If insecurity was already a nagging problem nibbling at the edges of every Nigerian mind, it seems the worst is yet to come
In a country that used to soak in security and serenity, insecurity has gradually become Nigeria’s lived reality as the country continues to absorb the horrifying jailbreak that facilitated the escape of over two hundred detainees from a prison facility in Kabba, Kogi State.
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Reports have it that it was a well-orchestrated attack led by armed men who set upon the prison with the clear intention of overwhelming its security and freeing the prisoners.
As it’s always the case when something like this happens, prison authorities immediately put in place measures to recapture the fleeing inmates.
As it stands, some of them have been recaptured while others are yet on the run. It remains to be seen how it will all end but history suggests that at the end of the day, the state and the country at large will be left with more questions than answers.
In Nigeria, even prison officials find it difficult to answer questions about what really goes on behind the walls of Nigerian prisons. There have been harrowing reports of human beings reduced to the most basic levels of their humanity because they have been detained for running afoul of the law.
It has been whispered that behind prison walls, life is reduced to the bare bones and prisoners are left to confront their worst fears.
More than half of the over 200 prisoners who escaped from the Medium Facility Prison in Kabba Kogi state were said to be inmates awaiting trial. In essence, what had conspired to restrict them behind bars were mostly generous allegations which were yet to be subjected to the crucible of judicial proceedings. In essence, the constitutional presumption of innocence the law accords has never been stripped away by the guilty verdict of any court.
In Nigeria, the wheels of justice grind ever so slowly. In its lazy, ponderous whirl, it crushes the poorest Nigerians who are often without the means to secure necessary legal services absolutely crucial to wriggle out of Nigeria`s increasingly obfuscated legal process.
A country where very little works is bound to throw up a lot of creaky institutions and it is no exaggeration to say that the Nigerian prisons system has a lot of yawning cracks through which many innocent Nigerians fall, never to recover.
These cracks do not at all trace their provenance to the prisons alone. They run from a dozen places all at once. Of course, the executive arm of government is to be fingered as the chief culprit.
It is no secret that the prisons are both underfunded and poorly managed. The legislature weighs into the conversation with watery legislations that make life comfortable for those who do not want to shore up leaky Nigerian institutions.
Then there is the interesting case of the judiciary, the mythical last hope of the common man. Overworked and underfunded, the judiciary has often been abandoned by the executive and legislative arms of government to face the frustrations of Nigerians on its own.
When Nigerians are pressed to cite those complicit in condoning the cancerous corruption that is eating up the heart of the country, the judiciary is often the first to draw a wag of accusatory fingers.
Because, just like the prisons, the courts are underfunded, their overflowing dockets leaving too few hands with too much to do in very little time.
Consequently, a lot of innocent people spend an inordinate amount of time in prisons. Some of them spend even more time than they would if they are actually convicted of the crimes they are accused of.
Nigeria’s criminal justice is about the safety of Nigerians. It is about the serenity and security of Nigerians and their property. But it is also about dignity. One of the cardinal aims of justice is to preserve the dignity of people and restore same when it is lost.
Bearing these in mind, it is totally unjustifiable that those whose crimes have not been substantiated by judicial proceedings beyond the often outlandish allegations of Nigeria’s law enforcement agencies are locked up in perpetuity.
It is not the way to go for any society that seeks to grow. It is certainly not the way to go for Nigeria.
Kene Obiezu writes from Abuja