A most unpleasant event occurred in an Igbosere Magistrate’s Court in Lagos Island recently, which illustrated the total disregard of the human rights and dignity of detainees and inmates in the custody of the Nigerian law enforcement agencies.

An 18 year-old suspect, one Avekpon Bernard who was being arraigned along with 22 others, had to defecate in the dock because he was denied the right to answer an urgent call of nature while about to be docked.

He complained to the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) who brought them to court about his pressing need to visit the toilet. But rather than helping him out, the police officer insisted that he must go into the dock with the others who were being tried for acts likely to cause a breach of public order.

When Avekpon could no longer bear the distress he had no choice but to relieve himself in the dock, which fouled the atmosphere in the courtroom. Ironically, the same police officer who had refused to assist him was the one ordered to take the young man out of the court and sort out the mess.

This is one of the legions of cases of  maltreatment of suspects brought into the custody of the law in Nigeria, particularly the Police and the Prisons. The failure of government to upgrade the facilities of our correctional institutions is exacerbated by the unfeeling and inhumane attitudes of correctional officers to detainees, with the result that the suspects are treated worse than convicted criminals. This flies in the face of the presumption of our laws that suspects are innocent until convicted after a due process trial.

The inhumanity of law enforcement officers to detainees has led to the avoidable death of uncountable numbers of citizens who find themselves behind bars. Some are dumped in awaiting trial detention, sometimes for periods longer than the time they would have spent if convicted. There were even recent media reports that some awaiting trial inmates are made to pay prison officials in order to be transported to court for trial.

What happened to citizen Avekpon Bernard is highly objectionable, and we call on the appropriate authorities to sanction the officer and any other persons for their roles in his dehumanisation, the embarrassment of the presiding magistrate and guests of the court.

We must emulate the ways that more advanced countries treat their citizens, even the alleged lawbreakers, while in the custody of the law. Their rights are respected and basic human needs fully supplied. This part of the correctional process.

We must stop treating our people like animals. What goes around comes around. Official maltreatment of our citizens is responsible for their low regard for government and their own country.

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