The Nigerian prison system is an example of why ‘justice for all’ remains beyond reach

Kayode Odeyemi, Deputy Controller of Prisons and Officer-in-charge of the Oba Prison in Abeokuta, is calling for a reform of the Nigerian prison system, as well as that of the criminal justice system in order to decongest prisons nationwide. He broached the subject during a visit from the Grassroot Initiative for Poverty Eradication and Liberation of the Poor, a non-governmental organisation. The visit was accompanied by a N3.8 million utility van donation, which Odeyemi acknowledged was a crucial equipment for prison operations that they lacked.

According to the prison boss, a major bellyache for the prisons is logistics and operations which makes it difficult to transport prisoners to and from the courts. He stated that for the prisons to run at maximum efficiency, they need to be provided with the necessary equipment and that includes access to justice in the form of prison vehicles.

Odeyemi recognised the fact that economic problems are responsible for the government’s inability to make all the required provisions and urged well-meaning individuals, organisations and “rich citizens” to come to the aid of the government and give back, rather than continue to blame them for the current state of the country.

An examination of the state of Nigeria’s prisons lends a different angle to the very unpopular issues surrounding the abhorrent conditions of the Nigerian prison and justice systems. Out of the 240 prisons that exist in Nigeria, about 200 of them were built before 1960 and prisoners have to deal with accommodation and facilities that that are archaic and no longer fit for humans.

In addition to this, as it is the norm to exceed the given capacities, the prisons are constantly overcrowded. For every prison with a 50,153-person capacity, there is at least a 7,000 surplus of inmates. Currently, nearly 70 percent of the prisoners nationwide (39,577) have not been convicted of any crime and yet this set of prisoners have to compete with the ‘legal rest’ for basic amenities.

The living conditions in Nigerian prisons have been termed horrifying, with little to no hope for anyone unlucky enough to find themselves in there. Unsurprisingly, this class of people are usually the less privileged in society, as wealthy citizens tend to escape incarceration and the deplorable aftermath involving the violation of human rights on different levels.

Female prisoners are commonly subjected to sexual abuse by prison officials under the guise of physical examinations and other procedures of the like. All of the aforementioned features of the prisons system within the country points to a corrupt and inefficient civil service. Furthermore, it shows how deeply the prison and justice systems in Nigeria are in need of more than utility vans to salvage the overall inhumane conditions it operates in.

While prisons are meant to separate the harmful from the harmless in society, they are also supposed to serve as a vehicle for transformation of the incarcerated individuals, where possible. Nigerian prisons lack trained professionals in fields such as psychology and social welfare, who are responsible for addressing and adjusting the problematic behaviour of the inmates.

The prisons also lack useful workshops to shape the mind of the prisoners and prepare them to rejoin society as better citizens. Due to the lack of such structures in prisons, the prisoners who are eventually released become even more dangerous to society, finding themselves with no tools to cope in normal society.

On December 12, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) marked its 20th anniversary and a main focus on its agenda for 2016 is to enforce the rights of citizens in Nigerian prisons. According to Professor Ben Angwe, the Executive Secretary of the NHRC, “the state of the Nigerian prisons today is a reflection of the state of criminal justice administration in the country.”

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