How indiscriminate arrest by Lagos State government Task Force causes prison congestion

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  • 2,251 inmates on death row in Nigeria prisons
By OKOSUN DENNIS
Over the years, one of the major problems Nigeria Prisons Service (NIS) has been grappling with is prison congestions by inmates.
Often times, overstretching the paucity of facilities and in extreme cases culminating into violence, riots or outright jail breaks.
In order to deal with these monstrous challenges, prison officers have had to overburden themselves to meet with the competing demands to avoid overlap in most cases.
Unfortunately, just as cases of congestion abound, so also are the problems of facilities.
Investigations revealed that most of them were built during the colonial masters, which has, implicitly, led to decline in facilities and other social amenities compared to the astronomical increase in the number of inmates especially awaiting trials.
Why congestion in Nigeria Prisons
National Daily’s investigation revealed some of these prisons are congested especially in Lagos State due to indiscriminate arrest by various Task Forces established by the state governments.
For example in Lagos state, it was learnt that significant number of awaiting trial inmates in Lagos prisons are arrested by various Lagos State Government Task Forces which include War Against Indiscipline (WAI); Task Force on Environmental Sanitation and other sundry law enforcement including the Nigerian Police Force.
Unfortunately, in a society where all manner of crimes are being committed with brazen impunity such as armed robbery, kidnapping, murder and ritual killings and other fraud related crimes, offenders are bound to be arrested and reminded in prison custody, ultimately increasing the numbers of detainees.
Regrettably, due to the slow process of adjudication and prosecution coupled with unnecessary court adjournments of cases that would have been disposed off, such cases are met to linger timelessly without been resolved hence suspects are kept in prison facilities for too long.
A visit to the Lagos State Prisons Command revealed that the prisons at Ikoyi, Kirikiri, and Badagry are congested due to several arraignments by state agencies who carry out surreptitious raid of hot spots or most cases at night by men of the Nigerian Police.
As a result, the five prisons in the state, which originally have a capacity of 3,927 inmates now have a whopping 9,000 inmates in those facilities.
While given statistics of prisons under the Lagos State Command, the Lagos State Comptroller of Prisons, Cp Tunde Ladipo, explained that the capacity of Ikoyi prisons is 800 but presently has about 2,900 inmates.
Similarly, the Medium Security Prison with a capacity of 1,700 is currently accommodating over 3,800 inmates. For the Badagry prisons with a capacity of 160, the facilities have been overstretched to the extent of having about 490 inmates.
It was, however, gathered that the only prison in Lagos that has not overstretched its elasticity is the Female section that has just 211 inmates, a number less than its original capacity. But not so for the Maximum Prisons that has a capacity of 1,056 inmates but now boast of 1,440 inmates in its facility.
Statistics shows that the entire prisons in Nigeria have less than 60,000 capacity. However, record show that about 74,500 inmates are in those facilities across the country.
According to the spokesperson of the Nigeria Prisons Service (NIS) Deputy Controller of Prisons (DCP) Francis Erubore told National Daily that the problem of congestion has been a major issue the present management under CGP Jafaru Ahmed is grappling with frontally.
He explained that most of the prisons with high density are those located in urban cities compared to those in semi-urban areas.
He averred that “The overall available space in Nigerian prisons is less than 60, 000. However, most of these prisons that have congestions are those located in urban cities compared to those prisons in semi-urban locations. There are some of them that do not have half of their capacity.
“For example in the North West, a prison of about 1,600 inmates has less than 1,000. However, in a place like Warri, with not more than 360 inmates, we are having about 1,600. In Port Harcourt prisons of not more than 840 inmates, they are well over 4,000 inmates. Also, Ikoyi prisons with a capacity of less than 1,000, we are having about 3,000.
You can see that prisons in urban cities are the ones in these congestions saga.”
However, the cosmopolitan nature of Lagos comes with its sociological problems hence people engage in sundry crimes as a means of survival. Inversely, as lucid as that may seemed, the prescription of the law does not allow individuals to take laws into their hands.
As a result, various task forces set up by the Lagos state government from War Against Indiscipline (WAI) to Task Force on Environmental Sanitation, working in synergy have collectively or individually constantly raided some hotspots in the state leading to arrest of some innocent persons.
According to a Lagos lawyer and human right activist, Barr Giwa Amu lambasted various task force by the Lagos state government  for carrying out illegal arrest especially of minors for frivolous offences, and charging them to court, which often times, leads to reminding them in prison custody.
He explained that cases of arrest of that nature exacerbate prison congestion.
Speaking with National Daily recently, Barr Amu held, “The prisons are experiencing over bloated number of Awaiting inmates due to some offences committed by individuals including minors. However, some minors who, ordinarily shouldn’t have been reminded in prison custody are sent to such facilities wrongly due to acts relating to capital offence that specifies death and there are so many cases like that.
“Lagos state is ready to arrest a child for selling groundnut of N2,500 without any care or so ever. There are so people arrested for anti-sanitation offences. The person is arraigned in court and charged. These are people that cannot even afford legal services. Some are left in prison for one year or more.
“Nigerian government should make laws to allow them to be used for community services rather than taking them to court and reminding them in prisons.”
Giwa further reiterates that to decongest the prisons, adequate measures must be taken by the state governments promptly. “If a child is arrested for selling N1,000 groundnut, arrest and give her broom to sweep about two kilometres and in addition, give him/her a stroke of the cane and warn them not to come out to sell groundnut again.
“Arrest of minors and other cases below N100,000 theft leads to the congestion of prisons. If the states are sincere, there wouldn’t be congestion in prisons.”
Corroborating that, CP Ladipo observed that “Actually, the problem we have now at hand is the kind of arrest the Task Force do. It has also been a contributory factor to the congestion problem. For example, in the time past, juveniles were arrested and taking to prisons whereas we have juvenile homes where they can be taken care of.
“Physically challenged people like cripples are also arrested and brought to the prisons. For God sake, we have rehab homes where people with physical disability can be adequately taken care of.”
The Lagos Prison boss further stated that “We have those arrested and charged for no means of livelihood; some for wandering and hawking; some for begging and at the end of the day, they are charged for these offences and make them to pay a fine between N30, 000 to N50, 000 or six months imprisonment.
“My take on this is that; these are people who cannot even afford three square meal a day and you are telling them to pay as much as N50,000 fine? I wonder where they will get the money from and who will come and pay and release them. I have suggested to stakeholders instead of sending them to prisons, let’s have farm centres where they can display their energy, work and be more productive to the state and for themselves.”
Death row
As it is presently, Nigeria Prisons Service have a huge number of people on death row and have been so over the years. Investigation revealed that some of these inmates are being kept in the facilities due to so many factors.
DCP Francis Erubore noted that there are 2, 251 persons on death row across the country. Out of which 47 are female.
He explained that the warrant to commit them to death have not been signed because “some of them have not exhausted their appeal. Some are waiting for the respective state governors to sign their warrant before they can be executed or even convert such case to life sentences.
“We have about six locations in the country where those on death penalty are supposed to be kept. They are special places well-fortified locations were you keep them. In all, we don’t have more than 500 space capacity where we are supposed to accommodate them but here we are saddled with 2,251 and this is a huge challenge,” NPS spokesperson reiterates.
It was learnt that Lagos state has over 200 inmates on death row at different prison across the state.
Indiscriminate arrest and detention
Unfortunately, despite efforts made by relevant organisation to decongest the prisons, the number of inmates kept on increasing by the day.
National Daily gathered that some inmates spend months or years in prison for loitering; no visible means of livelihood and wandering if they cannot afford N50,000 fine.
Subomi Plumptre of “Angel Project,” Non-Government Organisation alleged after visiting Kirikiri Medium Security Prisons recently where they assisted some inmates to pay petty fines ranging from N10,000 to N30,000 and secured the release of 20 prisoners.
“I was overwhelmed by the joy on their faces alleged.” He alleged that the number of those rounded up by task forces, and charged by mobile courts in Lagos, is increasing. It is alleged that this is a fundraising strategy for certain “interests”.
“It then stands to reason that once the task forces realise people’s fines are being paid, they have an incentive to continue increasing the numbers. They will be the beneficiaries at the cost of human lives.
As it stands, if the problem of congestion in Nigeria prisons must be seemed to be tackled, all the relevant government agencies and the judiciary must be up to the game.
Adjudication and prosecution must be swift and unnecessary adjournment of cases and frivolous charges must be expunged. Beyond that, all the various task forces in the state that carry out random raid and arrest must ensure that suspects are well profiled before been charged to court.
Until all these issues are addressed and the magistrate wake up to their responsibility, the problem of congestion of prison might continue. Moreover, those who cases have been concluded and are on death row must be dealt to avoid facilities been overstretched, in addition to building more modern prisons across the country.

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