A report entitled, “Country reports on human rights practices for 2015” written by the United States Department of States, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour has revealed that the Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS) leads government agencies engaging in rape, human rights abuses, extra-judicial killings and illegal freedom to inmates.
The Nigerian Armed Forces, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and the Department of State Services (DSS) were also accused of serious human rights abuses in their operations.
There is no doubt that this report is highly scandalous and ridiculous as it has again brought to the fore the steadily increasing level of indiscipline, moral decadence, corruption, injustice and human rights abuses in the affected government agencies.
We observe that the criminal atrocities being perpetrated by these officials are not new. However, it is saddening that successive administrations in the country have failed to curb the excesses of these unscrupulous officials.
We condemn in strong terms the present situation in which prison officials use their privileged positions to forcefully subject poor and defenceless inmates they are paid to protect to sexual abuse and other forms of human rights abuse.
In sane climes across the globe, inmates feel safe and comfortable in the hands of prison officials. They are guaranteed unhindered protection and safety in addition to the fact that they are made to undergo trainings to equip them with skills and knowledge they will find useful on completion of their prison terms.
It is unfortunate that in Nigeria, this is not the case. The Nigerian prison system is more punitive than corrective or reformatory. Over the years, the prison and criminal justice system have been deteriorating in spite of huge budgetary allocations by successive administrations in the country. If such colossal funds had been judiciously expended, the prisons, most of which are in state of dilapidation would have achieved the cardinal objectives for which they were established.
It is a fact that the Nigerian prison system is a veritable ground for breeding criminals. There are no adequate measures, especially in terms of facilities and infrastructure to ensure reformation of inmates. The welfare of inmates is neglected and they are not usefully engaged while serving their terms. This is why when they return to the society on completion of their jail terms, many of them resort to various forms of criminality.
It is worrisome that prison officials, because of irresistible pecuniary inducements, connive with criminals in and outside the prison, to frustrate government’s efforts to reform the prison and criminal justice systems.
A situation in which prison officials flagrantly extort money from inmates for food and prison maintenance is illegal, unfair and unacceptable, especially judging by the fact that government is expected to have provided funds for such services.
It is regrettable that after 56 years of independence, the Nigerian prison system cannot guarantee safety and protection of inmates from rape, and other forms of human rights abuse.
Prison officials, as well as officials in other government agencies such as the NPF, the Nigerian Armed Forces and the DSS are expected to protect poor, harmless and defenceless citizens in their custody from danger.
These agencies should not subject the citizens to untold hardship such as human rights abuses.
The criminal justice system and the prison system should be reviewed urgently in view of the human rights abuses the citizenry are being subjected to by officials of government agencies.
We recommend that only incorruptible persons of proven integrity and sound mind should be employed as prison officials. All cases of rape, human rights abuses and extortion against prison officials should be thoroughly investigated. Those found culpable should be penalised appropriately to serve as a deterrent to others.
Government, religious organisations and other relevant bodies should organise enlightenment programmes for inmates to enable them take necessary actions whenever prison officials abuse their rights.
Finally, government should sanitise the prison system through adequate funding, upgrading and rehabilitating the facilities and making imprisonment to be corrective rather than punitive.