Inmates: Abandoned By Courts, Abused By Government

Prisons facilities are generally meant for convicted persons, but the opposite is the case in Nigeria as the population of ‘illegal residents’ popularly known as Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs) surpasses that of the convicts.

Suspects awaiting trial in the nation’s prison facilities (maximum and medium), have severally protested undue delay in their trial, years after being arrested and detained at the jail.

Over 50 per cent of such inmates cooling their feet in prisons facilities nationwide, claimed that they had been in detention for a period of one year and above without trial by a court of competent jurisdiction.

Sadly, though the country’s prisons have diverse skill acquisition centres for inmates, ATPs do not benefit from such programmes as they are not regarded as ‘legal residents’ of prisons. They are thus left to plainly twiddle their thumbs because the Prisons system has not been ‘authorised’ to reform them. They are thereby abandoned by Courts and ill-treated by the Prisons Service which on behalf of federal government, perceive them as a burden.

This scenario captures the plight of awaiting trial inmates in Nigerian prisons. According to a survey carried out two years ago, the 235 prisons in the country have a total population of 54,156 consisting of 38,352 awaiting trial persons,   15,593 convicted males and 211 convicted females.

While a large section of the country have blamed the Prisons Service for failing woefully in addressing the issue of ATPs, NPS has on the other hand expressed worry over the huge population of these ‘illegal occupants” and latent danger to the society, in their custody, which they say, constitutes a burden on their finances as well as the effective operation of the penitentiaries.

Amnesty International, had in its 2008 report, condemned the appalling state of Nigeria’s prison system, while pointing out that Nigeria’s prisons are filled with people whose human rights are being systematically violated.

According to the organisation, criminal justice system in Nigeria, which they described as a “conveyor belt of injustice, from beginning to end,” is utterly failing the people.

The organisation had in a 50-page report, exposed that about 65 per cent of Nigeria’s inmates have never been convicted of any crime, with some awaiting trial for up to 10 years; how justice system – especially its prisons – are so blatant and egregious that the Nigerian government has had no choice but to recognise them – and has pledged many times that it will reform the system.

This is even as Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, recently called on the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), to investigate the illegal killing of convicts and awaiting trial inmates in Nigeria through the failure of government to provide them with proper medical facilities in prisons.

Falana has in a statement, argued that the Nigerian state has failed to provide adequate medical facilities in the prison to cater for the treatment of awaiting trial inmates and other prisoners, especially those with terminal illnesses.

Citing the case of Nigerien convict, Hamani Tidjani, who died of stroke at the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison in Lagos in January, and other prisoners who suffered similar fates after being denied proper medical attention, Falana said the Nigerian government has failed in enforcing prisoners’ right to life.

Tidjani was arrested in Cotonou, Benin Republic is 2003 and sentenced to 10 years in prison by an Ijebu-Ode High Court for receiving stolen goods. He was however not released from custody after serving his jail term because he was standing for similar offences in a Lagos High Court.

The Human Right activists revealed that ,“In the last one year or thereabout four other convicted prisoners of Nigerian nationality namely Messrs Ganiyu Adeniyi, Danda Akanbi, Thomas Odafe and Ariyo Osisanya had died in the same prison on account of medical neglect.’’

He said,“from the information at our disposal the killing of prison inmates through medical neglect is not uncommon in all other prisons in the country. For instance, a Mr Toyese Kehinde who had served a month jail term for his inability to pay a fine of N5,000 for an environmental offence died at the Benin prison on September 20, 2013.

According to Falana, the said Mr Kehinde was illegally detained after the completion of his sentence. He also disclosed that a week later, a 21-year old undergraduate of the University of Benin, Ibrahim Momodu also died in the Benin Prison. Another inmate, James Oglesby had died last year after he was beaten by two other prisoners inside the prison’s recreation yard.

The statement partly read thus, ‘Mr Sunday Akinyemi who was standing trial for conspiracy and stealing of funds belonging to his own company also died in December, 2012. In that case, the Honourable Justice E.A Adebajo (now retired) of the Lagos High Court had refused to allow the applicant who was standing trial before him to travel abroad at his own expense to treat cancer of the colon which was diagnosed by the military hospital, Ikoyi and confirmed by the Lagos University Teaching Hospital while he was undergoing trial before the judge. When the health condition of the defendant became critical our law firm requested the Ikoyi prison management to either treat him or release him for treatment.”

Mr Falana reminded the government that prisoners are entitled to all fundamental human rights guaranteed to all citizens except the right to personal liberty and movement.

He said, “It is indisputable that the State owes it a duty to ensure that the right to life of every prison inmate in its custody is respected.”

Citing Prison Act (CAP P29) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, Falana argued that since the state has failed in providing adequate medical care for inmates, especially those addressed as illegal inmates, those with critical health conditions should be released to their families and friends for proper care.

LEADERSHIP findings revealed that this dilemma, in most cases, is not unconnected with the inability of the Prisons authorities to provide adequate operational vehicles to facilitate the movement of suspects to courts for trial.

Meanwhile, an inmate in Kuje Prisons, who did not disclose his name, said he had spent eight years in Kuje Prison and blamed the slow justice delivery system on the congestion in Nigerian prisons.

Narrating his ordeal, anonymous explained that he had been to court only 27 times within the said period.

The inmate therefore urged the federal government to do everything within their power to fast-track the justice system in the country, adding that “not all inmates in the prison are criminals’.

While trying to justify the ill-treatment meted out to ATPs, a prisons warder who pleaded anonymity told LEADERSHIP at the over 104 years dilapidated Sapele Prisons, when the former minister of Niger Delta Affairs (MNDA), Elder Godsday Orubebe marked his 50thbirthday with inmates at the various prisons in Delta state that, “Awaiting trial inmate could escape if allowed to participate in training programmes and this could jeopardise an officer’s career.

He whoever explained that the number of illegal occupants increases in the facility because most inmates in the prisons are often too poor to afford the services of a lawyer, with only one in seven awaiting trial having access to private legal representation.

The source however acknowledged that the appalling prison conditions, including severe overcrowding, are seriously damaging the mental and physical health of thousands.

His words, ‘the reality is that those in prison stand little chance of their rights being respected. Those without money stand even a lesser chance. Some could end up spending the rest of their lives behind bars in appalling conditions without ever having been convicted of a crime – sometimes simply due to their case files having been lost by the police. An ugly situation has barely improved, four years after.

The Controller General of the Prisons Service, Mr Peter Ezenwa Ekpendu during the official commissioning of the over twenty five (25) years and abandoned 160 capacity Koton Karfe medium security prison in Kogi State, said, the decision by the minister of interior , Comrade Abba Moro to see to the speedy completion of the facility is to relief the already over stretched old prisons.

Ekpendu who feared that the new facility which will also occupy a very prominent place in the Kogi state criminal justice system, largely due to its proximity to Lokoja, which he said lacked correctional facility , appealed to governor Idris Wada to see to the outright expansion of the initial 80 bed design in order to accommodate more Inmates.






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