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To make Nigeria’s prisons better


Comptroller-General of Prisons Service, Peter Ezenwa Ekpendu.

Comptroller-General of Prisons Service, Peter Ezenwa Ekpendu.

If nothing else, the reports that the Nigerian government is ready to receive her citizens serving various jail terms in the United Kingdom (UK) at least serves the purpose of reminding all about the unfulfilled promises by various regimes to improve the country’s appalling prison conditions. Since those successive governments never kept their promises, no one should believe that the influx of Nigerian prisoners abroad would change the situation even now. Yet the case must be made that a measure of the dignity a nation confers on its citizens is in how it treats its prisoners.

Comptroller-General of Prisons Service, Peter Ezenwa Ekpendu was quoted the other day as expressing the country’s readiness for returnee prisoners when the Minister of Interior, General Abdulrahman Dambazzau and officials of the UK High Commission in Nigeria inspected the Kuje Medium Security Prisons in Abuja. Although the main reason for the inspection and the government’s assurance was not stated, there is a sense in which it could be deduced that possibility of prisoners’ exchange or other related matters were in the mix.

The Comptroller-General said: “our prisons are ready. We are ready to receive the prisoners anytime they are brought back”. And in response to constant scathing criticisms that the Nigerian government has been interested in improving the standard of only Kuje prisons located within the nation’s capital, Abuja, leaving others across the country, Minister Dambazzau, denied the charge. “Concentration is not just on Kuje prisons but some prisons in other states, including the Kirikiri prisons in Lagos. We are hoping that by the time the budget is signed and we get our releases, we are going to embark on renovation of some prisons, capacity building and reinforcement of security of the prisons” the minister noted. Nigerians will hold him to these words.

Of course, prisoners and their relations who visit them have never testified to any marked improvement in the general conditions of Nigeria’s prisons. There have been reports of only N200 daily provisions for feeding for each prisoner even at a time like this when inflation rate has risen astronomically. It is a sad commentary on the Nigerian prisons that malnutrition and de-humanising condition of living are the lot of those citizens who may have broken the law but are in need of correction and rehabilitation. There have been regular reports of jailbreaks because the prisons have been so decrepit that with bare hands the prisoners could pull down the walls. Indeed, many prisoners who escaped in recent years are still at large and many panels of investigation have been set up to look into circumstances leading to such jailbreaks. Not only have these yielded no results, nothing has been done to stem the trend.

Whenever there is an opportunity for prisons exchange, the Nigerian authorities should however, ensure confirmation of the status of the prisoners and where they require medical treatment, they should be promptly treated.

Prisons are supposed to be correctional facilities and not just for punishment. Prisoners are full-blooded citizens who deserve to be so treated. They have fundamental rights, which the constitution guarantees all citizens.

Indeed, the question must be asked: Why do diplomats of other countries have to embark on a facility tour of the best prison yards in Nigeria when talks are being held on prisons swap? Afterall, there are no reports of Nigerian diplomats inspecting such prisons facilities in the UK or other countries. The answer is simple: the British prisons’ standard meets global best practices while Nigeria’s do not. The required dignity is still accorded persons in prison in those countries while the reverse is the case here.

This is why it is pertinent to call on the Interior Ministry to remove this reproach from Nigeria and it is high time they began construction or rehabilitation of all correctional facilities in Nigeria.

Of course, the level of corruption in the management of the prisons is such that demands an investigation into why some civil servants once observed that prisons service is, in fact, more lucrative than other services.

While the allocation to the Prisons Service has been callously puny, corruption and poor management have also been perennial problems. This must end if Nigeria would truly have prisons that are correctional.

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