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Chaos in Nigerian prisons: Two weeks, two riots

Nigerian prisons are gradually becoming the home of chaos as officials continually struggle to manage the overpopulated prisons. There have been jailbreaks, escapes, attempted jailbreak…

Nigerian prisons are gradually becoming the home of chaos as officials continually struggle to manage the overpopulated prisons. There have been jailbreaks, escapes, attempted jailbreak and riot within the past three months.
The first was at the Kuje Medium Prison on June 24, 2016 where two high profile inmates; Solomon Amodu and Maxwell Ajukwu (both standing trial for culpable homicide) escaped from custody and are still at large.
Again, on July 30, 2016, 13 inmates escaped from the Koton Karfe Minimum Prisons in Kogi State. On August 8, 2016, there was another jailbreak in Nsukka, Enugu State, where 15 inmates, comprising 10 pre-trial detainees and three convicts allegedly escaped.
The Service had foiled an attempted jailbreak after a riot erupted on August 18, 2016 at the Abakaliki Prison, Ebonyi State, which led to the death of six inmates and four prison warders sustaining injuries.
Sporadic gun shots rent the air at the Kuje Prisons last Monday morning as inmates rioted. That was the second time in 11 days that the Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS) would experience such riot.
Sources informed Daily Trust that in Monday’s incident, problem started when some inmates resisted attempt by prison officials to search their cells for banned items.
The Controller of Prisons Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Command, Daniel Odharo, confirmed to Daily Trust that: “At about 1000hrs on Monday August 29, 2016,  staff of Kuje Prison carried out a routine cell-search which is a part of the Prisons operational guidelines to prevent breach of security within and around the prisons.
“Some inmates tried to resist the exercise which led to an altercation between the search party and the inmates. This was quickly put under effective control.”
While speaking with Daily Trust on phone, he insisted that no prisoner was injured, no property damaged, and that calmness was brought to the yard immediately.
“One single person was not killed, one single person was not injured either staff or inmate. There was a quarrel between the inmates and the officers who are working there, nothing more than that,” he said.
While reacting to the deployment of more security officers to the prison while the “misunderstanding” lasted, Odharo said: “Deployment is a normal thing; you have to know that this place is a prison. If there was a quarrel between two people and there was a deployment, it doesn’t mean there is a riot.”
However, it was gathered that there was actually a riot as inmates attacked prison warders who were approaching their block to conduct the routine search having conducted such in other blocks.
According to a reliable source: “The convicts attacked prison warders with stones as they were approaching their block,” which he said, resulted in some of the warders being injured.
The source added that authorities were contacted immediately and the Prisons Service responded with the deployment of its armed squad with a military detachment joining afterwards to contain the situation.
“They shot into the air, and then shot tear gas to disperse the inmates who were already gathering momentum,” the source said.
It was learnt that the inmates resisted the warders because the prohibited items were brought in by the same warders in the first place, after being tipped. Trafficking has been a serious issue in most of the prisons in the country with prohibited materials finding their ways into the prison at an alarming rate.
The NPS spokesman, DCP Francis Enobore, when contacted, lamented the unfair treatment the Service was getting from the media, insisting that the country’s prisons were not in chaos as claimed.
“I was there (the prison) and I didn’t see anyone shot or injured,” he said. “We have degenerated to witch-hunting journalism to the extent that we don’t get comfortable with good happenings. We said there was no crisis but you people will always turn stories upside down just to sell your papers.”
Responding to the suggestion that personnel may have recovered 25 handsets from just one inmate, Enobore said “we found handsets and non-authorized materials but not from just one inmate.”
“They use telephone to organize attacks, jailbreaks and escape. So, you should know we were doing the right thing by searching their cells at intervals.”
He said the Controller General, Ja’afaru Ahmed, was determined to reform the Prison Service, calling on the public to exercise patience with the Service as its reforms will soon begin to yield fruits.
The Prisons Public Relations Officer also noted that the Service was determined to sanction any personnel caught trafficking unauthorized items into the prisons, recalling that an officer had already been sacked for trafficking.
Trafficking contravenes the provisions of sections 14 (i) (a) and 82 (n) of Prisons Act, Cap P.29, LFN, 2004, and is punishable under sections 14 (i) (g) and 83 of the Act.
It would be recalled that the Service, in July, dismissed a female prison officer, Mary Ikenye, for smuggling alcohol into the Kirikiri Prisons in Lagos.
The dismissal letter signed on behalf of the Controller-General of Prisons by the officer-in-charge of discipline, DCP Agun Olatunji, stated that Ikenye was found guilty of negative activities which bordered on trafficking.
Enobore said: “The offence is usually viewed seriously because of its potential threat to security. Cases of inmates making illegal phone calls from their cells, organising jailbreaks and having access to weapons are all traced to trafficking, sometimes perpetrated by  staff and this has often been a source of  embarrassment, not only to the Service but the nation at large.
“Such compromising acts do not augur well for the security of a custodial institution like the Nigeria Prisons Service and also put the lives of innocent workers and inmates in serious danger.”
Aside the issue of trafficking, overcrowding is another major problem militating against effective prisons management in Nigeria.
As at August 29, 2016, the record shows that a total inmate population in the Nigerian prisons is 63, 000 with 17,897 convicted (28%) while 45, 263 are awaiting trial inmates (72%).
Almost all the prison formations in the country are housing a double or more of their capacity. Looking at the prisons attacked in the last three months, one could easily deduce that the population of inmates is overwhelming. For instance, Kuje Prison with 560 inmate capacity locks 804 prisoners out of which 576 are awaiting trial.
Also, Koton Karfe prison has a capacity of 160 prisoners but keeps 263 with 228 awaiting trial while Port Harcourt Prison, built in 1918 for 804 prisoners, now houses 3,849 with 3,356 awaiting trial. Abakaliki prison has an inmate population of 922 out of which 793 are awaiting trial.
Interestingly, better days may be closer than anticipated. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has entered into partnership with the Nigerian government to drastically reduce over population in most of the prison yards across the country by effectively implementing the non-custodial measures.
At a workshop in Abuja within the week, the UNODC Country Representative, Ms. Christina Albertin, said the justice project aimed at supporting improvement in prison conditions across the country is being funded by the European Union and being implemented at the federal level and other nine states.
The focal states are Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Imo, Katsina, Lagos, Osun and Yobe.
The project, she said, is “aimed at supporting government at the federal and state levels at enhancing the functioning of the justice sector including reducing undue delays, improving prison conditions and reducing backlogs.
“Backlogs and undue delays in the trial of criminal cases and unresolving civil disputes remain key problems in the justice sector, and is one of the main causes of very high numbers of awaiting trail detainees in prisons across Nigeria,” she stressed.
The advantages of non-custodial measures are numerous, including; saving the offenders from the trauma of imprisonment, preventing further contamination in criminalities through the prison informal socialisation process, offering the opportunity for genuine penitence, promoting effective re-integration of offenders and reducing the financial burden on government in the administration of criminal justice.

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