Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The rot in Nigerian prisons

The sorry state of Nigerian prisons has once again been highlighted by the Controller General of Prisons, Mr. Olusola Adigun Ogundipe, who recently lamented the gross dilapidation of the Enugu Federal Prisons.

According to the Prisons chief, the Enugu Prisons, built in 1924 with a capacity for 638 inmates, currently harbours 1048 inmates. The inmates, he said, live in a terrible situation as all the prison facilities have become obsolete. Many of the inmates end up with mental illness while some do not survive the experience.

Ogundipe’s outcry is only a tip of the iceberg of the problem of dilapidation of prisons in the country. Our prisons are widely acknowledged to be run down and congested, with almost all of them harbouring almost double the number of inmates they were designed for. Beyond the problem of congestion is the obsolescence and deterioration of almost all facilities, some which were built as far back as almost 100 years ago. Feeding and other welfare facilities are known to be abysmally poor and degrading.

This inhuman condition under which prison inmates are kept contributes to the hardening of the inmates, and the now frequent resort to jail breaks in different parts of the country. There is the need for an expansion of prison facilities to reduce the congestion of the existing ones.
Even then, the existing prisons should be renovated and refurbished to bring their facilities up to acceptable standards.

It is important for the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) and the Federal authorities to note that imprisonment of offenders is not only to punish them for offences committed. It is also to reform them, hence, they should be kept in a somewhat decent environment that offers a better possibility of the reformation of their character.

The problem of awaiting trial inmates who are even more than the convicted inmates, should be addressed frontally. A situation in which offenders are kept in prisons for years on end, when their cases are yet to be decided by the courts, is inhuman. Our justice administration system should be modified to ensure that cases before the courts are speedily dealt with, so that those who are found not to be guilty of the offences with which they are charged, can be freed, to reduce the congestion in the prisons. The implementation of the proposed introduction of half-houses, for those who are convicted of lighter offences, should be pursued with vigour.

The prisons system needs to be urgently overhauled. After so many years of use without any major rehabilitation, the prisons’ physical structures and facilities deserve a facelift. Structural defects should be attended to and necessary carpentry repairs effected.

If any large sums of money have been voted for the structural maintenance of the prisons in recent times, how such funds were used should be investigated. The glaring neglect of the prisons calls for attention. There is need for accountability in this regard.
More funds should be devoted to maintenance of structures and the welfare of inmates to raise the standard of the prisons.