Prison congestion in Nigeria not correctional
We scoff at official lassitude to the salient issue of prison congestion despite the fact that the matter requires urgent national attention, especially with many of the inmates awaiting trial for years. This depraved official attitude is better underscored by the ennui shown to this over-flogged matter by successive administrations in the country. We had thought the democratic dispensation would make a difference but it has not; little has changed in this regard since the return to civil rule in 1999.
The Federal Government seems bereft of ideas on the way forward. The report has it that ‘34,000 of the 42,000 inmates in Nigerian prisons are awaiting trial and a good percentage of them have been incarcerated for at least five years. From statistics, not less than 1,000 Nigerians are daily dumped in various prisons and remain there for over three years without trial. Yet, the government has no clue as to what should be done or is planned to ameliorate the deplorable prison situation.
It’s not a good state for modern Nigeria, how can one explain that 2,378 of the 2,502 inmates in the Kirikiri Medium Prison alone are awaiting trial? Only 124 were already convicted with just four on a life sentence. Overall, over 80 percent of inmates in Nigerian prisons are awaiting trial.
If we could recollect that as far back as February 2008, Amnesty International came out with a report titled; ‘Prisoners’ rights systematically flouted’, in which it pointed out federal authority’s tepid approach to prison sector reform. If the avalanche of recommendations of several committees set up by the government to help chart the way forward on prison congestion has been implemented by successive governments, the matter should have become history.
Unfortunately, the governments failed to take the bold step necessary to eradicate a criminal justice system that encourages prolonged detention and overcrowding in prison yards. Rather, it seems to derive pleasure in touting its phantom respect for the rule of law. We ask: What has the government done to improve prison infrastructure in about a decade? Nothing seems to have been done to improve the prosecution chain that delays arraignment due to poor investigative skills, inadequate Black Maria to convey suspects to courts, and more importantly, inadequate/and incessant transfer of judges, among others.
Some Judges’ generous amnesty to inmates would only be meaningful in decongesting the prisons if it could be made a routine and not a one off-thing by the judges. Above all, the debilitating situation in the prisons demands a declaration of an emergency so as to allow for a complete overhaul of the current criminal justice system that inflicts unjustifiable punishment on inmates that may forever not get justice.