To guarantee the rights of inmates, stakeholders at a roundtable dialogue have called on the need for Nigeria’s prison system reform.
Participants at the event titled: ”Current Issues of Concern in the Nigerian Prison System,” organised by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) on Friday in Abuja said deliberate effort must be made to tackle the challenges.
The Executive Director, CURE-Nigeria, Sylvester Uhaa, noted that access to justice is a basic principle of the rule of law.
According to him, in the absence of access to justice, people are unable to have their voice heard, exercise their rights, challenge discrimination or hold decision-makers accountable.
Quoting the Late Nelson Mandela, Uhaa said that ”a country is not judged by how it treats its privileged citizens, but how it treats its poor citizens.”
He said it was however disheartening that a visit to any of prisons and detention facilities in Nigeria would immediately reveal how the country treats detainees and prisoners most of whom are poor and marginalised people.
”Our prisons and detention facilities across the country are overcrowded, many of them holding double or thrice their actual capacities.
”In addition, feeding is extremely poor and access to healthcare, access to justice, access to rehabilitation, counseling and reintegration programmes remain critically inadequate in some prisons and completely absent in others.
”Of the over 75, 000 prisoners, more than 45, 000 are awaiting trial, representing about 68.70 percent,” he lamented.
He called on government to embark on prison reform by building more prisons, recruit more police officers, increase security budgets and buy more arms for law enforcement agencies.
He said this should also include an effective and economically sustainable public safety strategy that would ensure investments to help reduce recidivism and address the root causes of crime such as unemployment, marginalisation, lack of access to justice and poverty.
Dr. Uju Agomoh, Executive Director, Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), said there is the need to review Nigeria’s prison bill to protect the rights of the prison inmates.
She urged that if the Nigerian Correctional Service Bill is passed into law by the legislature and assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari, many of the challenges facing the sector would become a thing of the past.
A human rights lawyer, Onyeka Asogwa, condemned cases where a fake court order is procured with the aim of unjustly imprison innocent persons, urging prison authorities to intensify effort on investigating the authenticity of the court order before incarcerating any perceived offender.
Asogwa, who attributed prison congestion to delay in the trial of inmates, lamented cases of a juvenile in prisons.
”Many of our underaged people come out of prisons as hardened criminals,” he said.
He said the problem of prison congestion would be reduced if accuse with minor offences are not taken to prisons.
Mrs. Leticia Daniels, Director of Prison Decongestion, Federal Ministry of Justice, said effort should be made by the government at various levels to establish industrial centres to help promote the inmates’ industrial capability.
She said this would help them to earn income, even after serving their prison term.
Speaking, Dr Vladimir Kreck, Resident Representative of KAS, a German foundation, said a reform is not only desirable in the judicial system but the police system.
Kreck, who said issues of prison congestion and human rights abuse should be taken seriously, called on the government to improve on the compliance with the rule of law.
He said the foundation organised the workshop to see how solutions could be proferred to the problems besetting the country’s prison system.