THE recent visit of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC team, led by its Executive Secretary, Professor Bem Angwe and his senior officials to the Kirikiri medium security prison, Lagos was yet another eye opener to what is happening within the walls of the prison yards.
It would be recalled that a riot that seemed to remind most Nigerians of the famous ‘prison break’ recently at the Medium Security Prison, Kirikiri, was reported to have been provoked by consistent hoarding of items supposedly belonging to inmates by the Deputy Comptroller of Prison, DCP, Mr. Kayode Odeyemi.
The items were reported to have been brought by philanthropists and other religious bodies who render services to humanity by providing food items and other materials that could help provide relief to the inmates and solve some of the problems that are peculiar to Nigeria prisons, which cannot be met by the federal government.
Giving his own side of the story to the visiting team, the leader of the inmates, Christopher Dibia, popularly called General Overseer, G.O, accused the Deputy Comptroller of the Prison, of “personalising materials and other food items donated by philanthropists who deemed it fit to contribute to the welfare of the inmates.”
Specifically, Dibia, a renowned leader of the ‘Freedom Chapel’, a Pentecostal fellowship in the prison, convicted of attempted robbery in 2011 on16 years jail term, alleged that the situation became worse on the arrival of the newly posted DCP.
“It all began when the current serving Deputy Comptroller was posted to this district, he had to call for a forum to relay his ‘Dos and Don ts’ which we all saw were in accordance to the prison’s book.
“In that regards, we had to submit phones and herbs that were smuggled in to us, but this did not satisfy him. He went further to seize items donated to us, to fill the supermarket that was opened about two weeks ago.
“He didn’t stop there. At the forum he addressed inmates to refrain from buying petrol to power the generator used for instrument, adding that the population of the congregation was over 700. The DCP seized petrol donated to us by other churches who insisted we had to make the chapel lively for church services.
“On one occasion, I was dragged to the punishment cell, because I alerted him of the intention of the inmates which was to stone him whenever he came to the yard for any inspection and that gave rise to the aggression attempted by the inmates to protest to such injustice that has been going on since the inception of the current DCP.
Reacting to the allegation, Odeyemi argued it was in an attempt to carry out delegated responsibility by restricting illegal entry of banned items in the prison yard that provoked the riot.
Odeyemi pointed out that the fracas was triggered by inmates who wanted an opportunity to break the prison rules by indulging in smuggling of materials like phones, marijuana and other illegal items that could be of help in jail break.
He noted that the inmates that died during the riots are those who tried to escape but were trapped by the barbed wires mounted at the security fence.
According to him, “it started when a man was carrying a box of fan without proper authorization to the church in the prison; I accosted the man and refused him entrance prior proper approval for entering.
“On interrogating him, I was not convinced that he should be allowed into the prison because that is how people smuggle in illegal items in the name of giving charity to the prisoners. No long before that, we started hearing noise and revolt from the inmates which was reported to have been triggered by one inmate popularly called bishop”.
He added that, “close to 50 phones have been seized since my arrival and I thank God I had banned petrol into the prisons otherwise, it would not have been just broken glasses and littered surroundings counted as damages but the whole building would have been set ablaze in their attempt to get back at the officials.”
More so, Odeyemi, noted that during the incident, a total number of 23 prisoners sustained minor injuries and were treated while four were badly injured when confronting the security guards and are currently in Igbobi hospital and Lagos Island still undergoing treatment.
“It is to the interest of Nigerians to note that no prisoners had escaped from the protest and guns were not fired on the prisoners but rather into the air to scare them from attempting jail break.”
Continuing, Chief warder, Orimogunje Mojeed, also argued that the crisis was fueled by the misguided speculations of the G.O to think that such act can be carried out by the DCP, saying all seized and illegal items are being kept at the store house, and have not been used for personal interest or sold to the inmates from the supermarket at the prison.
Responding, Professor Angwe said, “we are not misguided by the obligation to see that the rights and privileges given by the law are properly and adequately adhered to”, adding, “we have to ensure that the welfare of both the prison officials and the inmates are not trampled upon.
“From our findings, we are at peace with the job carried by the DCP, because where there is no law, there is no sin. We see that there was no misconduct from the end of the DC or his warders but the act is carried out by some group of inmates who do not want to be controlled as prisoners.
While speaking to journalists, Prof Angwe said there was no jailbreak or riot as supposedly speculated but rather a possible misguided minds among the prisoners sparked off the protest.
However, the NHRC boss put the prison officials to task when he drew their attention to congested facilities. “It is quite unfortunate that what we saw wrong was the choked up cells that housed a population of over 56 inmates without provisions for mattresses and fans and also the cases of inmates whose matter has not been brought for hearing in the court.”
Prof Angwe, however, urged the Federal Government to collaborate with the State to ensure that the Nigerian prison cell is habitable and does not increase the bitterness already in the heart of people who are not yet convicted for an allegation placed against them.
The NHRC Executive Secretary, said, ”Our responsibility as an institution is to promote and protect the interest of all Nigerians. We are more particular on issues that concerned persons who are undergoing a process of incarceration as prisoners and inmates.
“We have seen that there is the need for the prison inmates to be enlightened on their rights and entitlements as long as they go through the process of incarceration. We will issue a formal report of our findings at the right time.”