Challenges facing prison inmates in Nigeria

Posted by Ikenna Samuelson Iwuoha | 18 September 2015 | 19,267 times

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On August 4, 2015, l led my family members on a visit to Owerri Federal Prisons to be with the inmates; show them love and to thank Almighty God for sparing my life and that of my wife from the evil machinations of Governor Rochas Okorocha, ex-Speaker Benjamin Uwajumogu and the irresponsible Imo State Police Command, headed then by C P Albdulmajid Ali, now Ogun State Commissioner of Police. The Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr David O. Folawiyo, was part of the evil plot.

I chose the Owerri Federal Prisons for the thanksgiving ceremony because Almighty God would be more honoured than doing same in my local church here in Owerri. For the records, I am an Anglican Christian. It is no longer news that my wife spent 6½ months (200 days) in prison custody, while I spent 328 days (11 months) over a crime we never committed. It is equally no news that the murder allegation framed against us by the very corrupt, fraud-infested and shameless Okorocha-led government, Uwajumogu and the rubber stamp Imo State Police Command was quashed by Hon Justice Irene Duruoha-Igwe of High Court 4, on April 27, 2015. What is rather news is that there is need to alert the whole world of innocent people in Nigerian prisons, either awaiting trial or serving prison sentences due to the very corrupt system in our judiciary, the Police and government generally.

This brings me to the title of this piece: “Challenges facing prison inmates in Nigera”. I will use the Owerri Federal Prisons to anchor my explanation in this article. This does not in any way mean that I am exposing the activities at the Owerri Federal Prisons, its administrations and style of leadership. No. Rather, I want to draw home my point. The prisons’ authorities treated me and my wife well, therefore, it will be unethical to throw stones at them. I am very much grateful to them. The inmates of Nigerian Prisons pass through several challenges. While many of these challenges are self-inflicted, others are purely as a result of conspiracy of their complainants, the police, the judiciary and, in most cases, poverty. Self-infected because without committing the crime for which some of them were remanded in prison, they would not be suffering what they are presently suffering. Nevertheless, let me list the challenging factors facing prison inmates in Nigeria as follows:

1. Over-population

2. Poor quality of food

3. Lack of adequate health care

4. Inability to hire lawyers due to poverty

5. Over 90 per cent of inmates are awaiting trial; 10 per cent are convicts.

6. Prison authorities only provide food for inmates. They do not provide essential items like bathing soaps, washing soaps, tissue papers, slippers, tooth paste, tooth brushes, body creams, sanitary pads for female inmates, boxers, pants, singlet, etc

7. Lack (inadequate number) of judges in high courts

8. Conspiracy of State Counsels with complainants to ensure that cases are given very long adjournments

9. Conspiracy of judges with compliments to ensure that cases are given long adjournments

10. Disappearance (missing) of case files of inmates; thereby forcing them to spend 10 years or more in prison without appearing in court for one day

11. Children born by female inmates undergo psychological torture

12. Mental illness among inmates

13. Sexual abuses among inmates through the practice of homosexual/lesbian activities

14. Drug abuse through the use of Indian hemp, and so on and so forth.

 Let me treat these factors one by one.

Overpopulation

This is a major factor that makes life very unbearable for prison inmates. At the Owerri Federal Prisons, there are approximately 2,000 inmates, plus or minus 100. Out of this number, only about 10 per cent are convicts serving their various jail terms. The remaining ones are ‘awaiting trial’ inmates. The cells at the prisons are usually over crowded. For example, my cell (1 ward 2 cell) measuring 32 feet in length and 28 feet in width has approximately 100 inmates staying there. Ordinarily, not more than 40 inmates are supposed to be there. The 100 people use only one bathroom and two toilets. This makes it easy for one to contact diseases, especially skin rashes, Apollo (conjunctivitis), chicken pox, small pox, measles, etc. I was lucky, I did not contact any. (It is not a laughing matter).

Poor quality of food  

The quality of food being served the inmates is nothing to write home about. Their soup is called chakpadim. This is because it is too watery. The beans is averagely okay. The rice and gari is something else. The sizes of meat and fish served the inmates are as small as Tom-Tom sweet. Due to the poor quality of food served the inmates in general, they look malnourished. I never ate prisons’ food; neither did I drink their water. My wife and I were on self-feeding throughout our stay. 

Lack of adequate health care

The health facilities in Prisons are not adequate. It can only take care of minor health challenges like headache, typhoid fever, measles, small pox, chicken pox, etc. Also Retroviral drugs for HIV positive inmates are available. Health facilities at the prisons cannot take care of inmates with sight (eyes) problems, tooth aches, kidney problems, liver problems, mentally deranged fellows, pregnant female inmates, and serious cases that require surgery etc. Hence occasionally, deaths occur among the inmates, due to lack of adequate health facilities.

Poverty and inability to hire lawyers

This is a major factor frustrating many inmates and has deprived many of them from securing their freedom. As a result many of them waste up to 10 years in prison (awaiting trials) without going to court.

Over 90 per cent inmates are awaiting trial 

This is a major factor because our criminal justice system is not effective. It is very fraudulent.

Absence of household items

The Nigerian Prisons Service do not provide essential items such as soaps, tooth brush, tooth paste, chewing sticks, tissue papers, sanitary pads, body creams, detergents, inner wears (pants and singlet), slippers etc, for the inmates. They only provide food, as I mentioned earlier. This simply means that inmates are left to fend for themselves on these essential items. While the rich ones manage to provide these items, the poor ones simply end up as shadow of themselves.

Absence of judges in courts

This is a notorious fact. In Imo State, there are about 15 high courts in Owerri Judicial Division, but only three or four high courts are functional with judges. The remaining courts are empty and under lock and key. Yet, thousands of cases were criminally assigned to them, just to ensure that people (inmates) remain permanently in prison. I want to be proved wrong. If I am challenged on this, I will give details.

Conspiracy

There must be a conspiracy between State Counsel and complainants, to ensure that cases are given long adjournments. This factor is self-explanatory, and it is the truth. At least, it is happening in Imo State.

There is equally a conspiracy between judges and complainants to ensure that cases are given long adjournments. This is a notorious fact. In Imo State, it is happening. Such judges are called political and business judges. They are shameless. In extreme cases, the dishonourable judges adjourn cases sine-die to justify the money they collected from complainants (mostly government house officials), thereby keeping innocent people (inmates) permanently in prison. If I am challenged, I will give details.

Missing case files

This is equally a notorious fact. Many innocent inmates at the Owerri Federal Prisons do not know the whereabouts of their case files. Police officers of the Imo State Police Command who are (were) the Investigating Police Officers are reportedly guilty of this debilitating wickedness. I want to be proved wrong.    

Mental illness among inmates

It is a notorious fact that there are inmates who are not organised, disciplined and God-fearing, who engage in Indian hemp smoking.

Children born by female inmates undergo psychological torture

This is an acknowledged fact. Most of these female inmates were impregnated by their Investigating Police Officers who promised to assist them out of the case when they were detained at their respective police stations. Unfortunately, they  merely used them to satisfy their sexual desires. Some female inmates are married and might have been pregnant before being remanded at the prisons. Yet, others might have been impregnated inside prison premises “under special arrangement” to satisfy sexual desires of female inmates. Also, some female inmates might have had their babies shortly before being arrested by the police, taken to court and thereafter remanded in prisons for alleged crimes earlier committed. The resultant effect is that children born by the female inmates suffer from lack of love, home-training, psychological torture, and unaware of the existence of life outside the walls of prisons. Ninety per cent of children born inside prisons grow up to fight the society.

Sexual abuses among inmates 

This is a notorious fact. Homosexuality and lesbianism among inmates are rampant. Having stayed in prison for so long and without the opportunity to have sex with the opposite sex, some inmates resort to the evil practice of homosexuality and lesbianism. However, prisons authorities at the Owerri Federal Prisons have placed adequate measures to check this abnormal method of sexual satisfaction. Any inmate or inmates caught in this satanic act is (are) given punishment. For example, when two people are caught in homosexual act, they are usually flogged, stripped naked and charcoal dust poured on them. After that, they would be made to undergo black wedding and driven in a wheel-barrow  around the prison yard. After that, they would be made to under-go another round of punishment, which I will not like to disclose in this piece. For me, I support even stiffer and harder punishment for any inmate caught in homosexual act.

Drug abuse

This is a notorious fact, and it is self-explanatory.

I have taken time to list the challenges facing prison inmates in Nigeria, using the Owerri Federal Prisons as my ‘anchor point.’ Let me therefore plead with the reading public to join my ‘vehicle’ as I drive down to the ‘solution ground’ that will ameliorate or soften the sufferings and challenges facing prison inmates in Nigeria. They are as follows.

1. There should be special amnesty by Mr President for inmates (both convicts and awaiting trials) who have spent 15 years and above. The only criteria for this special amnesty should be good behaviour, positively changed character and fear of God, attested to by prison authorities. This special amnesty by Mr President should take place twice every year, precisely on (a) Independence anniversary day, October 1, and (b) Democracy Day, May 29.

2. Patriotic citizens of Nigeria and organisations filled with milk of human kindness, sympathy and true love, should play their roles by visiting our prison inmates scattered across the various prison yards in the country with items such as packaged foods, tissue papers, detergents, bar soaps, toilet soaps, sanitary pads, tooth brushes, underwear, slippers, body cream, tooth pastes, etc. For God’s sake, we should realize that prison inmates are one of us.

3. The National Human Rights Commission, non-governmental organisations, ‘self-governmental’ organisations, social crusaders and activists should come together and force state governments with empty high courts, magistrate courts, etc., to fill them with responsible judges. Imo State should be a test case, because 80 per cent of the high courts have no judges, yet thousands of cases were criminally assigned to them just to punish innocent people.

4. Decongestion of prisons through the setting up of special committees across the states to review cases of inmates who are awaiting trials, but who have not gone to court for trials after being remanded for two years in prison should be supported. The committees should have the following personalities as members: i. State Chief Judges ii. Attorneys General and Commissioners for Justice iii. State High Court Registrars iv. Administrative Judges v. A responsible elder statesman vi. A respected Catholic or Anglican or Pentecostal bishop. It must not be politicised by politicians in power.

vii. Adjournment of various cases should not go beyond one week. Through this method, inmates who are innocent of the crimes for which they were remanded in prison would be released, discharged and acquitted, while those who committed crimes are sentenced with various jail terms as quickly as possible.

viii. Special concession should be given to women who gave birth to babies in prisons. They should be granted bail so that they attend their court cases from their various homes.

ix. There should be improved health facilities at the prisons.

x. Good Samaritan lawyers should volunteer to assist awaiting trial inmates who are unable to fund their cases in courts.

Through the outlined strategies, the challenges facing prisons inmates in Nigeria would be ameliorated, and the larger Nigerian society will be better.

I rest my pen.

•Citizen Iwuoha, former Senior Special Assistant on Media, and immediate past Senior Special Assistant on Special Duties, Imo State House of Assembly, Owerri. Photo shows Citizen Iwuoha and family members with prison officials during his visit to Owerri Federal Prisons, on which occasion they presented various gift items.


Source: News Express

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