be reasonable. This law is however observed more in the breach. Another category of prisoners who also swell the prison population are those sentenced to death, but who, for some reasons, have not been executed. This category of people accounts for five per cent of the Prison population. There are people who have been on the death row since 1976.

Those in this category are mainly whose death warrant the state governor have not signed and those who are unable to file appeal of their cases. Congestion of prisons has their consequences on the inmates, the prison system and the society. Over population puts a lot of strain on maintenance cost, stretches the work force and various other facilities provided in the prison. The few facilities available become grossly inadequate for inmate population. We gathered that life in the prison has become degrading, brutal and dehumanising. In fact it is harsh and life threatening. The prison institution leaves the inmates with the poorest preparation for re-entry into the society. The trail and emaciated looks of ex-prisoners, and the various adjectives used by them to describe Nigerian prison conditions lend credence to this. The hardest hit of facilities by over crowding is usually cell blocks to accommodate the prisoners. The population explosion in Nigerian prisons has led to a situation where 14 to 15 people are crammed in cells with a dimension of 4 feet by 6 feet, originally planned to take one person, while 150 prisoners are housed in larger structures meant to hold 25 to 30 persons. The cells are not only small, but also poorly ventilated and their sized fall below the 54 square feet prescribed by the United Nations.

Closely associated with cell congestion is the absence of beds and bedding for prisoners. Due to the congestion, beds and bedding were the first to go to create space for the teeming population. It is reliably gathered that today, very few prisons have beds and where they exist, they are grossly inadequate for the population. But, while most inmates have to stand or sit all day, some privileged inmates enjoy the luxury of bed and bedding. Apart from keeping too many people in close proximity, the poor condition of the prisons increase health risk. Most detainees take ill easily and because those who take ill almost always never receive treatment, diseases spread fast. Prisoners, according to our investigations, are prone to such contagious diseases as cholera, scabies, tuberculosis, dysentery etc. The Awaiting Trial Detainees are the worst hit. This is because according to prison sources, provisions are not made for them since they are just in prison custody pending the determination of their case. Far more worrying for Nigerians interested in prisoners' health, is the new and serious dimension brought on by the HIV/AIDS scourge. Numerous factors explain the vulnerability of the prison population to HIV in fraction. Those are high-risk sexual practices, sexual abuse, rape, homosexuality, injecting drugs, sharing unsterilised needles and syringes, sharing razor blades, overcrowding and cramped conditions, and poor health facilities. There also, is the obvious reluctance on the part of the government and its agencies to comprehensively address issues of HIV/AIDS among inmates. As at 1997, the Federal Ministry of Health was yet to fully comprehend several aspects of the disease ethnical and social implications. That the Nigerian government failed to recognise or address the issue of HIV/AIDS in the prisons does not mean that they do not exist. In spite of the 1996 guideline issued by the United Nations Commission for Human Rights and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS to address the issue of AIDS in Prisons as well as the treatment of prisoners with the virus, nothing has been done to address the rising incidences and cost of HIV/AIDS in Nigerian prisons.

The lack of comprehensive policy on HIV/AIDS in prisons portends great danger to the health and human rights of the prisoners. The prison environment as presently constituted is a veritable avenue for the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus among prisoners, analysts said. Our investigation shows that the dreaded disease is more prevalent at the Medium Prison, Kirikiri, Lagos. There, it is gathered that out of the 2,376 prisoners 13 have tested positive to the killer disease, while scores are battling with some other terminal diseases like tuberculosis. To lay credence to the prevalence of the scourge, early this year an inmate of the Kirikiri female prison was said to have tested positive.

According to prison sources the men of the Federal Anti-Robbery Squad, Adeniji Adele Police Station Annex, arrested Toyin Sanni in December 2000 for armed robbery. After her arraignment before a Magistrate court in Lagos, she was remanded in the female prison at Kirikiri. While some sources claim that she became pregnant while on remand, another source claim she was already pregnant before her arrest. She later delivered a baby boy.

It was gathered that Toyin's son later took ill. Prison officials invited Federal Ministry of Health experts. The result of the test carried out on the boy was alarming. The little boy tested positive to HIV. This prompted the prison authorities to carry out a test on Toyin. She also tested positive (this way back in 2001). Investigation reveals that due to the inadequate medical attention and facilities hardly does a week pass without one casualty or another in most of the large prisons. Kirikiri and Enugu prisons have recorded gathering statistics. A study shows that an average of seven deaths is recorded Kirikiri prison weekly. This translates to an annual average of over 300 deaths from this prison alone. In 1997, over 50 prisoners of Kirikiri prison died within three months. Their deaths were traced to contagious diseases in the overcrowded cell. Within seven months in 1996, 41 prisoners died of various diseases in eight prisons.

These include awaiting detainees who the law presumes to be innocent until pronounced guilty by a competent court. Where they die in custody awaiting trial, nobody is held responsible for their deaths. Many prisoners have reported loss of their sight as a consequence of their imprisonment. In 1986, Chief Gani Fawehinmi a political detainee almost lost his sight at Gashua prisons. Chris Anyanwu, (publisher of TSM Magazine) a political prisoner was in Kaduna prison. A makeshift cell constructed with zinc without adequate ventilation was where she spent much of her prison term. By the time she came out of the death of her gaoler, General Sanni Abacha, she was almost blind. While Gani Fawehinmi and Chris Anyawu were lucky with their sight, Bashir Umaru an unknown prisoner was not, he went to jail with his sight but came out a blind man, because he was ignored when he complained he was losing his sight until he finally lost the use of his eyes.

Prisons officials complain of lack of potable water, inadequate sewage facilities, which they believe is having devastating effect on the health of the prison inmates. A study carried out by the Civil Liberties Organisation in 1997 finds out that most inmates in 10 prisons have to go semi naked because of the inadequate supply of prison uniforms, while waiting trial prisoners have no replacement for their torn clothes. Another study carried out in 1998 found that most prisons visited lacked beds.

The significant difference between male and female offending rates often lead people to forget that there are women behind bars. In Nigeria the incarceration conditions of female prisoners falls far below the standard set by both national and international instruments. Investigations revealed that though women are minorities at the wrong end of the criminal justice and penal system (for instance, our of the 40, 899 prisoners as at May 31. 1999, 602 are women), most suffer sexual harassment, inadequate antenatal/post natal care for the pregnant ones and lack of adequate sanitary. Some of them serve as house help in homes of prison staff. As it is the general characteristic of the Nigerian prisons, the overwhelming number of awaiting trial inmates among female prisoners is something that has been taken for granted. The fact that a large number of the female prisoners are illiterates further compounds their problems. Investigation reveals that there is only one exclusively female prison to the country located in Lagos and over 100 mixed prisons in Nigeria.

In the list of mentally ill prisoners submitted to the presidency by the National Committee on Prison Decongestion, 100 mentally ill prisoners were identified. In the prisons, the mentally ill prisoners are referred to as "lunatics." According to the available records from the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS), as at May 1999, there are a total of 29 mentally ill prisoners in Nigeria. In the statistics, Borno State has the highest with 14, Rivers second with 8. Ogun and Benue States have 3 each while Akwa-Ibom has just 1. Sources disclosed that the few that have, they are ill equipped to treat the most common ailment, which is malaria and rashes.

This situation has caused inmates untold hardship when seeking medical attention as they are mostly left to vend for themselves or be left to fate. The mentally ill prisoners are left in the midst of normal inmates because the appropriate government hospitals have refused to take them.

The vulnerable prisoners are also not left out of the horrors of Nigerian prisons. Facilities available are not adequate for the young offenders. The Nigerian Prison Service has only two borstal facility in Kaduna and Abeokuta. The third one located in Ilorin is yet to be put into use. The Ikoyi Prison has a wing for young offenders. Investigation reveals that most states do not have any approved schools or remands homes for young offenders. The total number of the vulnerable group has been fluctuating thereby making accurate quotation difficult but from available records, juveniles, women, mentally ill in Nigerian prisons constitute just about 4.5% of the total prison population. There is no comprehensive and up-to-date data on juvenile prisoners.

According to prison sources, there are instances where false and exaggerated ages have been stated in defendants remand warrants to facilitate their being accepted in custody by the prison authority. In this way, there are many juveniles who are not captured in prison statistics as juveniles because such compilations are based on warrants submitted by the police.

According to the 1996 abstract of statistics of the Federal office of Statistics, the number of juveniles in Nigeria prisons as at 1993 was 709 for those under 16 years of age while those within the age of 16 and 20 are 6,496. Going by the statistics, it is safe to say that the total number of juveniles will be half of those in the age grade 16-20 and all those in the under 16 categories. In this way for the 1993 statistics we have a number in the region of 3,957 juveniles. Unfortunately, these juveniles are kept in the three borstal institutions. The first Borstal Institution in Nigeria, according to prison sources was a reformatory school opened in Enugu in 1932, when LT. V.I. Mabb was appointed as Director of Prison for the South. A lot of what now constitute contemporary practices and structures in the prison system were put in place in the ten years between 1945 and 1955 when R.E. Dolan was Director of prisons for the whole country. And since then, no significant reform or major structural changes have taken place.

The Borstal in Ogun State, presently, has capacity for 100 juveniles, the one at Kaduna with a capacity for 120 juveniles accommodate 198 juveniles. Because of the inadequacy of the right kind of prison accommodation for juveniles, they are being kept together with adult prisoners. Investigations reveal that there are no differences in the condition of male children held in male prisons and the male adult prisoners. This, prison sources, said has serious adverse effects on their health and psychological development. It also raises the question of their survival in the brutal and beastly conditions obtaining in those places.

According to a prison source, the violent reception most new inmates receive, congestion rates of a hundred percent or more, the insufficiency of sleeping time arising from congestion induced shift-sleep arrangement, the poor quality and inadequate quantity of prison food, the appallingly poor state of sanitation, and unwholesome influence and physical and sexual abuse inflicted by adult inmates endangered the physical survival of male children inmates. The convention on the rights of the child ratified by the United Nations General Assembly in its Resolution 44/25 of 20 November, 1989 ensures that juveniles receive treatment in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child's sense of dignity and worth, which reinforces the child's respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others and which takes into account the child's age of the desirability of promoting the child's reintegration on the child's assuming a constructive role in society.

Surprisingly, the approval given by the government for the construction of a borstal facility for younger offenders in each of the six geo-political zones has not been implemented.

This committee recommended that the mentally ill prisoners be transferred to the nearest mental health/psychiatric facilities. President Obasanjo reportedly gave approval in October 1999 surprisingly the directive was not executed. There are usually problems with transfer of prisoners to state and Federal Hospitals due to lack of available funds for settlement of hospital bills. The prisons argue that they don't have fund to pay the bills and the hospitals argue that they cannot afford to waive the medical expenses. It is surprising that the government is showing less commitment to the problem of Nigerian Prisons, Ironically, most of those who have for one thing or the other passed through various prisons in Nigeria but now found themselves in position of authority to effect a change in the prison system have not done anything. Former Minister of Internal Affairs, Chief Sunday Afolabi once spent some time in prison custody during the Buhari/Idiagbon military regime, Chief Bola Ige, Minister of Justice, was in prison between 1984 and 1985 and was also detained in Makurdi Prison in 1998 before the expiration of Gen. Sanni Abacha. President Olusegun Obasanjo was until his release in 1998 serving jail term in Yola Prison. He was in prison for a period of three years. Incidentally these three persons mentioned are occupying position crucial to Nigerian prisons. Sunday Afolabi was enjoying himself attending the Sydney Olympic in Australia. Until his demise the Cicero of Esa Oke could not solve the problem of delay prosecution as the Justice Minister and Attorney General of the Federation. In fact, sources say that the Nigerian Prison faced its most terrible period under Sunday Afolabi as the Minister.

He undertook an inspection of all the prisons in Nigeria in 1999 to assess the state of Nigerian prisons but nothing came out of the tour. It did not reduce the number of awaiting trial prisoners and it did not decongest the prisons. The presence of Chief Bola Ige in the Justice Ministry could not reactivate the criminal Administration Commission. It did not also increase the speed of justice, which is said to be largely responsible for prison overcrowding. Our investigation reveals that after the death of Gen. Sani Abacha, Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar decongested the prisons. A committee, Presidential Committee on Prison Decongestion, recommended about 8,000 prisoners for release. As at January 1999 the total population of prisoners was put at 44,868, by May 1999 it has reduced to 40,899. This figure showed the release of 4,000 prisoners as against 8,000 recommended for release. In September 1999, President Obasanjo's government released additional 1,403 prisoners, but by the end of October 1999, the total number of prisoners rose again to 47,000, this did not show the massive release said to be carried out. The statistics given showed that prison population rather than reduce, is always on the increase. According to Chiemeke Onyeisi, of the Civil Liberties Organisation, in an interview he granted a Nigerian Newspaper in 2001, the issue of over crowding in the prisons goes beyond the congestion, "why do people end up in prison?" he queried, "It is because some government agencies are not doing their duties," he answered. According to Uju Agomoh, Executive Director, Prisoners Rehabilitation And Welfare Action (PRAWA), in an interview with a Nigerian Newspaper said: "if the police are functioning effectively, then we might have less cases to prosecute since they would have nipped most of the crime in the bid," "where they do prosecute, it is expected that they complete their investigation on time using modern apparatus," she added. An official of the Office of Public Defender (OPD) of the Ministry of Justice, in one of the South Western states, once said that Police, Directorate of Public prosecution (DPP) and courts are responsible for prison overcrowding. But an official of the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) said that lack of funds and office equipment delay judicial proceedings. "We need money, the problem is about funding, "she said. "At present, the directorate is short of fund, we need a lot of stationery, papers to prepare statements and legal advice," she added. According to her, the Directorate needs infrastructure, computer systems, functional photocopies, file jackets and so on. But if this is true, why did the Lagos State DPP refuse to heed to the advice of the Assistant commissioner of Police (ACP) Bello on Toyin's case in 2001? According to sources, the ACP wrote advising the DPP to expedite action on her case "as her present condition has a psychological effect on co-inmates taking case of her and the little boy who is also infected."

A legal practitioner argued that the whole judicial system is uncoordinated, "the administration of justice in Nigeria does not take cognizance of human dignity as it denied its citizenry their rights," he said. He said further that, the police arrogated to itself unmanageable power, which is now threatening the judiciary. "The administration of justice commences immediately a person is arrested, the alleged offender's statements is taken but what you discover is that in Nigeria, no matter the story, the police takes its stand and in the process they begin to play with people's life." He said that depending on who the offender is, and the allegation, bail is granted after payment. He disclosed that on arraignment when bail is granted the police usually retrieve the case file from the prosecutor on claims of further investigation leading to delay in judicial process.

Mr. Abdul Oroh, now Honourable member of the House of Representatives, once said in a Nigerian Newspaper that though President Obasanjo has introduced measures to decongest the prison, it has not gone far enough as the system is incapable of reforming any prisoner. According to him the system is not capable of reforming prisoners because of congestion and inadequate recreational facilities coupled with the presence of many diseases in the prisons, which include HIV/AIDS, with the death toll conservatively put at 25 inmates in some prisons weekly. "For you to know the damage Nigeria prison can do to human beings, look at Obasanjo's picture before he went to the prison, when he came out and now "he said, "He was like a walking skeleton," Oroh added. Oroh said further that President Obasanjo was just fortunate that God preserved his life, "others like him did not make it," he said. He cited Chief Bisi Onabanjo, Alhaji Busari Adelakun, Alhaji Barkin Zuwo, and Ambrose Ali as examples of those who did not survive prison horror. While Alhaji Barkin Zuwo, former Governor of Kano State, Chief Bisi Onabanjo, former governor of Ogun State and Professor Ambrose Ali, former governor of Bendel State died shortly after their release from prison, Alhaji Busari Adelakun, a former commissioner in Oyo State during the second Republic did not walk out of prison alive, He died in prison. Lt.-Col. Olu Akiyode, Major-Gen. Musa Yar'Adua died in prison. There is no government after care facilities for ex-prisoners. Though there are few instances of assistance being given to prisoners on discharge such hinted assistance including prisons of clothes, money for transportation tools for self-employment.

Findings show that poor co-ordination between the police, judiciary, Directorate Public Prosecution and the prisons is the major factor responsible for the poor condition of prison. According to a prison official, "we lack adequate collation of data on vital issue and regular updating such data, we also lack efficient allocation and funds disbursement." We reliably gathered too that statistics is not used in the planning, allocation of resources, evaluation and assessment of prisons operations. No prison in Nigeria, in the 21st Century is computerised. Another problem of the Nigeria Prison Service, (NPS), a source disclose is the lack of control on use of funds allocated to the service, injudicious use of available funds, and administrative strangulation of the NPS.

According to the 1998 Annual Report of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Directorates of Training, Administrative and Personnel Management were inadequately funded which culminated into inadequacy of office accommodation, necessary equipment and working materials for effective operation. The works and logistics directorate was not left out of this fund starvation. This made it difficult for NPS to refurbish broken down vehicles and to procure new ones. A senior prison official disclosed that the role of public education is important. He said that there should be adequate public awareness and sensitization on prison and penal reform issues.

Above all the total overhauling of Nigerian Prison system and the reform of the Nigerian penal system will give democracy a meaning in the sight of the poor and vulnerable. I think what we need from our leaders is responsible leadership, a leadership that is objective, purposeful and has direction. To enjoy the confidence of the electorate, they need to put in place a true democratic structure, which is meaningful.