The Hot House: Life Inside The Nigerian Prison System

by Roy Chikwem

The Nigerian prisons are fast-becoming an immense embarrassment and a national scandal. The prisons are largely filled with inmates awaiting trial or charges are yet to be filed against them. Many inmates awaiting trial have been in prison for more than two to fifteen years. Some inmates were arrested for low-level crimes such as traffic violations and domestic disputes, which are largely punishable by a fine or a minimal incarceration. As a result of the total breakdown of the Nigerian prison system, the prisons are filled with thousands of inmates who have never been convicted of any crime. Ironically, the hardcore career-criminals are left to roam freely on the streets by the Nigerian police as long as they are “settled” monetarily. This illegal practice by the Nigerian police of arresting and releasing career-criminals without charging them to court is so widespread and routine. Some senior level police officers have been known to augment their salaries by “borrowing” weapons and security gargets to criminals.

Most inmates are financially incapable to afford the services of an attorney to represent them in court. The government appointed legal practitioners are very ineffective, inexperienced and inefficiency. Most disturbing and unfortunately, some inmates are tortured by the police to extract false confessions often used as evidence in court. This inhumane and illegal practice is customary, routine and widespread among the police. The Nigerian Police Force is widely known as one of the most shady, dishonest and dysfunctional organization in the history of Nigeria. The international community including human rights groups and developed countries have criticized the Nigerian government for neglecting its obligations especially being that the former President Olusegun Obasanjo and numerous ex-governors have been end-users of the Nigerian prison system.

The Nigerian Prisons Service claims to have a total of 144 convict prisons and 83 satellite prison camps. Over the past years, the Nigerian Prison Service has been associated with corruption and total negligent of their constitutional duties. The Nigerian Prisons Service has been characterized as a dysfunctional institution and a total failure. Notwithstanding, life inside the Nigerian prisons cannot be complete without highlighting the plight of the Nigerian prisons staff. They have been known to be highly underpaid, understaffed and under-trained with no reasonable staff benefits coupled with working long hours.

Since the re-introduction of democracy in Nigeria, the Federal Government of Nigeria has repeatedly promised to reform the justice system to avoid overcrowding in the prisons and accelerate the pace of trials but there have not been any significant changes. Ironically, the current Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua, elder brother, the late Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was imprisoned on bogus treason charges and later died in prison due to failed health conditions. One would have expected that the reformation of the Nigerian prisons system would have been the number one priority of this current Nigerian government.

The living conditions in the prisons are appalling and damaging. Inmates are forced to survive in the worst living conditions such as poor sanitation, lack of food, lack of medication, overcrowding, poor clothing, insecurity and denied visitation by family and friends. Inmates are forced to sleep two to three on a bed or on the cold concrete floor. There are prisons that have no running water, toilets are cloaked with human waste and taking a bath once a week is nearly impossible. Prison guards are also in the habit of demanding bribes from inmate families in the form of money and sexual favors for such “privileges” as receiving visitors, using the telephone, taking a clean bath, visiting the hospital, etc. Some prison guards have been known to engage in the illegal trafficking and distribution of banned drugs within the prison.

Local and foreign Not-for-Profit organizations have since lost faith in the current Nigerian government in restoring some level of sanity to the Nigerian prison system. These organizations do offer and extend free services to inmates, prisons staff and the police by providing food, clean water, bedding materials, clothing, medications, educational books, occupational training, counseling and free legal representation. Charitable and humanitarian organizations such as the National Association of Seadogs (NAS) International also called the Pyrates Confraternity (PC) have taken reasonable and progressive steps to come to the aid of the inmates, prisons staff and the police.

The Cross River state chapter of the National Association of Seadogs donated bail bonds and telecommunication equipments to the Cross River State Police Command and the Abia state chapter of the National Association of Seadogs donated sets of personal computer and a sickbay facility to the inmates of the Aba Federal Prison. The National Association of Seadogs (NAS) International is also involved in two legal ventures namely, the Judicial Challenge Initiative (JCI) and Legal Assistance and Prison Reform Initiative (LAPRI). The JCI is an initiative that uses litigation in asserting the rule of law to challenge circumstances about bad governance and social injustice. While the LAPRI is an initiative that makes available legal resources and provides legal assistances to individuals and disadvantaged persons, communities and groups that lack the financial means to pursue their cases and obtain justice.

The Nigerian Constitution guarantees the right of every citizen to be brought before a court of law within a reasonable time. The judiciary system has failed in its obligations to ensuring that rights of inmates are respected. The judiciary needs to guarantee inmates a fair and speedy trial and offer proper legal representation and address the living conditions in the prisons. The Federal government should create an employee benefit incentive plan for the prisons staff. The authorities within the Nigerian police needs to reinforce within its ranks that the principle of the presumption of innocence should be respected and observed, and every suspect should be regarded innocent until the courts declares otherwise. A fair and speedy trial is not a privilege but a right. The Peoples Democratic Party of Nigeria (PDP) led Federal Government of Nigeria should precede with the prison reforms as they had promised during their last nationwide election campaigns. The Federal Government of Nigeria needs to come to the realization that they are the sole and general overseer of the welfare of the inmates. This responsibility is solely within the domain of the government and cannot be delegated to the charitable organizations.

You may also like


Abdoulwasiu Abdoullahi April 28, 2010 - 7:40 pm

Is true the nigerian prison service staff with all the increment of their salaries are corrupt,i witness this with my eyes. I did my research project at one of the nigerian prison i really pity inmate cos there was no medical facilities and no even semi qualified nurse not doctors. Food is given to them under unhygienic condition. Infact all the prisons are operated under outdated system as my research revealed that 99% are morethan 100 years old. This is the reason for prison break,govt have to do something to avoid more prison break as karl marx said when the masses understand there must be a revolution. Govt should employ SOCIOLOGIST cos only them can change the situation from worst into better.

joseph January 11, 2010 - 2:26 pm

we need a change

Albert O. Austin October 28, 2009 - 4:47 pm

Mr. Michael Didia Wisu committed criminal homocide was reminded

by Portharcourt magistrate court to remain in jail today 10/27/2009 until his court day but he bribed prison guards and he was hidden in one of the rooms untill all prisoners were sent back to jail. I’ll recomment that Mr Wisu be sort and remain in jail until the law declares him innocent/or guilty because he was the principal that killed my cousin Michael Wonah. I’m disappointed

with prison guards that played this foul game. Please find out these guards and Nigerian perison authority shall mandated serious charges against these guards.

Thanks and for the sake of justice

Albert O. Austin, Esq

modupe May 9, 2009 - 2:38 pm

infact not only wisdow but also word of life

Biodun March 23, 2009 - 10:33 pm

I can perceive wisdom in this write ups, kudos.


Leave a Comment