…Says, P/Harcourt Prisons built for 800, now hosts over 5, 000 inmates
ABUJA: Despite its modest efforts at restoring the lost primacy of the Nigerian Prisons Service, the federal government has lamented the rot in in the system, saying it will take years of sustained and continued interventions by all stakeholders to reverse the trend.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo stated this Thursday in Abuja during the official presentation of the Nigerian Prisons Survey Reports, a research work undertaken by Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action PRAWA in conjunction with the Nigerian Prisons Service.
Minister of Interior, Gen Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd), who represented the vice president at the event specifically said any human being who goes into Nigerian Prisons would most certainly come out an animal.
“I visited the Port Harcourt prisons yesterday (Wednesday). While I was waiting for my flight, I chose to go to the prison. What I saw is a reflection of quite a lot of things in the survey. The Port Harcourt prison was built in 1918, meaning it will be 100 years old this year. For a very long time, our prisons had been neglected because that prison, when it was built in 1918 was meant to contain about 800 inmates but today, it is containing over 5, 000 and I find that very disturbing. There was no room for prisoners and anybody who goes into that place as a human being is coming out as an animal”, he lamented.
While he hailed PRAWA for the survey which he said would avail government of reliable data on which to predicate its plans for prison reforms, Dambazau said, “most of the inmates in the various prisons come from within the states, so there is every reason for state governors to support the federal government in administering the prisons service. They have to domesticate the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA.
“If I have to say all that I saw at the Port Harcourt prison, the media would feast on it. But, to say the least, it is very disturbing and we must do something about the prisons”.
The minister was quick to however state that a lot has recently been done for the prisons but because the sector had been neglected for such a long time, it would require continued and sustained interventions to completely turn around the fortunes of the prisons service.
5 Years without Court Trial
“The major issue we are facing now is the population of those awaiting trial; pre-trial detention. Of the about 5, 000 inmates I saw in Port Harcourt prisons, over 3,700 were those awaiting trial and I spoke with few of them as I was moving and I found that very many of them have been in prisons for five years upward without going to court and I tried to find out some of the reasons and I think in order to deal with this issue, there is the need for the Departments of Public Prosecution DPP in the states to look at how the processes or what kinds of procedures should be adopted in prosecuting criminal cases in this country.
“Secondly, investigations by police or arrest procedures must be looked into in order to look at this situation because if investigation is poor, then prosecution will be defective. Third is the court, they have a lot to do in terms of criminal trials. Cases are unnecessarily adjourned, though I know that there are over-lapping problems.
“Prisons are warehouses for inmates brought to them. While they can do something about their environment, they cannot do something in terms of prison population because they are just warehouses. Because sometimes when you look at these prisons, you start thinking of what was said by the fathers of modern Europe in the 18th Century. We need to do something about our prisons because it is just like a computer; garbage in, garbage out”.
He also re-echoed government’s commitment to building a 3, 000-capacity prisons in each of the six geo-political zones of the country.
In his welcome address, Controller General of the Nigeria Prisons Service, Ahmed Ja’afaru said the survey report “mirrors the justice delivery process from different stakeholders in the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria and the intendment is to enhance the quality of legal representation for Awaiting Trial Persons; promote judicial intervention and also reduce the period Awaiting Trial Persons stay in custody before the final determination of their cases”.
Presenting a summary of the reports, Executive Director of PRAWA, Dr Uju Agomoh said some of the problems confronting prison personnel are staff overwork, delayed promotion, non-availability of work tools, obsolete equipment, poor remuneration, threats by inmates and corruption.
The report urged stakeholders to “encourage less use of pre-trial detention and increased utilization of alternatives to imprisonment measures especially for minor offenders. It should also include diversion from prison custody of special needs offenders including young offenders and mentally ill prisoners to appropriate facilities”.
In his goodwill message to the occasion, Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory FCT High Court and Chairman, National Stakeholders Committee on Prisons Decongestion, Justice Ishaq Bello said prisons play a central role in upholding the rule of law and ensuring that alleged offenders get justice.
He said “prisons should be humane and help with rehabilitation. Unfortunately, we have seen that our prisons today are not at their best”.
Also speaking, Director General of the Legal Aid Council, Mrs Joy Bob-Manuel, said the challenge of the bureaucratic recruitment of lawyers is being overcome as the council recently signed an agreement with the Nigeria Bar Association NBA to provide pro bono services to indigent inmates.