Nigerian Muslims will join their counterparts all over the world to celebrate the Idul-Fitr within the next 48 hours. Idul-Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan during which Muslim faithfuls observe either 30 or 29 days of fasting and engage in rigorous spiritual exercises.
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) felicitates with the overall leader of Nigerian Muslims, His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III mni, the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) on this auspicious occasion. We also rejoice with all Nigerians for witnessing the day.
As Ramadan is a season that evokes humanitarian feelings among mankind, we use the occasion to call the attention of the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to the plight of prison inmates. Nigerian prisons are notorious for being overcrowded, dirty, and unfit for human habitation.
Exempli gratia, Olokuta Prison in Ondo State which has capacity for 160 prisoners now has about 688 inmates. Port Harcourt prison in Rivers State which was designed to take only 804 prisoners currently has about 2,900. Prisoners sleep in turn. Meals served in the prisons are not only too small, they are not even good enough for dogs. The amount allocated for each prisoner for meal per day is unprintable.
This is not only pathetic, it is dehumanising. Contrary to international best practices, the Nigerian prison system has become an institution for the devaluation of Allah-given fundamental human rights.
Most prisons in the country have therefore become recruitment grounds for criminals and people jailed for minor offences or kept in jail while awaiting trial end up graduating as gang leaders or come out of prison as numero uno enemies of society. It is very sad that many inmates spend years awaiting trial. Nigerian prisons have thus become factories for speedy and mass production of criminals. Little wonder, therefore, that crime increases on a daily basis as prison ‘graduates’ besiege society for their pound of flesh.
MURIC denounces the long delays in trials throughout Nigeria. We believe that speedy trials are possible if the Federal Government can introduce Court-in-prison adjudication method whereby court houses are built inside prison walls. This will eliminate the disturbing incidence of inability to arraign suspects in court due to traffic jam or lack of prison vehicle to move them. Court-in-prison method will also reduce if not totally eliminate the incidence of suspects escaping en route the courts or within the court premises. Prison authorities are advised to ensure that bullion vans used to convey prisoners to court are well ventilated.
Prisons in hot climates like Bauchi, Sokoto and Maiduguri should be equipped with a central aircondition system while the obnoxious practice of transferring prisoners targeted for special punishment to such hot climates should be discontinued forthwith. Such transfers are usually politically motivated.
More prisons should be built. Both the old and new ones should be well equipped with such facilities that befit human existence and grant respect for the dignity of the homo sapien. More judges should also be appointed. Bottlenecks in the trial of awaiting-trial inmates should be removed as much as possible. Judges should adopt preference for light and affordable fines for lesser offences instead of imprisonment which result in choking the prisons’ capacities.
In addition, judges should consider the pronouncement of suspended sentences for light offences. People who are fined little amounts of money (e.g. from N3,000 to N10,000) should be given at least one week respite to pay instead of clamping them in jail because there is nobody in court to assist them. The Nigerian prison system should not be made to look like the rich waging war on the poor.
Nigerian judges should desist from pronouncing ridiculous judgements. For instance, a judge in Otta, Ogun State, last week sentenced a man to one month in jail for stealing seven pieces of meat. Another judge sent somebody to jail for stealing one tuber of yam. Contrasting sharply with the principles of natural justice, a politician who stole billions of naira was only fined less than ten percent of the amount he stole.
MURIC charges FG to embark on aggressive decongestion of prisons. The Chief Judges in the states can set up special Task Forces on Prison Congestion (STAFOP). Judges serving in the STAFOP can routinely visit prisons in the state and administer clemency on a weekly basis until the prisons become habitable and run on normal capacity. The current practice whereby chief judges or state governors breeze in occasionally to free two or three inmates does not even scratch the surface.
How can we give relief to just two people when hundreds are suffering untold and unjust hardship? What Nigeria needs right now is an intensive prison decongestion initiative which is capable of setting inmates free in their forties and fifties on a weekly basis. Only then can we boast of an equitable justice system. Only then can we talk of treating every Nigerian with dignity. How can we criticize foreign countries who maltreat our citizens when we treat fellow Nigerians like pigs?
In addition to the above suggestions, the health of inmates should be FG’s priority. Competent physicians should attend to prisoners while no ailment or complaint should be ignored by prison officials. In view of the fact that prisons are basically designed to reform and not to be punitive, the current efforts of prison authorities to empower inmates economically should be strengthened by FG.
Finally, MURIC reminds President Buhari that he will account before Almighty Allah for every prisoner maltreated during his administration. Prophet Muhammad said in the hadith, “All of you are shepherds and all of you will be made to account for your sheep on the Day of Judgement” (Kulukunm raa’in wa kulukunm mas’uulun ‘an ra’iyyatihi)
Professor Ishaq Akintola,
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC)