It did not have to take the visit of President of the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS), Gloria Shoda to the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Ben Angwe to know that Nigerian prisons are a national shame. With over-crowded cells, poor feeding of inmates and the inhuman conditions in there, the image of the supposed conventional facilities has always been complete as dehumanisation centres. Yet, a more grotesque dimension to that horrible situation has been revealed with the report that the prisons are now becoming places where all sorts of immoral absurdities are the order of the day, even as haven of sexual orgies, reckless freedom and licentiousness. Also and most unbelievably, nursing mothers and pregnant women populate the prisons with some having been impregnated while in incarceration and fingers naturally pointing at fellow inmates or prison warders.
It was during an interactive session with the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS) that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said the other day that 90% of women awaiting trial across the country are either nursing mothers or pregnant, according to the data derived from the commission’s recent prison audit in the country. This development in the Nigerian prisons, is shameful, unacceptable and calls for investigations and then prisons reform.
It is by all means absurd for innocent children, some yet unborn, to be raised in and bound by the circumstances beyond their control in squalid, licentious, unhygienic and inhuman conditions in the Nigerian prisons. For one thing, this set of children when they grow into adult in or outside the prison may constitute a nuisance, which the society may not be able to contain. The humanity of these children in prison by accident or default, to say the least, is being denigrated and it is a bad advertisement for the value placed on life in Nigeria. So also is the audit that there are “a lot of nursing mothers who are being locked up with their children and are nursing their children in cells.” This is an obvious and incontrovertible injustice which the Directors of Public Prosecutor should not gloss over.
Yet, another entirely frightening, and nauseating dimension to this Nigerian prison episode is the recurrent situation where some of the nursing mothers or women are wheeled into the prisons without trial, thereby compounding the case of children in prison. “It is also sad to note that more than 90% of these nursing mothers are still awaiting being released on bail, while awaiting their trials. These are women that should have been released on bail while awaiting trial… But they are kept there in prison with their children who are made to serve prison terms when their mothers are not yet convicted,” says the audit. This is a double tragedy and human rights violations of the worst kind.
It is extremely injurious to the moral fabric of a society to hurl any individual, let alone a child, into prison without trial. It is doubly unacceptable to have nursing mothers and their children so wickedly treated. The damage to those nursing mothers, pregnant women in prison without trial alongside their children cannot be measured.
Nevertheless, the licentiousness, inhumanity and the consequent national shame which Nigerian prisons sign-post is a vicious cycle caused by a life of indiscipline, incontinence and corruption within and outside the prisons in Nigeria. The public concern on this should be beyond prison reform, but a total retooling of the system, if it must subsist as a national institution for correcting and reforming errant citizens.
The prisons are overcrowded and congested, even as most inmates are awaiting trial. While living in the most dehumanised and unsanitary conditions, they are after infected by severe communicable diseases. This inhuman condition of life in most prisons calls for the attention of Directors of Public Prosecution and human rights associations.
Equality before the law, fundamental human rights of all and respect for humanity dignity certainly abhor the situation in Nigeria’s prisons. Yet, the problem is far from any solution when policemen and prison officers have been fingered for being responsible for most of the pregnancies in exchange for little liberties when female inmates cannot afford money bribery. This requires drastic enabling law from the National Assembly to achieve sweeping and fundamental reforms.
The role of the NHRC is commendable and it is hereby advised to go further in collaborating with governments and other agencies in facilitating a decent and corrective prison system.