Prisons in Need of Help
The state of Nigerian prisons should concern Nigerians. I don’t have the time for a full-blown article so I will just lay out the facts.
All over the country, these prisons are filled to the brim. The Nasarawa meant for 812 people currently holds 1690 persons, giving an occupancy rate of 208%. Imo prison meant for 1188 holds 2627 inmates (221%). Oyo has a 248% occupancy rate. Delta has a 295% occupancy rate. Rivers has 327%. The Ikoyi prison, built in 1955 for a capacity of 800 people, now accommodates approximately four times that number.
Worse, of the 70,056 inmates at the facility, 50,822 are awaiting trial. That equates to roughly 73% of the total. Putting this in a language easy to understand, at least 7 out of 10 Nigerian prison inmates are serving time without being convicted.
When prisons are overcrowded it overwhelms those in charge of keeping them sane. That’s why the jailbreaks happening all over the place are not isolated events. This is coupled with the fact that many of these prisons are cited in urban areas. Once, I had a meeting in Ikoyi and I saw myself seeing over the fence and looking at prisoners at Ikoyi. It’s a testament to the poor planning culture in the country.
It’s easy for prisons in urban areas to experience jailbreaks. When Oko Prison break in Edo state and the Owerri Prison break in Imo State happened, 1,844 inmates escaped. The prison in Kogi has had averaged one jailbreak every two years in the past 10 years.
And security experts have said that there is a correlation between the rise in prison attacks and the exponential increase in insecurity across Nigeria. In the aftermath of jailbreaks in Edo and Imo prisons, residents in both states have reported a higher spate of crimes.
More than 7,000 people have escaped from several prisons since 2010, with eight jailbreaks taking place in the past 14 months alone. The figure is a tenth of the total official number for those currently in custody nationwide.
What brought about this post is the response of the interior ministry, the body in charge of supervising correctional facilities, to the frequent jailbreaks. Rauf Aregbesola, the Marxism-loving minister, said,
“Any effort to breach our facility is not acceptable. Don’t shoot to injure, shoot to kill. Don’t shoot to disable, shoot to kill.”
You don’t need a soothsayer to see the license to abuse this will give to the security personnel who already have a high propensity for human rights abuse.
One of the major issues in this country is that we don’t take our problems seriously. If we do, we would understand how much of a culprit, among other factors, the outdated and archaic constitution is in this.
The state cannot wade into this issue of prison overcrowding because the constitution forbids them from building more prisons to take the burden off these old and dilapidated structures (the Benin prison dates back to 1906). Even though a lot of those in prison are there as a result of state laws, the constitution allows only the federal government to build prisons.
Shooting anyone at sight is easy for any security agent given a gun, however, actually auditing the reasons why the prisons have become the opposite of rehabilitation centres is where the hard work lies.