Government spends N8.4b yearly to feed 51,614 pre-trial inmates
• Experts proffer solutions to prison congestion
The Federal Government spends an average of N8.4 billion yearly to feed awaiting trial inmates and persons in juvenile institutions. The figure excludes 23,217 inmates already convicted and serving various prison terms and 2,251 condemned inmates among whom are 47 females.Daily feeding allowance for each inmate in Nigeria is N450. Multiplied by 30 days, the figure amounts to N13,500 per person. If the population of convicted inmates was added to the figure, it would amount to N3,761,154,000 yearly, totaling N12, 161,154,000 billion for the detainees yearly.
The population of inmates in prisons across the country is put at 75,685. Of this number, 50,760 are awaiting trial, while 854 others, juveniles, are in borstal institutions. This brings the number to 51,614 pre-trial inmates, excluding those in detention facilities of the police, the Department of State Security (DSS), the military and other security agencies, whose feeding costs are not on record.
Ghana and South Africa spend ¢4000 (N320, 000) and R 52.42 (N1,328) to feed an inmate daily, an indication that the population on inmates in Nigeria creates a deep hole in government’s pocket.A retired Controller of Prisons, Dr. Ifediorah Orakwe, disclosed that the actual amount per inmate is N300. He said a breakdown of the N450 allowance would show that N150 was for cooking logistics while N300 was the real cost of feeding an inmate.
Some experts however noted that the amount that meets the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners 2015 (the Nelson Mandela Rules) is N1,500 per inmate daily. If this is adopted, government will spend N27.9 billion to feed pre-trial inmates yearly.
The spokesman of the Nigerian Prison Service, Mr. Francis Enobore, noted that the population of inmates fluctuated as suspects came and went. He expressed worry over the continued detention of persons awaiting trial and the resultant strain on facilities. Some analysts who spoke with The Guardian said urgent moves had to be taken to reduce the number of pre-trial inmates.
Director/founder, Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), Dr. Uju Agomoh, blamed the growing number of awaiting trial inmates on arbitrary arrests and detention by security agencies, calling for an effective coordination among institutions involved in the criminal justice system.
“There must be clear processes, to monitor and track every case. There is need for accountability. There should also be a process of inter-agency coordination. The institutions have to talk to one another,” she said, regretting that a lot of people in detention didn’t have access to legal representation.
Agomoh urged the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and the Legal Aid Council (LAC) to look into cases of inmates who lack proper legal representation, with a view to freeing those who do not deserve to be detained. Director, Access to Justice (A2J), Mr. Joseph Otteh, said: “Decongesting prisons will require effective reform of the criminal justice process, beginning with the point at which many people come in contact with the justice system.
“Arbitrary arrests and whimsical prosecutions will need to be reduced to a minimum. Many poor and vulnerable people are whimsically put through the criminal justice process because some influential people want them to be. And we have seen quite a few cases where these influential people are police or military officers who squabble about girlfriends with their victims.”
Otteh said the courts contribute significantly to the problem. According to him, delays in trials and failure to reform the bail system means many persons awaiting trial are locked up in penitentiary institutions while trials stretch endlessly.
“Some trials for simple offences can run for six, seven or 10 years. If we are able to reform our trial system and ensure that only people who have a legitimate reason to endure a criminal prosecution are processed through that system, we could significantly cut down the population of our prisons,” said Otteh.
The national coordinator of Legal Defence Assistance Project (LEDAP), Mr. Chino Obiagwu, said the problem has persisted because those saddled with managing the criminal justice system are not following the law guiding detention.
“The prosecutors in the Ministry of Justice, prosecutors in the courts, the judges and even the lawyers that defend them, nobody does his job, otherwise, there is no reason a law is made and it is not complied with.
“We are not ready to enforce the laws because people who are involved in pre-trial detention are the poor. That is why they are neglected. If rich people were affected, they would do something about it,” he said.
He noted that if states rather than the Federal Government were involved in funding prisons, they would have a rethink. “The law permits prison authorities to reject awaiting trial suspects because they are not prisoners. Those that are awaiting trial are supposed to have their own remand system. So, it is an aberration. If you free them, there would be enough space for those who are convicted,” Obiagwu added.
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