Starvation In Prisons
BARELY two months after prison contractors warned of impending hunger and starvation for prison inmates across the country, the Comptroller-General (CG) of the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS), Peter Ezenwa, has reiterated the same looming harrowing prospect. Whereas the contractors’ warning was due to non-payment of debts owed them, Ezenwa’s alarm was in reference to the paltry daily feeding allowance provided for inmates in this year’s budget. These concerns are significant and should not be ignored if correctional facilities would truly live up to their name and purpose. The warning should indeed be examined with a view to making adjustments where necessary to avert unpleasant consequences. Prisons are volatile enclaves that could erupt at the least provocation if care is not taken. Inhuman treatment of inmates, ordinarily, is not acceptable.
Ezenwa raised his alarm when he appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Interior to defend the 2016 budget of the NPS. He disclosed that the service proposed N10.6 billion for the feeding allowance of more than 65,000 inmates but was shocked that the amount was slashed to N5.2 billion, which amounts to N222 per inmate per day. He explained that the proposed sum excluded the outstanding liabilities owed to food contractors for previous supplies. While bemoaning the worrisome situation, he noted that it was for this reason that inmates and food contractors sometimes protest. “It is bad when inmates are not fed. We are in a prison community where you can never predict what will happen if inmates are not fed.”
The welfare of prisoners must always be given priority if the prisons would serve as correctional centres. Indeed, among the yardstick by which a nation’s true humanity and essence are measured is the quality of treatment of its prisoners in addition to the quality of life. Nigerian prisons are populated by men, women, pregnant women, children and even babies who may be there to serve punishment for misdeeds but deserve to so in the context of reformation.
The pathetic state of Nigeria’s prisons is well-known and corruption in the food supply chain is not new as sleaze flourishes in the contract awards system. While inadequate funding per se is condemnable as it affects the payment to contractors, it is common knowledge that some contractors collude with prison authorities to collect money without supplying the food or even inflate the contracts.
Besides, the quality of food is poor and most inmates are grossly malnourished. Many prisoners even feed themselves as families take food to their kits and kin in the centres. This problem is systemic and needs fundamental overhauling. The solution may not be in huge financial provision for prisoners’ calorie but also in judicious use of whatever is available. In saner climes, prisons, as much as possible, follow approved international standards in the treatment of prisoners.
For instance, the Ghana Prison Service is responsible for the safe custody of prisoners, as well as their welfare, reformation and rehabilitation. A transformational taskforce to help upgrade the prisons system to conform to the United Nations standards was recently commissioned by the country’s prison authorities.
In Kenya, reports indicate that prison inmates, literally, have their food security in their hands. The state of the prisons and the kind of food the inmates are fed is decent and humane. Kenyan prison farms also ensure the steady supply of maize, the staple food, which saves the government huge sums that could have been expended on food purchase.
In South Africa, despite the apparent horrible state of the prisons in terms of congestion, prisoners are fed three square meals a day beginning with porridge, tea or coffee for breakfast and lunch consisting of meat (protein), starch and vegetable. Prisoners take part in rehabilitation programmes and have more visiting hours. Several other countries have better treatment for prisons.
The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules), prescribes the way and manner prisoners should be treated, which countries should adopt to curtail the spate of dehumanising treatment. Nigeria should adopt this.
Granted that the approved fund per prisoner is poor, bulk purchase allows for economy of scale, which should be to the benefit of the prisoners. There is need for thorough supervision of the food supply system to the prisons as well as the quality, therefore. Again, there are approved standards for treating prisoners and the Nigeria Prisons Service should follow these international best practices in the treatment of prisoners in Nigeria.