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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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El-zakzaky, Human Rights and the Imbroglio Surrounding his Detention.

By Sunday Adaji Esq.

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Sometime ago, President Muhammadu Buhari declared that national security should supercede the rule of law, a statement that attracted lambasting from some quarters. Perhaps, President Buhari’s statement is being played out in El-zakzaky’s case.

It would be recalled that in December 2014, Sheikh Ibrahim Yaqoub El-Zakzaky was arrested alongside his wife and others over his group’s clash with some members of the Nigerian Army.  And on May 15, 2015, the outspoken and foremost Shi’a Muslim cleric in Nigeria, who doubles as the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria – IMN – (a group he formed when he was in the school), was first arraigned before the Kaduna State High Court. The court did not grant him bail, but the Federal High Court, Abuja, did, declaring his continuous detention as unlawful and unconstitutional. Despite being granted bail, the DSS (Department of State Security) still continues to detain him. They did not border to appeal against the decision of the Federal High Court which granted bail to El-zakzaky, which is what the DSS should have done instead of blatantly disobeying the court’s order.

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El-zakzaky is being prosecuted on the allegation of Culpable Homicide, Unlawful Assembly, Disruption of the Public Peace and other charges filed against him alongside Zeenat, his wife.

It is said that El-zakzaky is being detained on grounds of national security. Since December 14 2015 till date, El-zakzaky’s devotees have continued to protest against his detention but it appears the Federal Government is adamant and does not see any reason why El-zakzaky and his wife should be released.

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On July 18, 2019, Femi Falana (SAN), lawyer to El-zakzaky brought application before the High Court of Justice, Kaduna, praying the court to grant El-zakzaky permission to travel abroad for medical treatment. In his application, Falana informed the court that El-zakzaky’s condition of health is getting worse by the day, that he lost one of his eyes while in DSS’s custody, that both he and his wife were not given adequate medical care since December 2015 when they were detained and that they needed medical attention. The prosecutor objected to the grant of the application on the grounds that Nigerian doctors have not yet confirmed if El-zakzaky should be treated in Nigeria or abroad. The Presiding Judge, Honourable Justice Darius Khobo, adjourned ruling on the application to July 29, 2019.

Meanwhile, El-zakzaky’s devotees are restive. In the FCT (Federal Capital Territory) recently, his devotees went on rampage, set ablaze two vehicles belonging to NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency) and shot several persons, including a senior police officer and a female Corper with Channels TV.

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Law enforcement agents, including members of the Nigerian Army have positioned themselves at strategic places in the FCT to grapple with the rampaging devotees of the IMN.

Amnesty International has condemned the continuous detention of El-zakzaky and the manner the law enforcement agents are grappling with the situation, and urging Nigerian authorities to adhere to the rule of law and respect the right to peaceful protest when policing these events.

Professor Itse Sagay, Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), whom critics have lambasted that he was always passive in criticising Buhari’s administration, has advised the Federal Government to obey court orders and release El-zakzaky.

Human Rights’ Perspective

The questions that readily come to mind regarding El-zakzaky’s detention and the imbroglio surrounding his detention are: Can an accused person be detained indefinitely without being tried in the court of law? Where a court grants an accused person bail, can the executive (Federal Government) disobey the order of the court? Should national security override the rule of law? Is it right for devotees of IMN to go on rampage in their demand for the release of their leader?

To start with, the constitution is explicit on citizens’ right to liberty, hence no person should be detained beyond 48 hours without being arraigned in court for trial. Where, in the case of El-zakzaky, he is detained for four years, it is a violation of his right to liberty. Where a court grants an accused person bail, the executive (Federal Government) must not and ought not to disobey the order of the court. Perhaps, there may be an Executive Order empowering the Executive to detain a citizen on grounds of national security. If there exists such an order, the order is inconsistent with the provision of Nigeria’s constitution and should be declared null and void. It is not right for devotees of IMN to go on rampage in their demand for the release of their leader. What the Nigeria’s constitution guarantees is the right to peaceful assembly.

Conclusion

In view of the foregoing, Lawyers Alert is of the view that the DSS should not continue to detain El-zakzaky and his wife indefinitely. They should obey the court’s order and release them forthwith. National security should not be the grounds for continuously detaining El-zakzaky. The solution is to release him UNCONDITIONALLY and if need be, he should be placed under surveillance. When this is done, it will go a long way in dousing the tension arising from the agitation of El-zakzaky’s devotees.

 
 

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Suit on Harassment of Women in Abuja, Lawyers Alert wins Round 1

Recall Lawyers Alert had sued the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the Commissioner of Police of the FCT seeking Orders of Court stopping them from the continuous harassment of women at nights in Abuja on suspicion of prostitution.

Lawyers Alert argues that the practice is not only discriminatory against women but also an affront on their right to free movement amongst others. Women get molested and even raped in the course of this. Women cannot move freely while men can.

The Federal Capital Minister and the Commissioner of Police had filed preliminary objection to the suit, questioning the locus standi of Lawyers Alert or ordinary parlance, the interest of Lawyers Alert in the matter.

In a considered ruling today, 19th June 2013, following arguments , the Presiding Judge of the Abuja High Court 26, Justice O. A Adeniyi, ruled for Lawyers Alert, and throwing out the preliminary objection.

He opined that as a Human Rights NGO, Lawyers Alert need not show any interest in any matter of human rights, as they as automatically involved where the issue is the enforcement of such rights.

We will be posting the full Ruling of Court in due course.

Barr Chigozie Onah represented Lawyers Alert while Ivoke Hezekiah from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation represented the Minister and the IGP.

16th July is for substantive Hearing

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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