Family Affair

THE STATE OF PRISONS IN NIGERIA With Dr Nma Olebara (FCAI)

The world in which we live is a world of human beings who do the good, the bad, the useless, the noble, the brave, the foolish and the wise things. No man exists alone, for every one of us is touched by other people.

We may begin our lives by giving love to one other human being but if we are wise, that love extends to family, friends, our little world and so to all humanity. Each of us sees life through his own window. Let us now view life as other people see it.

Society has the sacred and welfare of its citizens. Any society that shies away from this principal assignment denies itself relevance.

The essence of the law is to ensure a secure and free society devoid of unnecessary harassment, dictatorship and unbecoming or unethical behaviour by a person or persons against one or a group of persons. The law recommends adequate restriction or punishment of offenders irrespective of who they are, where they come from or what positions they hold, since under the law, all men are equal. The prison is an institution established by government for the restriction for a period of time, those found guilty by the law and recommended for confinement as punishment for offence committed. A person who is alleged to have committed an offence but not yet found guilty by a law of competent jurisdiction may be detained till his case is determined.

Part of the idea behind the establishment of prisons is to confine and retrain or recover a strayed human being and reintegrate him into society as a “now cleansed” person who can once more get on with his kit and kin. No wonder then, in the good olden days, prisoners attended prisons schools, learnt new trades and came out self dependent and better citizens.

Today, the prison, most unfortunately rather than be a reformatory place for offenders, has become an institution where inmates graduate exceedingly in crime. Prisoners now come out only to plan for more heinous crimes. Prisons are now hell on earth, turning out devilish beasts and living dead. It has become refuse dumps for both guilty persons and mere suspects awaiting trial.

The issue of prisoners awaiting trial has resulted in gross inhumanity to prisoners. Cases abound where a suspect awaiting trial for an offence punishable with six months imprisonment spent three years or more in prison custody without trial. Is this justice? Who pays for this crime?

A visit to our prisons reveal cases of some prisoners who have over stayed their lawful periods in prison, an alarming number of citizens languishing in prisons for minor offences and congestions. The number awaiting trial is increasing on a daily basis and it is becoming an embarrassment to the nation for too long, the plights of the prisoners have not been properly addressed. The inmates are often subjected to inhuman and degrading treatments in violation of the human rights provisions enshrined in the nations constitution and in line with relevant international conventions and agreement.

More worrisome is the issue of innocent persons in prisons. In Nigeria, the procedure is that every person charged with criminal offence is presumed innocent until he is proved guilty by court of competent jurisdiction. When is fair trial within reasonable time be given?

The former Minister of Interior Captain Emmanuel, Iheanacho (rtd) disclosed recently that Nigeria is faced with the challenge of prison management and we and cannot but agree with him considering the figure of people awaiting trial which was put at 30,000 representing over 65% of the estimated prisoners population of 47,815. Doesn’t this portray the ugly state of our prison services?

There are 227 prisons in Nigeria and they all have a few things in common-congestion, dirt, inadequate medical and rehabilitation facilities. As a result, many inmates fall sick and die before they are tried. Is this not man’s inhumanity to man? In recent times, we have heard of riots among inmates due to poor living standards.

Prisoners sleep over themselves on the cold floor with no mat. They cannot turn, they are over crowded, no ventilation, no toilet, and they defecate in toilets that are located inside the room, the room is stuffy with bad odour and mosquitoes. This condition for God’s sake is begging for attention.

A report by Amnesty International titled “Waiting for the Hangman” published in 2008 shows that most inmates on death row develop psychiatric problems due to mental torture of waiting indefinitely for hangman.

The delays associated with the process of executing condemned prisoners are blamed on the state governors. This led to their collective resolve recently at the national council of state to weed out condemned prisoners for execution as a measure to decongest the over crowded prisons across the country. Reluctant use of prerogative of mercy by some state governors also contributes to this congestion.

The inability of the judges to uphold the tenets of justice and equity also contributes.

The ham-fisted nature of our police and Director of Public Prosecution in our various states are responsible for congestion.

The federal and state government should rise up to the challenge and go beyond the annual ritual of releasing a few prisoners in only one occasion. Let the various ministries of justice ensure that investigating police officers, prosecutors and prison officials, rise up to the challenges of their duties in line with the new world order.

Governors should apply the discretionary power given them liberally by granting amnesty to those awaiting trial for no just cause.

Prison conditions need urgent reforms. Successive governments have failed to do something tangible in this direction. We need action and not “will do” that never comes.

Let us reverse the truth that “man is free and equal but everywhere in bondage” by having better prison policies and practices and religiously respecting the sanctity of the human life.

It is very sad that some parents have to a large extent abandoned their sacred duties towards their children and locked their brains out of their heads in search of material wealth. What is this amassing wealth for? A question is often asked! “Of what use if it to a child that his father is an orator and he, the child is dumb?”

Parents should police themselves properly so as not to soil the child’s virgin intellect with ugly behaviours. These children are special gifts from God, the joy and warmth of families. They should be treasured, protected, provided for an advanced. Parents should rise up to the challenge of sound character moulding from day one.

Lets improve our prison conditions as we strive to improve our society.

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