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 Published May 11th, 2010

Prisons remain one of the public institutions in Nigeria that need urgent reform. The call for the reform of the Nigeria prison services is becoming a perennial thing as successive governments have failed to do anything tangible in that direction. Of course, the major problem confronting the Nigeria prison system is congestion caused by persons awaiting trial in prisons across the country.

The figure of awaiting trial persons is rising daily and it is becoming an embarrassment to the nation. For too long, the plights of the prisoners were not properly addressed. The recent disclosure by the Minister of Interior, Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho (rtd) that Nigeria is faced with the challenge of prison management is correct considering the figure of awaiting trial persons (ATPs) which was put at 30,000, representing over 65 per cent of the estimated prisoners-population of 46,000. Indeed, a large percentage of Nigeria prison immates have stayed for five to seven years in detention without trial. This upsurge trend is an eye opener, and its portrays the ugly state of our prison services.

The condition of the Nigerian prisons is equally begging for attention. Prisons supposed to be rehabilitation centres. It is disheartening that in Nigeria, prisons are death traps. Immates of our prisons are often subjected to in human and degrading treatments, in violation of the human rights provisions enshrined in the nation;s constitution and in line with relevant international conventions and agreements.

Of course, unnecessary delays have become more or less associated with the process of executing the condemned prisoners and this could be blamed on the state governors. Realizing their roles in causing the congestion in the nationís prisons, the 36 state governors have collectively resolved recently at the national council of state parley to weed out condemned prisoners for execution as a measure to decongest the over-crowded prisons across the country. Abuse or reluctant use of prerogative of mercy by some state governors partly contributes to the congestion in the Nigerian prisons. Meanwhile, where the application of this discretionary power is required, it should be applied liberally. It is against this background that I am suggesting that amnesty should be granted some of the awaiting trial persons who are held in detention for no just cause

More worrisome is the condition of persons awaiting trial in the prisons across the country. It seems authorities that manage the Nigerian prison services lack the culture, wisdom and intellectual wherewithal to put the already decayed prisons in good shape. What a country called Nigeria!

Moreover, the menace of corruption is indeed an obstacle to judicial independence in Nigeria and inability of the judges to uphold the tenets of justice and equity could predictably lead to influx of innocent persons in prisons. Even with sufficient legislation the services of incorruptible judges are required for correct interpretation of laws and sound justice administration.

The continuous rise in the population of the persons awaiting trial in prisons, in a sense, is traceable to ineptitude of the police and its allied agencies and office of the Director of public prosecution in the various states of the Federation; these bodies are constitutionally responsible for propelling prosecution of criminal cases in Nigeria. Also, abuse of the principle of presumption of innocence of an accused person by the police is a correlate of rise in the figure of awaiting trial persons in prisons across the country. In controvertibly, it is trite in law generally and in the Nigeria criminal procedure in particular that every person charged with criminal offence must be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty by court of competent jurisdiction.

It is regretful that some awaiting trial persons are victims of circumstances but then they deserve to be given fair trial within reasonable time; otherwise, it would be a case of human right violation. The use of adjournments is another tool usually employed by some members of the bar to delay justice, thereby causing a person to be committed into prison as awaiting trial inmate.

The implication of the rise in the figure of awaiting trial persons is grievous as this affects the image of nation abroad; hence, the need for total reform of our prison and judicial systems. More importantly, the reform envisaged in this circumstance should be holistic and should extend to the assessment of the roles of police, courts and other related Agencies in causing dilemma for the nation in the areas of management of the prison services and judicial administration.


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