‘Explosion’ imminent in Nigerian prisons -Investigation

•68, 259 inmates held across formations
•Governors’ inaction, dearth of hangmen worsen situation

Never has the need for the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency in the Nigerian Prisons sector become more compelling than now.

Reason? Investigations show that the country may be facing imminent ‘population explosion’ in prisons. Nothing can be further from this grim reality, as the population of inmates across prisons today, stands at 68, 259.

Out of this number, 46,351 are awaiting trial, while 21, 903 others are convicts of different categories including those awaiting execution, life imprisonment and other sentences.

The inmates are spread across 138 main prisons, one open camp, 85 satellite prisons, 16 farm centres, and three borstal institutions.

The Comptroller-General (CG) of the Nigeria Prisons Service, Mr. Ja’afaru Ahmed, who made the disclosure on the number of inmates in an interview with the Economic Confidential, said the number experiences oscillation like an electric current; it is not static. Ahmed said: “As at March 6, 2017, total inmates population stood at 68,259. Out of this number, 46,351 are awaiting trial persons, and the remaining 21,903 are convicted.

“In terms of percentage, the convicted is 32 per cent, while awaiting trial persons stand at 68 per cent. Though the figures are not static as they go up and down.” It is interesting to note that Prison is one of the items listed in the Exclusive List. Simply put, only the Federal Government can legislate on prisons, as same is cited in the Exclusive List of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

Background

Sources have blamed the rising figure on governors’ inaction on endorsing death warrant: The perceived inaction of governors, as it relates to endorsement of ‘death warrants’, has exacerbated the problem of prison congestion in the country. Records show that no governor in recent time, apart from former Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, has signed the death sentence of any condemned inmate. It will be recalled that four condemned criminals had been executed from Oshiomhole’s courageous outing.

Notwithstanding, as at December, 2016, a total of 1, 440 inmates were awaiting executions across the country, having been condemned to death by courts of competent jurisdictions.

The spokesman for the Nigeria Prisons Service, Mr. Francis Enobore, a Deputy Comptroller of Prisons (DCP), had made the figures available to Sunday Telegraph. Enobore expressed concern over the seeming silence from states’ chief executives. He said: “There are about 1,440 prison inmates on death row. As some are being commuted, others are being convicted.” He had advised the governors to consider the option of comitial rather than the resonating inertia that currently endures.

Major factors

In the face of the prevailing reality, however, some states have yet enacted laws stipulating life imprisonment for kidnapping, and even death sentence in some instances. For instance, the Lagos, Delta, and Bauchi states Houses of Assembly, have since passed into law, bills prescribing death and life sentences for the offence of kidnapping. As laudable as this initiative is, it has the potential of moving the prison condition to a state of ‘dystopia’, intellectually speaking.

Dearth of hangmen

Another challenge confronting the prison system is the reluctance of people to take up jobs as Hangmen. Efforts by Sunday Telegraph to ascertain the number of hangmen in the country were not successful, as a senior prison official said: “Hangmen are staff of the Ministry of Justice; they only come to do their jobs when the condemned inmates have exhausted their appeals.” Sunday Telegraph gathered that religion and culture have appreciable influence on the development.

Capacity of prisons

Sunday Telegraph spoke with DCP Enobore on the capacity of prison formations vis-a-vis the number of inmates, and our fears were confirmed: prison facilities are somewhat overstretched.

He, however, noted that the issue must be contextualised within the framework of the original carrying capacities of the respective prison formations. Specifically, he stated that prison formations in urban centres are overstretched, owing to the fact that the propensity to commit crime in urban centres is higher than what obtains in rural areas. Enobore said: “It is difficult to say that considering the enormity, the huge of population in urban centres, the facilities are not overstretched.

“It goes without saying that prison facilities are built to carry less than 600 persons, and you now find yourself keeping more than 2, 000. It goes without saying that the facilities are overstretched.” The image-maker listed the categories of prisons as follows: Main Prison (138), Open Camp (1), Satellite Prison (85), Farm Centres (16), and Borstal institutions (3). He added that some farm centres have less than 200 inmates.

In spite of the challenges, the prisons spokesman said, “We have recorded some successes”, since the appointment of Ahmed. He disclosed that “Between May 2015 and now, we have reduced the percentage of awaiting inmates from 72 to 58 per cent.” This was as he added that State Comptrollers have been empowered to engage with Command Commissioners of Police (CPs), as well as Attorneys-General (AGs) and Commissioners of Justice in their respective states.

Conclusion/way out

Without doubt, the National Assembly must, as a matter of urgent national importance, cause an amendment to be made to the Constitution, the grundnorm wherein, states, local governments, and even profiled organisations and individuals, are allowed to build and maintain prisons. In a word: Prisons should be moved to the Concurrent Legislative List! This argument was supported by a Constitutional lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, Ozekhome, however, provided further perspectives that will hasten the decongestion of prisons in Nigeria.

He said: “Quick hearing and disposal of cases, stringent application of the ACJA (Administration of Criminal Justice Act), which insists on day-to-day trial of accused (persons), stopping law enforcement agents from clamping people in prison for the slightest excuse.”

The learned silk further made a case for the “building of more prisons with modern facilities, improvement in prison conditions allowing prison matters on concurrent legislative list, rather than exclusive for the Federal Government alone, declaring a state of emergency on education, youth unemployment and lack of infrastructure.”

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