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THE PLIGHT OF INDIGENT INMATES IN NIGERIA.

BY: SOLUMTOCHUKWU .P. OZOBULU ESQ

prinsoners

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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Para legals and the Nigeria Justice system

Paralegal services are legal services offered by non lawyers in situations where lawyers are not readily available or pending the availability of trained lawyers. Sometimes and in some jurisdictions, paralegal services are actually offered by staff of law firms who work in partnership with lawyers.

Their services in all cases range from legal advice, drafting of rudimentary legal documents, reporting of human rights abuses to constituted authorities etc. In all cases however, this is a legal field handled by non lawyers and is increasingly gaining popularity across the world.

A lot of Non Governmental Organizations, NGOs, are currently training and providing paralegal services in Nigeria notably WARDC, CIRDDOC, Global Rights and Lawyers Alert. In Nigeria Paralegal services are principally community based, i.e. where residents offer first aid legal services to persons who cannot afford lawyers in rural areas or where lawyers are hard to come by. Beneficiaries of paralegal services, account for about 70% of people that interface with the justice sector in Nigeria in rural areas.

While paralegal work in Nigeria is especially important and necessary given the challenges in the rural areas occasioned by lack of knowledge of basic rights, to meet its objectives, there exists a need to examine how it’s carried out.

Training of Paralegals in Nigeria usually lasts 2-5 days and they are thereafter presumed to be equipped or “Expert” enough to advise on legal matters. Needless to say, this sometimes results in more injustice than justice.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the Government of Nigeria is completely oblivious of the situation and there exists no official framework on the work or existence of paralegals.

Paralegal work however, is gaining a lot of ground in Nigeria and currently there are about 10,000 paralegals, presumably trained by both local and international NGOs, using their own syllabus. 

These over 10,000 “trained” paralegals in Nigeria are out there delivering services to needy citizens. In practice however, while the intention might be noble, in most cases, citizens are ill- advised, thereby further complicating issues and denying justice. These needy citizens are mostly women, the poor and disadvantaged, persons living with HIV and AIDS, and other vulnerable groups.

This has led to a loss of confidence in the justice system in the country, poverty, and in some instances violence, as citizens’ resort to extra- judicial measures when they get frustrated by the system even where “experts” are involved.

Stakeholders in the Nigeria Justice System, Government inclusive, have the responsibility, not only to protect and promote human rights but to provide and enhance access to justice thereby ensuring the provision of an enabling environment for citizens in the pursuit of it.

Grassroots and community-based paralegal services are critical to widening access to justice, given this is where most Nigerians live, yet this ought to be provided in a manner where citizens rights to justice is protected.

Stakeholders in this sector should facilitate the creation of framework, standardization, regulation and coordination for paralegal services in Nigeria. Current service providers including the Nigerian Bar Association, the Council of Legal Education, National Human Rights Commission, amongst other stakeholders must be involved in meeting the desired objectives. 

Stakeholders will need to carry out preliminary studies (Assessment) of the extent of paralegal work in Nigeria, the organizations involved, types of services offered, syllabus and course contents, the beneficiaries of these services, challenges, etc. This will bring about an informed position to effectively, and in an informed manner, address the issues raised.

The Assessments should involve the representatives of all interest groups in the sector, based on specific terms of reference, must be country wide towards extensive and intensive engagement and consultations

The ensuing report should exhibit in detail, all the issues, concerns, and parties involved in paralegal work in Nigeria and the institutional and practical challenges involved.

Thereafter a National Consultative Forum should be held to discuss and consider the committee’s report. This forum will intensively discuss the report and collectively fashion a way to enhance paralegal work in Nigeria towards qualitative service delivery.

At the end  it is expected that Nigeria would have joined the League of Nations where paralegal services enhance, deepen, and expand access to justice and respect for Human Rights.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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