Incidents of jailbreaks within the country are becoming rampant. For instance, 13 prisoners escaped from the Koton Kafe prison in Kogi State on July 29, 2016. Another 15 prisoners escaped from Nsukka prison on August 9, 2016, while an attempted jailbreak occurred in the Abakaliki prison on Thursday August 18, 2016.
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) is greatly worried about these regular jailbreaks. They constitute an eloquent testimony to the porous nature of our prisons as well as the poor security arrangements in them. We lay the blame for the frequent jailbreaks squarely on the doorsteps of the Federal Government (FG), Nigerian prison authorities and the country’s slow, unresponsive and archaic judicial system.
Poor prison conditions force prisoners to find alternatives to their predicament. Unfortunately the poor conditions are products of corrupt practices among prison officials. Prisoners are stinted of food while a large part of raw food supplied is diverted to private homes. Funds meant for the rehabilitation of prisons are siphoned to private bank accounts. The trial of Imaobong Akon Esu-Nte, an accountant with the Nigeria Prisons Service and two others who laundered prisons funds is an eye-opener in this regard.
Overcrowded prisons constitute a major cassu belli for jailbreaks. For example, Nsukka prison which currently accommodates about 500 inmates was built to house 180 inmates only. Enugu Maximum Security Prison, built in 1915 for 638 inmates now houses 1,800. Bauchi Prison which was established in 1820 with the capacity to cater for just 500 inmates now has 1,041. Koton Kafe prison in Kogi State built for 180 inmates now contains 263. Kaduna central prison, established in 1915 for 547 inmates, now has a total of 954 prisoners.
The awaiting trial factor cannot be ignored in the issue of jailbreaks. Exempli gratia, only 82 of the 467 inmates in Minna old prison are convicts. The remaining 385 are awaiting trial. Also, only 104 out of 418 inmates in the new Minna prison are convicts. The remaining 314 are awaiting trial. There are 774 awaiting trial inmates out of the 1,041 in Bauchi prison. Aba prison is the worst as only 113 of the total 600 inmates are convicts.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the above data is alarming. It is noteworthy that the mastermind of Abakaliki jailbreak has been an awaiting trial inmate since 2007. 80 inmates are allegedly insane in Aba prison due to overcrowding. Underaged inmates are kept with much older and hardened criminals for the same reason.
Kazeem Sani spent 10 years in Kirikiri prison without trial on allegation of stealing a mobile phone valued N10,000 in 2006 He was freed this year (2016). Emeka Arum who was accused of armed robbery spent eight years in Enugu prison custody awaiting trial. Kingsley Udenu spent 9 years in prison awaiting trial on allegation of armed robbery and illegal possession of firearms before he was set free in January 2016. What kind of system is this? Why does Nigeria’s culture of waste focus on its youths?
A government that cannot accommodate prisoners and detainees or arrange speedy trials for those apprehended has no moral right to arrest more suspects. Our prison system merely serves the interest of crime rings and their leaders as it provides them easy access to fresh recruits. The onus is therefore on the Federal Government to rise to the occasion.
We commend state governors and Chief Judges who have freed large numbers of awaiting trial prison inmates. Topmost among these are Niger State Chief Judge, Fati Abubakar who freed 70 inmates on Wednesday April 5, 2016 from Minna prisons; Kaduna State Chief Judge, Tanimu Zailani who released 56 inmates from Kaduna Central Prison on Wednesday March 16, 2016 and the Chief Judge of Ekiti State, Ayodele Daramola, who freed 28 awaiting trial inmates from various prisons in the state during a recent inspection visit.
MURIC calls on both the Federal and state governments to immediately embark on an aggressive decongestion programme for prisons. Nigeria is overripe for a radical prison reform. A more robust and more pragmatic legal aid scheme should also be introduced.
We reiterate our earlier suggestion for the introduction of courts-in-prisons. Courts-in-prisons system enables government to build courts inside prisons thereby bringing courts to those who need them most. This will eliminate logistic problems usually faced by prison authorities when attempting to arraign suspects in court.
Finally, policemen and prison authorities should henceforth be made accountable for delayed hearings. Policemen who are eager to make arrests and prison wardens who keep the detainees awaiting trial must be held responsible for any delay in bringing suspects to court. For example, any policeman in charge of a case who fails to turn up in court at the right time must himself be remanded in prison custody to have a taste of the pudding. In addition, such a policeman must not be promoted for the next two years.
The Federal Government should improve prison conditions. More prisons should be built to accommodate enough inmates. Both the state and Federal Governments should enter into partnership with civil society to set up probe panels for investigating all cases of awaiting trial in the country. Any inmate found to have been unjustly imprisoned must be compensated by the relevant authorities. Such compensation must be commensurate with the victim’s level of annual income. Nigeria’s democracy is a fraud if we continue to allow innocent people to suffer for years.
Professor Ishaq Akintola,
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC)
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC),
E-mail: [email protected]
Yahoo Group: groups.yahoo.com/group/muslimrights