By Peter Duru, Makurdi
As the world celebrates Mandela Day, a leading justice reform and human rights organization, Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, CURE-Nigeria has accused the Federal Government of paying lip service to the nagging issue of prison congestion in Nigeria.
The organisation’s Executive Director, Mr. Sylvester Uhaa, stated this yesterday in a statement made available to Vanguard in Makurdi.
Uhaa said, “It is extremely sad that prison congestion, which is caused by the excessive reliance on incarceration, abuse of power, corruption, and blatant disrespect for the rule of law and human rights of suspects, has never received the desired attention in the history of Nigeria.
“This is so because most of the prisoners are poor and marginalized people, and Nigeria does not care for its poor population. If rich and powerful people were in prison in Nigeria, the case would be different.
“We thought that Mr. President’s public acknowledgment that prison congestion is a national scandal and the subsequent statement by the Vice President that Nigerian prisons turn inmates into animals, would lead to concrete and tangible actions to solve the problem, but all we saw was the release of handful of inmates across the country and everything ended.
“This is obviously not enough to address the huge awaiting trial population of prisoners, who are subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment and have poor access to lawyers, good nutrition, portable water, medical and healthcare, education and other rehabilitation programs, and lack basic needs they are entitled to under international law.
“Above all, 70 percent of the prison population is awaiting trial for long periods. Although prolonged pretrial detention is unarguably, one of the greatest forms of injustice and human rights violations in Nigeria, it is often ignored because most of the victims of pretrial detention are poor and marginalized people.
“As we mark Mandela Day, we call on the Federal and state governments to release those who have spent years awaiting trial, especially those accused of non-violent offences, grant amnesty to death row inmates, particularly those who are weak, terminally-ill and are too old to pose danger to their communities, commute all death sentences to life imprisonment with a possibility of parole and put in place mechanisms to prevent prolonged pre-trial detention.
“In addition, we ask the Federal and state governments to ensure that juveniles in conflict with the law are not sent to adult prisons and not tried as adults.
“Furthermore, we recommend the use of alternatives to incarceration for all non-violent female offenders, particularly nursing mothers and pregnant women, as well as the transfer to mental hospitals, the huge number of all mentally-ill persons in prisons and other detention facilities across the country for medical attention, as these people are not supposed to be in prison.
“We ask the Federal Government to place emphasis on crime prevention, through aggressive investment in education, job creation, peace-building, rebuilding our infrastructure and social protection programs to reduce poverty.
“Rather than focusing on expanding our law enforcement and procuring guns and ammunition, as experience has shown that simply expanding law enforcement and procuring more guns without addressing the root causes of crime cannot guarantee security of lives and properties.”