By Adejumo Kabir
In Nigeria, the high number of awaiting trial inmates is causing congestion, prison breaks.
Kunle Agata was arrested while returning from a football field in Oct. 2020 during one of the illegal raids that followed the Lekki shooting in Lagos.
The police accused him of being one of those who destroyed properties in the state during the #EndSARS protests, hence, he was driven to Panti Police Station.
A day after, he was arraigned before Igbosere Magistrate Court and subsequently remanded in Kirikiri correctional centre.
“I was not released until January 2022,” he said, claiming that his family members had to relocate to his hometown in Kogi State after they were given quit notice in their apartment in Lagos.
Kunle is one of many Nigerians rotting in prison in the name of ‘awaiting trials.’
According to lawyers, the Nigeria Police usually file cases that attract capital punishment at the magistrate court, which lacks jurisdiction to hear it. So, suspects are left to spend months or years in prison waiting for the proper filing to be done at the federal and state courts.
This, however, makes the country’s prison facilities with the capacity to hold 50,083 inmates hold up to 70,056. Findings revealed that while only 19,234 have been convicted, 50,822 are awaiting trial.
Over Crowded Prisons
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) says facilities are overcrowded in southwest, south-south and southeast regions of the country. While inmates in the northern parts are relatively lower, no fewer than two inmates are occupying the space intended for one person.
In July 2021, Interior Minister Rauf Aregbesola asked state governments to work with the federal government in addressing the challenges as an overwhelming majority of inmates in custody are state offenders.
Findings revealed that the overcrowding has caused damage to inmates’ physical and mental well-being. It also makes Nigeria spends N7.6 billion annually on awaiting trial inmates alone as about N450 is spent daily on each inmate, amounting to N21.3 million daily.
As Nigeria tries to lawfully decongest prisons, there has been a series of unlawful decongestion of correctional facilities as thousands of inmates, including condemned criminals, are escaping through violent attacks.
Though the federal government in November 2021 said it has captured the biometric data of all inmates in Nigerian correctional centres, and would help to rearrest them in the case of escape, no much success has been recorded.
The Blame Game
“I am disappointed with the intelligence system. How can terrorists organise, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it? I am expecting a comprehensive report on this shocking incident,” President Muhammadu Buhari said while reacting to the Kuje jail break that occured last year.
Senate President Ahmed Lawan also said he was shocked there were no Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) devices at the Kuje Prison.
“How on earth does a centre of this magnitude in the FCT not have any CCTV? It means we can say that all other medium security custodial centres across the country do not have CCTV”, Lawan added.
Meanwhile, 546 of Kuje escaped inmates are still at large.
Also, available data between 2020 and December 2021, shows that out of a total number of 4,369 inmates who escaped from various prisons, only 984 were recaptured.
The spokesperson of the Nigerian Correctional Service, Abubakar Umar, is yet to respond to calls and text messages from our reporter on efforts in place to address the growing menace.