Poor legal representation and prison decongestion, by Joseph Onyekwere

 

Nigerian Prison inmates

Many of the awaiting trial persons (ATPs) do not have legal or active legal representation and some who have legal representation are unsatisfied with the quality of service being rendered to them by their lawyers, Prison survey report reveals.

According to the report, which is anchored on a research on pre trial detention in Nigeria conducted by the Nigeria Prison Service (NPS) in conjunction with Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), with support from Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), United Kingdom, also indicated that many of the prisoners do not have confidence in the criminal justice system with the police having the worst rating from the prisoners.

The report, which is in three volumes, also looked at the socio-economic characteristics of prisoners and impact of imprisonment in Nigeria as well as a perception of prison officers in Nigeria.

The research on prisoners’ psychological and social-economic conditions in Nigeria focuses on assessing the socio-economic characteristics of prisoners and their families, and the impact of imprisonment on the prisoner, prisoners’ family and the prison service.

Research on pre-trial detention in Nigeria are meant to determine the nature and demographic features of the selected prison population, including their pre-trial detention population and examine the extent of the pretrial detainee’s inflow in prison, their duration of stay in prison custody and access to justice.

It also examined some of the impact of the demographic characteristics of the prison population and the inflow and duration of custody of the pre-trial prison population.

The study aimed at identifying the root causes, trends and other dynamics that help to explain the high levels of inflow of ATPs as well as document the status and condition of the sampled prisons across three geopolitical zones in Nigeria.

The study found that property and economic related offences top the list of offences. For example, armed robbery and stealing/theft ranked high among offences for which a large number of the inmates were charged, the report said.

It reports: “The prisons records show that armed robbery top the offence charged in Enugu prison. From the Enugu prison record, 50.25 per cent of the ATPs were charged for armed robbery followed by rape (10.13 per cent) and murder (9.68 per cent).

“Similarly, in Ikoyi prison, the official record shows that 46.5 per cent of the ATPs were charged for armed robbery while 22.6 per cent and 14.6 per cent were charged for murder and stealing respectively. In like manner, report from official record shows that armed robbery offence top the table with 25.3 per cent followed by rape and defilement (24.6 per cent) and murder (12.7 per cent) in that order.

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“When all economic and economic related (property and property-related) offences are clustered differently from the non-economic (non-property) related, the figure for the economic/property related offences tops the chart. For example, for those charged for armed robbery (46.5 per cent) and stealing (14.6 per cent) in Ikoyi prison that will give 61.1 per cent.”

Providing information on the socio-demographic characteristics and perception of prison officers onv prison administration and the criminal justice process formed the specific objective of the research on perception survey of prison officers in Nigeria.

It noted that many of the prison officers are males in their middle career level and with a high educational level.

“More than half of the prison staff population will retire within the next 20 years. What is the implication of this for long-term strategy of the Prison Service and their mandate to the nation? This suggests the need for recruitment for more young and energetic youth into the prison service system,” says the report, which was presented in Abuja on February 1, 2018 by the minister of interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (rtd).

The minister, who represented the vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) said the Prisons have been neglected for a very long time. According to him, Prisons that were built for 800 inmates are now accommodating 5000 people. “Anybody who goes there, returns as an animal,” he remarked.

His words: “ There is absolutely the need for every state to partner with the federal government in administering the prison service and to domesticate the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA). We must do something about our Prisons because the situation is very disturbing.

“Part of the problem has been transporting inmates to and back from prisons. But the administration of president Buhari has been very supportive in all efforts aimed at rehabilitating facilities at the prisons and providing vehicles.

“Our major issue now is those awaiting trial. I found out that many of the inmates in Port Harcourt Prisons have been there for an upward of five years without going to court. We have to look into the investigation and arrest of suspects because if investigation is poor, prosecution would be difficult.”

The courts, he noted, have a lot to do too because cases are repeatedly adjourned. According to him, prison officials cannot do anything about prison population as the place only warehouses inmates brought to them.

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He also identified other factors, which needs to be addressed in order to tackle the problem of prison congestion. One of them, he said, is the role of the department of public prosecution in ensuring that legal opinions are treated expeditiously.

Dambazau said: “We collectively have to do a lot about our prison system. We have insisted that officers of prisons, immigration and Police must train in order to gain promotion. Being a prison officer requires special training.”

The controller general of Prisons, Ja’afaru Ahmed said the prison budget for 2018 stands at N16.6 billion. According to him, the age long neglect of the Nigerian Prisons Service is gradually being addressed.

“We are demolishing our old structures for new ones. We shall soon commission new prisons such as Yola, Ibadan and Port Harcourt in order to decongest the prisons. There is a committee headed by the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) set up by the Attorney General of the Federation to look into the condition of the prisons in order to decongest it,” he declared.

He said over 279 condemned prisoners are in Jos Prisons alone. “We are appealing that government commute those verdicts to prison terms so we can manage them well,” he requested, adding that the NPS is building 3000 capacity prisons in Kano. According to him, that kind of facility would be replicated in other geopolitical zones with time.

“We want to establish many borstal institutions and the Kano central prison would be used as borstal institute when the new one is completed,” he revealed.

In his goodwill message, the chair, Administration of Criminal Justice Act Monitoring Committee and Chief Judge of the FCT, Justice Isaq Bello congratulated PRAWA and the Nigerian Prisons for embarking on the survey

According to him, the outcome of the presentation would help his committee to decongest the prisons. He also stated that his committee is currently on fact-finding visit to all the prisons in the Nigeria

He said: “Whichever the industry, we must appreciate that data is changing the face of our world and for the prisons, the collation, flow and analysis of data are key elements for policy development, budgeting and resource allocation

“Furthermore, this innovative enterprise if properly applied will ensure access to justice and provision of appropriate services in prisons nationwide. Additionally, it will help in the evaluation and provision of proper services such as may assist in meeting the educational, recreational, health and legal needs of prisoners.”

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Ambassador of Switzerland to Nigeria, Eric Mayoraz, said the issue of improvement of Nigerian Criminal Justice System is of great importance towards the promotion, peace, security and development in Nigeria.

This initiative, he said aligns with some of the past and ongoing interventions of the government of Switzerland, which includes providing support for the training on human rights for prison officers and police officers.

“On the prisons side, the Embassy of Switzerland is also supporting a similar project of mainstreaming human rights for the personnel of the Nigerian Prisons Services. The project started in 2014 and is implemented with the NGO UCHEFEM for the NPS.

This project helped the NPS to develop and produce human rights training manuals to bridge a vital human resource gap in this area. Based on the manuals, trainings are provided all over the country,” the diplomat said, urging all key stakeholders to participate and ensure the effective implementation of all recommendations contained in report.

Executive Director of PRAWA, Dr. Uju Agomuo said the main objective of the report is to assist in reducing the number of those who are in pretrial detention.

Her words: “We found out that most of those in the prisons are those who are poor. Therefore, the recommendations require a multifaceted approach because no individual will do it alone.”

Some of the far reaching recommendations of the report include the implementation of the legal provisions and operational policies aimed at speeding up trial process, need for speedy and quality dispensation of justice, need to explore alternatives to imprisonment measures, promotion of oversight and accountability of the criminal justice process.

Others borders on the need for inter-intra agency and multi-sectoral coordination aimed at speeding up trial process, adequate budgetary provisions, addressing social and economic inequalities, promoting prison and community based rehabilitation programmes, Strategic engagement of the leadership of the prison service and where necessary with relevant agencies including the executive and the legislators to articulate clear strategies to effectively address the issues identified by the prison staff as their key problems namely: Staff Overwork, Delayed Promotion, Non availability of Work Tools, Obsolete Equipment, Poor Remuneration, Threats by Inmates and Corruption.