By Wandoo Sombo
The number of Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs) spread across the country’s prisons is worrisome. Statistics released by the Nigerian Prisons Service and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), showed that 70 per cent of prisoners are awaiting trial.
A report compiled by NHRC after visiting some prisons in September put the number of inmates in the country’s prisons at 56, 718.
Out of this number, 17, 686 were convicted for various offences while 39, 032 are Awaiting Trial Persons.
Mrs Morphy Okwa, NHRC’s Assistant Director, Investigation and Coordination, who presented the report, said though prisons in six states were visited in the last exercise, other states were visited earlier.
Okwa listed the prisons visited as: Kuje, Lafia, Jos, Sokoto and Kebbi prisons.
She explained that the visits enabled the commission to assess the conditions at the various prisons.
“It was found out that there were 240 prison institutions spread across Nigeria as follows: 138 main prisons, 85 satellites, 14 farm centres, and 3 borstal institutions
“That the prisons have 268 vehicles serving various prisons that serve 5,022 courts in the 774 local government areas.
“The total prison population in Nigeria is 56,718, comprising – 17,686 convicts (4,000 lifers; 1,612 condemned convicts) and 39,032 Awaiting Trial Persons.
“Meanwhile, the population of the prison personnel is put at 28,065,’’ she noted.
She also noted that some of the inmates living in the same cell suffered from terminal diseases, mental illness, tuberculosis and HIV and AIDS.
Okwa described the facilities at the prisons as “deplorable and overstretched“, with most of the prisons overloaded.
She said the findings from the prisons visited were a reflection of happenings in other prisons across the country.
“The story in all the prisons are similar, from old and dilapidated structures to the non- existence of facilities such as vocational, health, recreational, educational, transport, well established source of water and energy supply.
“The numbers of ATPs far outnumber the convicts, poor feeding and sanitation, lack of access to justice, long incarceration without court appearances, punishment cells.
“It was appalling to see that in the 21st century, inmates are seen sleeping on bare floors and using their personal clothing in prisons,’’ she said.
Mr Ope Fatinikun, former Public Relations/Correctional Officer, Nigerian Prisons, also decried the high number of ATPs.
He said that the prisons were congested with a large number of “awaiting trial” inmates and inadequate number of staff.
Fatinikun said part of the challenges the prisons faced were inadequate budgetary allocation to cater for various essential needs of the services.
“Our prisons need to be reconstructed as some of them are in deplorable states. The prisons need to be completed, especially the ones where construction started over thirty years ago,” he said.
Prof. Bem Angwe, the Executive Secretary,
NHRC said inmates in Nigerian prisons were vulnerable to violations of their fundamental human rights.
“To ensure that these groups of people are protected, the commission is committed to ensuring that such violations are brought to an end.
“This can only be achieved by regular visits to the places of detention and creating awareness in the detaining authorities on the rights of the detainees.
“This is imperative as the security and well being of the detainees are under the responsibility of the detaining authorities, thus the need to monitor these facilities to guarantee their compliance with human rights standards.
“The commission is committed to institutionalising the observance, promotion and protection of human rights for everyone, by encouraging national values built on the principles of democracy, good governance and respect for the rule of law.’’
Angwe said the visit to the prisons was in line with the mandate of the commission as enshrined in Section 6(1) (d) of the commission’s Act.
“National Human Rights Commission Amendment Act, 2010 mandates the commission to visit prisons, police cells and other places of detention in order to ascertain the conditions thereof and make recommendations to the appropriate authorities.’’
Mr Tony Ojukwu, the Director in charge of Monitoring in the Commission, says the high number of awaiting trial inmates is indicative of the failure of the criminal justice administration system,
According to Ojukwu, prisons are meant for convicts.
“On the contrary, more than 70 per cent of inmates are awaiting trial because their cases are not going on in court or are not moving as fast as possible.
“A situation where somebody is supposed to stay two years in prison if convicted, and he has stayed five years awaiting trial, what kind of compensation will you give to him if at the end, he is not guilty?
“Our constitution says that you are innocent until proven guilty, so what happens if this person who has been kept in trial for five years is innocent?
“That means he has stayed in detention for five years for nothing, for an offence he did not commit, so we think that the criminal justice administration should be improved.’’
Ojukwu said that imprisonment ought to
pave way for eventual reintegration of convicts into the society as law abiding citizens on discharge; among others.
He noted that as a result of the current condition of the prisons, most people who go in there come out more toughened than reformed.
Stakeholders, including the NHRC advocate a review of the existing legal framework as it relates to prisons.
They called for constant audit of the prisons, training and retraining of prisons officials, and addressing the problems of large number of Awaiting Trial Persons.
They say that adequate budgetary provisions for the Nigerian Prisons Service would boost the decongestion of the prisons.(NANFeatures)