Security Crisis In Nigeria Prisons
The issue of security in the Nigeria prison is a fundamental crisis concern both the government but the people. According to 2014 prison statistic, Nigeria prison service managed about 240 prison facilities ranging from maximum security prison, medium term security prison, satellite prison, borstal institutions for the juvenile, farm centre, open prison camps and female prison.
Some of which had in recent years witnessed unofficial or illegal release of inmates from the prison. Since Nigeria independence, not less than 20 cases of the prison break as been recorded, instigated by both internal and external forces. While some are due to the negligence of the security agent, others are due to the conspiracy, security deficit in the in the prison, inadequate personnel, and lack of modern security gadgets.
Certainly, many of the prisons are built since the colonial period and had retained their colonial outlook ever since. There is no simultaneous increase between high rate of crime committed and the numbers of the available prison facilities. The country rising number of convicts and awaiting trial did not correspond with the available prison facilities. Government in this case exhibited lack of vision and did not see beyond the present while making policy and developing its plan.
Although, there might have been policy not implemented by the authority concern and the money provided for the development of the prison in the country swindled by the few oligarchy, making the existing prisons congested and hardly fit for human habitation, there is evidence of the country living with the old prison order. For instance, the World Prison Brief 2016, Nigeria prisons have capacity to hold 50,153 persons, as at March they were holding 63,142. Also, these irregularity may not unconnected with poor judicial system, high rate of crime, unnecessary arrest and delay of cases by the prosecutor. All these created burden on the existing facilities making them unable to meet with the present reality.
It must be noted that the problem is not only the congestion of the prison by the government inability to look beyond present moment and the health safety of the inmates but the implication of congestion on the security of the prisons and larger society. The point is that the congestion of the prison created more problems than it is expected, apart from the fact that it allowed old friends of criminal gang to reunite, it gives room for the emergence of prison gangs and made possible the need to strategize, and think about the possible way to get out the cell. It is part of this reasons; the inmate exploited the negligence of the security officer and the security deficit in the prison to their advantage believing that it is a matter of death or victory. One should not also forget that there are number of condemned inmates in the prison whose death warrants are not signed by the state government either because of their religion belief and human feeling.
Apart from evidence of congestion, some of the inmates are treated in terrifying way. Many people including the prison officers either lacked proper orientation or have narrow idea about what prison is all about. They see prison as a place where criminal area kept. Yes they are right, but the function of prison is beyond this conception. People need to understand, that the functions of a prison range from retribution; punishment for crime against society, incapacitation; removal of criminal from the society so that they can no longer harm innocent people, deterrence; prevention of future crime and lastly, rehabilitation; activities designed to change criminals into law abiding citizens and this may include providing education course in prison, teaching job skills and offering counseling with a psychologist. All these are either unavailable or given little priority by the Nigeria prison service, making it difficult for the inmates to understand why they are taken to the prison beyond the crime they committed. The implication is the jail break perpetrated by the inmate causing security crisis in the prison.
In the same vein, part of what encouraged the prisoners against attacking the prison officer is the frustration in the cell. The prison cells are worrisome; the prisoners faced horrible experience; poor toilet facility, poor health care system, poor food, lack of potable water, denial of access to justice/ relative, poor living condition, maltreatment, and lack of bed. While some are held in highest isolation, others are locked up for many years without justice. Hence, authority shows little concern on how the inmates are treated. All these created a psychological implication, making inmate to express their grievance through the use of force against the prison officials. This is to enable the public understand their condition in the prison. Although they are not often allowed to speak after the jail break, the main reason for their action often hidden by the prison officials to prevent public the truth behind the jail break as only official reasons are always accompanied and made available to the public.
Also the issue of arm proliferation cannot be ruled out as part of the factors for recurring prison break in Nigeria. The proliferation of the small and light weapons among the gangs did not only give gang members the confidence and courage to plan attack against the prison officials but provided major power of attack against the prisons in Nigeria by the external force. According to the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament (UNREC) Nigeria homed about 350 million or 70% of the small and light weapons out of the 500 million of such weapons circulating in West Africa. These weapons are found in possession of individuals and groups who carried out unlawful acts ranging from robbery, assassination, murder, intimidation, extortion and launch attack against the government facilities and the authority involved and prison is not an exception.
Contrarily, the issue of internal security deficit in the prison is often due to the negligence of the security officers, conspiracy, indiscipline, lack of proper training, passion, dedication and commitment towards the assigned duty. The fact is that, most of the prison officials stationed at various prisons in the country often show no evidence of patriotism towards effective delivery of service expected to discharge without fair of favour. This is one of the problems affecting Nigeria security system. There is also lack of concern and caution. Today you see a prison official carried away by discussion. While some are bewildered with sport events, others are found sitting un-alert discussing irrelevant issues that cannot add value to their profession. The point is that, service to humanity is no longer in existence in the prison service but to their personal life. Imagine a prison officer who conspires with the gang members or the inmate to attack the prison. This is disrespect, slam, disgrace, and insult to the agency, hence endangering the safety within the force and Nigeria at large.
More so, apart from the jail break linked to the internal security deficit, others are linked to external force mainly insurgency and other gangs members. Who are either desperate to release their members or recruit more members. Although, the security agent may claim that, insurgency or armed groups attacked the prison to free identified or unidentified members, but intelligential would think beyond such notion trying to figure out other causes. I am opine that, the recent jail break especially those connected to gang and insurgency may not unconnected with need for recruitment especially that of insurgency group whose members had either been killed or arrested during the confrontation with the government forces. Like the use of suicide girl bombers recruited mainly from schools, releasing prisoners for the purpose of recruitment is another best means they can also think of. The prison expected to be training centre of the convict is turning to a recruiting centre of all forms of gangs in the country.
Interestingly, in 2004, when Edo prison was attacked, not less than 12 prisoners escaped during the attack by armed gangs. In 2009 about 482 inmates were freed by the member of insurgency group in Maiduguri prison. In 2010, Bauchi prison was attacked, not less than 721 prisoners including 150 members of the Islamic group escaped. In 2010, juvenile prison at Damaturu was also attacked by 40 gunmen suspected to be members of terrorist group in which 40 members suspected to be members of the insurgency were also escaped. Apart from a total of 118, escaped from Gwoza prison in March 2013, there were also no less than 105 escapees from Bama prison in Borno and 366 set free by at Mubi in Adamawa state in 2014. It must not be forgotten the Federal prison at Afako in Ado-Ekiti was also sacked by 60 unknown gun men in November 2014 and 341 prisoners escaped, a scenario that made the state government accused the prison officials of conspiracy with unknown gunmen to launch attack. Also, at Olokuta medium security prison in Akure was also said to have been invaded by 50 unknown gun suspected to armed robbers when 175 prisoners escaped. According to Mr Ope Fatinikun not less than 2,255 prisoners have escaped from the prison since 2009. This is a worry some experience.
Consequently, the implication is these incidents is that those who took advantage of the jail break and left the prison unlawfully went back to society with lack of orientation about how they can be integrated into the community. They became scared and not wanted to be seen by their families, community members as well as their friends. They went into hide out sensing implication and possibility of being trailed by the security officials. Eventually, some of them became object of attraction to gang members who often use tolerance, love and care to influence and integrate them into their world. The fact is that most of them are happy with the work, having realized new hope and life. The point is that there is increase in the population for such gangs whether armed robbers, militant group, avenger, cattle rustlers, or insurgency groups, kidnappers, hired assassin, or others whose preferred carrier job is against the law and custom of the society. If the major activities of the gang group are kidnapping, the kidnapping activities will rise and the same is applicable to other forms of criminal act especially the insurgency, thereby, affected the socio-political and economic activities of the state. On the other hand, if the escapees left to other country, it is a demographic lost to the entire country whose growing economy requires labour force.
At this stage one must not ignore the fact that the prison could be made a productive centre if effective measure is put in place. Prison should be seen beyond keeping convict or awaiting trial. It should be a place where they contribute to the growing economic of the nation. There is need to explore every opportunity to reestablish lost economic prosperity of the nation. The inmate can be happy when they are well catered for. It is their happiness that would allow them work effectively and be useful to the nation and their family during their stay and after they might have left prison. It on this basis the security of the prison and the entire society could be guaranteed.
There is no doubt, Nigeria is in difficult socio-economic situation, panic caused as a result of the illegal release need a greater attention. Not less than 46 prison officials’ have lost their life as far as the cases of the jail bout break is concern. While the families of the victim are in the state of agony, their future became uncertain especially when the lost person is the bread winner of the family.
On this note, there is need to ensure that the prisons are well funded. This is because not enough attention has been given to restructure the prison service in terms of provision of adequate facilities and repairing of the old structures. Like in advance country, there is need for the provisions of adequate personnel, security facilities such as CCTV, band window, high wall, barbed wire, electric fencing, to prevent further attack and escape. The prison service should be strengthened. Security of the prison should be made effective with strong collaboration with other security agents namely, police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, Army, State Security Service among others. This can be done through establishment of joint patrol force in the prisons.
Also the welfare of the prison officers should be well catered for to avoid collaboration with gang’s members in attacking prison facilities. It must be noted that, workshop and seminar that might have helped those managing the prison were often organized for the senior officers while little attention is always given to train the junior officers who are always with the prisoners. There is need to ensure that the junior officers are given more training and orientation on the new strategy and measure necessary for effective management of the prison facilities. This has affected the security outfit in the prison and if the prison service did not change this tradition, those junior officers who watch over the inmate might continue to exhibit lack of professionalism in the discharge of their duty. They also need to be well armed in case of attack within and outside the prison before the reinforcement force would arrive.
There is also need to stop extra-marital sex activities if exist between the junior female officer and senior officers vise versa. Although this is not peculiar to the prison officers, it has created unprecedented setback on the development of the sector. This is because this type of the relationship often makes some female junior officers to lack respect. They often rude, absent in work, and show little passion as regard their duty.
While some would come late to the office, others are often absent giving all forms of in genuine excuses. Some of them did not oversee what they were employed to do but busy with other things. The inmates are not properly monitored, supervised and directed, hence given, way for reinforcement by the inmate, exploiting the weakness of the officials.
Also the nature of recruitment which is not often based on standardized procedure, often give room for recruitment of cronies that had nothing to offer the force. It is often based on favoritism and nepotism, thereby making some of those recruited sleeping in the office during the working hours. This is because most of the recruiters are not medically sound. All these are dangerous trends in the Nigeria prison service and every action must be on deck to remove all these abnormality to take the force to the next level and prevents future jail break. Unless the prison officials change their attitude and be more dedicated, committed, the Nigeria prison will continues to degenerate from being a refine centre to cubicles of all forms of negative tendencies.
Assistant Research Officer at Grassroots Development and Advocacy Centre GDAC
Asadam Road, Ilorin