Vanguard (Lagos)

1 February 2013

Nigeria: Care for Prisoners

THE abject neglect of prisoners points to official disrespect for rights of convicts and suspects. Awaiting Trial Inmates and people in prison custody are treated with zero level respect, a reflection of the general treatment of Nigerians.

Not less than 80 persons once awaited the hangmen in Kirikiri Maximum Prisons. More disheartening is the revelation that some condemned men are on death row for about 20 years. The delay is caused by withholding of consent by the governor and sometimes insufficient number of hangmen.

Others, as suspects, spend years without any hope of their trial being concluded. Hundreds of others, who are in prison custody, have lost hope of freedom over endless delays in the conclusion of police investigations.

Yet most of our prisons have semi-functional clinic without doctors, sometimes nurses, and a pharmacist. There are no medical equipment, no drugs. Such clinics cannot provide basic medical services. Diseases and deaths are rampant.

It is inhuman and mean for condemned criminals to be all kept in jail 20 years after being sentenced. The psychological trauma and emotional destabilisation caused such condemned men are far reaching. They smack of state cruelty.

Something urgent has to be done to the criminal justice system of the country so that suspects will not be perpetually kept in prisons due to delays in their trial. Inadequate vehicles, endless police investigations as a result of poor equipment or frequent transfer of personnel, insufficient evidence and reluctance of witnesses to testify are some of the reasons that delay trials. The state should not hold people when it does not have the processes to ensure their speedy trial.

Section 34 (4) of the Constitution that forbids unending detention of suspects is observed in breach. Neither the courts, nor lawyers have made any serious efforts to enforce these provisions, which include apology and compensation for people detained illegally. Our laws expect decent treatment of prisoners and suspects who are presumed innocent until pronounced guilty by a competent court.

Every Minister of Justice pays lip service to the release of suspects who have been held for years without trial though it is a major plank for prison decongestion. The hypocrisy and abuse of human rights of inmates should stop.

More prisons equipped with facilities that would guarantee rehabilitation, the ultimate goal of any serious country's penal system, will be helpful. Functional medical facilities should also be provided. A comprehensive review of the justice system is vital to reduce arbitrary detentions that cause prison congestions.

Governors must invoke their constitutional powers of prerogative of mercy as provided for in Sections 175 and 212 of the Constitution, if they are unwilling to confirm the death sentences.

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