Nigerian Prisons’ Condition Begs the Questions of Human Rights and Dignity

In Nigeria, the state of prisons is substandard, dangerous, and inhumane for inmates. In 2022, Premium Times reported that twenty inmates lost their lives due to pulmonary tuberculosis, which they contracted while imprisoned. Another hundred inmates continue to battle with the infection due to overcrowding and poor management of the disease. The vulnerability that inmates witness in prisons contravenes their human dignity and right to an adequate standard of living. Prison renovation and decongestion through judiciary reforms and quick trials are critical to improving the living conditions in prisons. Also, frequent training of prison wardens and other prison authorities is an absolute necessity for maintaining the rights and dignity of prisoners.

In Nigerian prisons, individuals awaiting trial and those convicted are often confined together. The mixture thus causes a lack of clear distinction, as seen in more advanced countries where separate facilities such as jails exist for those awaiting trial or serving a short term, while prisons are for convicted individuals. This lack of separation contributes to congestion issues in Nigerian prisons. It is crucial to distinguish convicts from those awaiting trial. This distinction can be achieved by separating both facilities, thereby giving convicts and those awaiting trial different identities.

Inmates are humans too, and despite their offenses, their rights and dignity as human beings must always be protected.

In a report by Dataphyte, an average prison in Nigeria is overcrowded by 37 percent. The Dataphyte report also documented that out of the 70,056 prisoners that prisons in Nigeria currently hold, only 19,234 inmates have been convicted, while the remaining 50,822 are awaiting trial. Irrespective of the gravity of the crime anyone is accused of, they have a right to a fair hearing in court before being committed to prison. And if they cannot afford a lawyer at the time of arrest, the state should provide them with human rights lawyers. Additionally, the state can enhance inmates’ access to various legal non-governmental organizations that offer pro bono services to ensure they get legal representation.

To hasten the judicial process to determine the innocence or guilt of prisoners, the judiciary should enforce the existing law that limits the maximum period of pre-trial detention to two months in Nigeria. When the timeline that is set for anyone accused of a crime to appear in court is enforced, all the stakeholders involved will be put on their toes. With this solution, the number of people awaiting trial in Nigerian prisons will drastically reduce.

Although inmates are people who, by law, are committed to prison as a punishment for a crime or awaiting trial in the case of jails, it is necessary to uphold their human rights. According to the United Nations, a prison or jail should be built with full basic facilities to foster the well-being and human dignity of inmates. The government should endeavor to partner with the private sector or donors to remodel the prisons across the country. The private sector and donors can help construct more prisons, easing the burden on the government.

Furthermore, prisoners experience an infringement of their human rights and dignity at the hands of prison wardens. Other than rehabilitating prisoners, prisons end up getting prisoners victimized due to the treatment received at the hands of prison officers. To curb infringement from prison workers, the Ministry of Interior, which is responsible for prison management in Nigeria, should partner with the National Human Rights Commission to periodically train and get prison workers aware of the need to protect prisoners’ rights and dignity. With such training in place, the rate of human rights violations in Nigerian prisons will reduce drastically.

Inmates are humans too, and despite their offenses, their rights and dignity as human beings must always be protected by all stakeholders involved. From giving an arrested person a fair hearing to ensuring that prison cells are not congested and also making sure that prison workers treat prisoners as humans, the narrative about prisoners’ rights in Nigeria will become better.

Immanuel Táiyéwò Fáwọlé is a writing fellow at African Liberty.

Photo by Ehsan Habashi via Unsplash.