By Esther Onyegbula
Established in 1861, the Nigeria Prisons Service was created to take into lawful custody all those certified by courts of competent jurisdiction, to be kept, produce in courts as and when due as well as reform inmates who for one reason or the other find themselves in custody. Unfortunately, the rot and corrupt practices in the Nigeria Prison Service are gradually defeating the purpose of its establishment. Over the years, cases of alleged extortion of inmates by warders, sale of food items, rental of VIP cells to well-to-do inmates, conversion of gift items donated by NGOs and religious bodies, are some of the rot in the system.
Crime Guard spoke to a 32-year-old Liberian simply called Andre (surname withheld), who was released from Medium Prison, Kirikiri, on Monday, June 27, 2016 after spending four months in prison custody for car theft. Excerpts: “My trouble started immediately I was handed over to the warder after being taken to the court in Ikeja. The warder asked me to pay N1000. I gave him the N500 I had with me and my Investigation Police Officer (IPO) gave him additional N500 as transportation to the prison. As soon as I got to the prison, I was taken to a cell called the Welcome cell.”
It was a new experience for him, he said, and added: “Inside the Welcome cell, I was beaten by fellow inmates that night because I had no money to pay for the cell fee, before I was taken to the general cells.”
Inside the cells
Narrating his ordeal, Andre who studied computer science and mathematics at the University of Calabar, Cross River State, said that inside the prison, they have special section for VIPs, where inmates who have the resources pay between N30,000 to N100,000 depending on how well furnished the rooms are. Some of the VIP rooms, according to findings, have fans and radio. Such inmates, Crime Guard gathered, are allowed to use mosquito nets, iPhones and iPads. Further findings revealed that they also watch movies while the general cells are for inmates who can’t afford the VIP cells.
“In the general cells, we have about 65 to 75 inmates. The cells include H1, H2, H3 and H4, while the VIP cells are C2, K4, New Building, Abia House, built by a former governor of Abia State. “Some of the inmates who are currently residing in the VIP cells are Philip Osas who is facing charges on armed robbery. He occupies K4 cell. Also, there are one Kola and Ifeanyi who have been facing robbery charges for six years. Ifeanyi was released two weeks ago by a Lagos State High Court. One Mr Akpan from Akwa Ibom State lives in C2 cell; he has been there for the past two years.”
Extortion of inmates
According to him, “Each cell has a marshal who is like the president in charge of the cell. Each marshal buys the position from the warders and generates revenue for the warders. “Warders usually collect money from inmates to install them as marshal. Marshals pay the warders money to enable inmates cook in the cell. They pay money to warders and also buy new inmates who are kept in their cells like slaves.
‘Inmates are bought for between N500 to N1000’
“These inmates are extorted by the marshals. During the four months I spent, I paid twice to repair federal vehicles that took us to court. I had to pay for vehicle tyres to be bought. “If inmates don’t contribute money for the repair of the vehicle or for buying of tyres, they won’t be taken to court especially for those whose cases are still awaiting trial. “The last time, we were made to contribute N350,000 from the 52 cells in the prison. The headache before I left was that every week, cells were made to contribute N1,300 which they use to purchase diesel for generator. The generator was bought by an ex-inmate who was released two months ago.
“He gave them money to buy diesel for a year but unknown to the donor, we were being extorted. The chief warder informed us that the prison spends about N750 to feed each inmate daily, but the quality of food we are given cannot be served to a village dog because it is poisonous. “For instance, the soup for garri is made from grounded beans, no salt, no pepper, and no oil. In prison language it is called shapa. “The warders sell 75 per cent of the food items to inmates who have money. These inmates in turn resell the food stuff in retail qualities to other inmates who don’t eat from the daily food rations served in the prison.
Extortion at the clinic
“Another avenue where the warders extort inmates is via the prison clinic. The doctors and nurses sell to them, free drugs meant for sick inmates. There was a time I wasn’t feeling too well, and I was forced to purchase two sachets of Ampiclox from the clinic for N500. Several inmates have died as a result of improper medical care.
Improper medical care
“Each time our family members, friends or relatives send recharge cards to us, the warders make money. For instance, they give us N1000 for N1,500 airtime and N600 for N1000 airtime. Some of them even claim that the pin has been used after they have recharged it. “Any attempt to ask about the card will result in the inmate being taken to the punishment cell called Angola and before release; he would pay N5000 to the chief warder in charge of the yard. Every money collected from the inmates passes through this department.
“Whenever non-governmental organizations, NGOs, religious groups or philanthropists bring gifts to the prison for inmates’ upkeep, the gifts are seized by the warders at the gate and thereafter, used by the warders for personal use. They claim that visiting is free but at the end of the day, they would collect money from relatives to allow them have access to us. Our relatives are forced to pay N1000 to be allowed to see us. If a visiting relative gives an inmate N1000, the warders will take N500 and give the inmate N500.
Case of sodomy
“There was a case of a marshal in 03 cell who was awaiting trial for rape and murder. He bought two young men who had no prison experience. Every night, he took turns to rape these inmates. The rape continued until the young inmates felt they had had enough and so reported to the chief warder. Surprisingly, no punishment was meted out to the marshal. Neither was the young men taken out of the cell. Luckily, he was released a few weeks later.
‘How I was lured into robbery’
“I came to Nigeria because of the war in my country. I have been in Nigeria for the past ten years. I was arrested by operatives of State Investigation Bureau (SIB) and charged to court because I stole my boss’s car last October, a month after I was employed as a driver. “It was my friends that lured me into the act. I took the vehicle, a Mercedes E240 2002 model, to Akwa Ibom State, where I searched for a buyer. I was still in Akwa Ibom State when my friends who encouraged me to steal the car led operatives of SIB to arrest me. Unknown to me, they posed as buyers. I was then taken to prison on February 18 and was released June 27. I spent four months.”
Reacting to the allegations, the Public Relation Officer of Nigeria Prisons, Lagos State, Deputy Superintendent of Prison, O.O Oladokun said, “I appreciate the fact that you have made effort to verify. Those claims are far from the truth. There is no atom of truth in these allegations. No such thing exists that is happening in the Kirikiri Medium Prison.”