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Tag Archives: Detention (imprisonment)

THE PLIGHT OF INDIGENT INMATES IN NIGERIA.

BY: SOLUMTOCHUKWU .P. OZOBULU ESQ

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Natasha(not real name) gazing at the blue sky inhales deeply as she steps out of the Makurdi medium security prison where she has been incarcerated for close to ten (10) months awaiting trial. She stood fixed tormented by the thoughts of her experiences in prison custody. Just like flashes of lighting her mind wandered from the beating she got both from fellow inmates and prison warders alike on different occasions, the apology called food, the odour that serves as air freshener to the air tight cell rooms that made her feel choked most times. She did not forget the moments without sanitary pads and underwear or the moments when she had to alternate between sleeping on the bedbug plagued mattress and the bare ground. At this point tears dropped like the rain and flowed down her chin as she remembers the few friends she made in custody who are not free from the hunting/inhumane treatments.

There has been an awakening to the quandary of inmates in our Nigerian prisons, the gross terrible condition they live in and the very harsh situation they have found themselves in. Over the years, there has been serious concern about the state of the Nigerian prisons, because of the dilapidated state of the buildings, the quality of health care received by the inmates, abuse of human rights and the congestion of the prisons. The Prison system in Nigeria ought to serve as an institution of correction, reformation and rehabilitation; geared towards disabling its inmates from further criminal pursuit but this is not the case.

There is an ill-conceived believe that prison inmates have no rights within the general population. Their rights may be limited; but they have a degree of human and civil rights that is guaranteed by the Constitution, by international conventions and the UN Declarations. For instance, the UN General Assembly adopted the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners otherwise known as the “Mandela Rule”, on December 14, 1990, which guarantees the basic human rights of prisoners. Therefore, prisoners cannot and should not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment; they are to have full access to due process and equal protection and should not be discriminated against. Inmates are to be protected against discrimination and not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading punishment which borders on abuse of their rights. Furthermore, they are entitled to adequate medical and psychiatric care. And their physical safety must also be assured at all times.

Another primary concern surrounding the Nigeria Prison system is the congestion of the Nigeria prisons which, has been a major concern for almost a decade, among stakeholders in the country. Congestion constitutes a major problem creating a negative effect on the welfare of the inmates in the Nigeria prisons. On further investigation it was discovered, that an average Nigerian prison contains three times more persons than its capacity.  For example, the Makurdi Medium Security Prison has an Original capacity of 240 inmates however, as at March 2019; there were over 975 inmates in detention. Of this number, over 623 are still awaiting trial. Several writers have identified congestion as a major problem facing the Nigeria prisons which has exposed the inmates to improper health conditions, claimed the lives of some inmates and put enormous pressure on the prison infrastructure.

The genesis of this problem can be traced to poor administration of criminal justice in Nigeria and unethical activities of the Nigeria Police which has constantly threatened the physical, mental and social well-being of inmates. Consequently, the Nigeria prison has failed to achieve its major role of rehabilitation and reformation of inmates but rather the scenario has been that of dehumanizing situation and hardening of the inmates.  The congestion of the Nigeria Prisons lays a foundation for a whole bunch of other pressing issues that directly deal with the welfare of prisoners ranging from the quality and quantity of food they are served to the quality of water for drinking and domestic affairs, to mattresses they sleep on, and the list goes on and on.  This cause definitely comes along with its appalling effects which are not limited to but include; poor sanitation, poor medical services and increase in human right abuse. The congestion of the Nigeria prison is gradually leading to an apparent decay not just of the horrifying infrastructures but also of the institution as a whole. We can consequently say that the Nigeria Prison system is a walking corpse gradually edging it is way to an end, if no severe holistic intervention is put in place.

The Panacea to this nemesis of congestion of prisons and abuse of prisoners’ right in Nigeria includes but not limited to:

  • Establishment of more prisons.
  • Upgrading of existing prisons to meet with international standards in order to improve the welfare of prisoners.
  • Capacity building for prison officials in order to carry out their duties within the ambit of human rights.
  • Establishment of committee for monthly supervision of the prisons by the Minister of Interior.
  • Domestication and Effective implementation of Administration of criminal justice Act by states government.
  • Provide tools and access to education and skill acquisition for Inmates.s
 

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Bringing Hope to Prisoners in Nigeria

By Sunday Adaji Esq

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One fact about prisoners is that one after the other, virtually all of them will be out of prison and back into the society, breathing the air of freedom. What is therefore worthy of consideration is the life they live in prison and the life they will be living when they return to the society.

As it were, prisons are built not just to incarcerate and punish criminals but to reform them. “Reform” here implies putting facilities in place which will help to bring out the best in the prisoners and make them responsible citizens, so that instead of becoming hardened criminals; they become law abiding citizens. This way, the society becomes the better for it.

Although prisons are meant to reform prisoners, the ones in Nigeria rarely serve this function. Experience has shown that prisoners return from prisons in Nigeria to become hardened criminals. In this country, available statistics point to the fact that many prisoners who have completed their prison terms go back to the same acts of criminalities that took them to prison in the first place, and may even become worse than ever.

Perhaps, one of the reasons prisoners are hardly reformed is that the government has not put proper structures in place for the desired reformation and rehabilitation. Visits to our prisons will reveal that the conditions in them are deplorable. Apart from the fact that our prisons are congested, there are no adequate social amenities. There is poor ventilation, poor medical facilities and little or no sports facilities. The inadequacy or complete absence of these facilities make life unbearable to prisoners and even defeat the whole essence of the exercise.

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It is important we remind ourselves that prisoners have rights and are entitled to enjoy these rights even while in prison. In the United States and other civilized societies, prisoners enjoy their rights to education, to medical treatment, to conducive accommodation and to good ventilation. In such climes, prisoners come out of prisons to become better citizens, principally because of the quality of facilities in place. In the U.S, it is easy to recall the likes of great motivational blogger, Steve Pavlina and the former world heavy weight boxing champions, Sony Liston and Mike Tyson. These men were jailed at different times for some offences they committed and while in prison developed their talents that eventually made them become better American citizens. If these were Nigerians and kept in Nigerian prisons, they would have ended up as hardened criminals.

 Bettering the Lots of Prisoners in Nigeria

Within every human being is the capacity to be good and to be better. The first step to bringing the best out of prisoners and making them responsible citizens is to put in place frameworks, structures and facilities required for their reformation and rehabilitation. If all a prisoners is required to do is to serve his prison terms, then, we are far from making him a better citizen. The secret to reforming and rehabilitating prisoners is to invest in them. And to do this, we must stop seeing them as criminals who are not fit to live in society; and start seeing them as citizens who need reorientation and reformation. It is when we start doing this that we will be prepared to put in place frameworks and facilities that will enable them become better citizens. It is interesting to note that a Bill on prison reforms is already before the current National Assembly, waiting to be passed into law. When and if passed, the law will go a long way to solving most of the problems bedeviling this institution.

In the meantime, for any reforms to achieve tangible results, adequate attention must be paid to the issues below:

  1. Provision of Adequate Social Amenities in Prisons

Currently, only few prisons in Nigeria can boast of any medical, housing and sports facilities. And even where these are available, they are in a state of comatose. If we are going to bring hope to prisoners, we must be ready to make their welfare and future a priority. Prisoners are human beings and not animals. Even animals have rights and in civilized societies, the rights being respected and enforced. It is instructive that under our Criminal and Penal Codes, it is an offence to maltreat animals, much more human beings. Government should take a cue from international best practices all over the world and do something urgent on the state of our prisons.

  1. Provision of Educational and Training Facilities in Prisons

It is pathetic and embarrassing that only few Nigerian prisons (Lagos, Onitsha and Jos) have educational facilities for prisoners. Education is, perhaps, the greatest investment we can make on the prisoners. If schools are built in prisons and prisoners are trained, their capacity to become better citizens is enhanced and the society at large will be better for it.

Conclusion

The recent report that 35 inmates in Jos prison would be participating in the November/December 2018 WASSCE (West African Senior School Certificate of Education) examinations having been sponsored by the National Industrial Training Fund came as a big relief. More heart gladdening is also the disclosure that the prison in Onitsha has vocational training facilities for prisoners. It is hoped that these developments will be replicated in the other prisons in Nigeria so that inmates can start benefitting immensely from them.

 

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Highlighting the plight of pregnant women and babies in Nigerian prisons

– Angela Uwandu,  ASF France Head of Office
Women and children in the Nigerian prisons across the country are plagued with several concerns. These issues range from minors serving time or awaiting trial alongside adult detainees in the same prison facility, pregnant women serving time in prisons, to the more disturbing reality of nursing mothers incarcerated alongside their babies in the prisons. Most recently in early August 2013, two female detainees who are awaiting trial in Kirikiri prisons for capital offences had their babies in prisons. These inmates are being represented in court by Avocats Sans Frontières France (Lawyers without Borders France).
Yet in another case being handled by Avocats sans Frontières France in Katsina state, a female detainee has been on death row alongside her infant child for two years. It is noteworthy that she was sentenced to death for an offence she was alleged to have committed as a minor. Recall that it is trite in law that the relevant time and age in criminal jurisprudence and trial is the age of the offender at the time of commission of the crime and not the age at the time of conviction. This important principle of law was clearly ignored by the trial judge who convicted and sentenced her to death in violation of several regional and international human rights instruments.The African Union on the rights and welfare of the Nigerian Child stated in a recent report that Nigeria had an estimated number of 6,000 children within its prisons facilities across the country. An allegation that the Nigerian prisons authority vehemently denied stating that such an outrageous figure could not have been based on empirical evidence. In a bid to counter the figure in the AU report, the Nigerian Prisons Service, released official figures of children in Prisons through its public relations office.
The statement asserted that there were 69 babies and 847 juveniles in the Prisons system in Nigeria as at March 31, 2013, making a total of 916 children in Nigerian prisons. It is noteworthy that whatever the real figures are: 916 or 6000, it is an anomaly for children to be incarcerated alongside their mothers in unsanitary conditions given the deplorable and unhygienic conditions of detention facilities in Nigerian prisons. These children are at best denied the chances of having a normal childhood with no provision by the government to ensure that those within school age have access to education.
Although it is generally argued that most infants accompany their mother to the prisons because it is not advisable to separate a sucking child from the mother. The same reasoning is adopted for babies born in prison to female detainees. The fact remains that this special class of inmates: pregnant detainees and nursing mothers in prisons must be given special consideration in the penal system.The Nigerian government must begin to consider alternatives and specific institutional strategies in handling these special classes of inmates who are vulnerable due to their special circumstances. While the practise of allowing female nursing detainees to keep their babies with them for up to 18 months gives room for bonding of mother and child, the infants are arguably exposed to higher medical risks due to the unhygienic and unhealthy prisons environment which compromises the health of adult prisoners let alone babies in Prisons. Nigerian prisons have acquired notoriety for infrastructural decay, overcrowding and the harsh and poor sanitary conditions detainees are forced to live by, conditions which pose a real threat to the life of inmates, majority of who are still awaiting trial.
In an interview granted to the Guardian newspaper in 2012, Dr. Okosun, a psychologist with a doctorate degree from the University of Ibadan while speaking on the negative impacts of having children in prison stressed that “the child’s performance in life’s affairs will be faced with several mental challenges, which will lead to something similar to a split personality with positive and negative sides. If not well managed, a confused thinking emerges and stress levels heighten in him”. Article 30 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child specifically provides that “state parties to the charter shall undertake to provide special treatment to expectant mothers and to mothers of infants and young children who have been accused or found guilty of infringing the penal law and shall in particular: ensure that a non custodial sentence will always be first considered when sentencing such mothers; establish and promote measures alternative to institutional confinement for the treatment of such mothers; establish special alternative institutions for holding such mothers; ensure that a mother shall not be imprisoned with her child; ensure that a death sentence shall not be imposed on such mothers and the essential aim of the penitentiary system will be the reformation, the integration of the mother to the family and social rehabilitation”.There is nothing to show that practical steps have been or are being taken in full adherence of this legal provision.
With this trend of babies in the Nigerian prisons on the rise, Avocats Sans Frontières France calls on the relevant authorities to put measures in place to facilitate release of awaiting trial detainees with infants in prison especially where they are charged with minor offences. The government must also consider alternative to incarceration for pregnant women or detainees as well as nursing mothers. In more serious cases, it behoves on the government to create specific and special facilities for these children and their mothers so as not to expose them to circumstances that could compromise their health by reason of their surroundings and nutrition. Prison staff and personnel must be specially equipped with relevant training and skills in handling and attending to these special classes of detainees in prisons.

For further enquiries please contact:

Angela Uwandu  – (+234) 0806 663 40 44

 

 

 

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