Solomon Bawa, a young man in his late 20s left his house on a Monday morning to seek for his daily meal just like any responsible family man. At the mechanic shop, out of nowhere, a police man walked up to him and asked if he was one Sambo Bawa, he answered negatively. After about 4mins, another police man walked up to him to ask the same question and before he could say anything he was apprehended and taken to Masaka police station in Abuja. In the police custody, he was beaten, and tortured even to the extent of having his right hand paralyzed by a police officer whose name I won’t mention just for Mr. Solomon to attest to a crime he never committed. Without taking him to court, he was sent to four years living in hell in Lafia prison where the threat and torture continued, he finally gained his freedom on the 31st of August 2023 but he did not walk out of the prison with his right hand.
The state of prisons in Nigeria is a sad tale to be told. Most of them are like dungeons with inhuman conditions hardly tolerable even for condemned criminals. A prisoner is denied some rights as a result of the custodian judgment passed on him or her by a court of law. It is now a notion believed by an average Nigerian that a prisoner has no right. A prisoner in custody is specifically subjected to restraint of movement and some other rights and can, therefore, not have total assurance of enjoyment of the freedom of movement and personal liberty under the constitution. It is also important to note that while there are hardened criminals, there are also the innocent ones who are there for a reason they do not know. However, this article appraises the gross treatment faced by the prisoners as an ordinary man living in Nigeria.
2.0 A BRIEF INSIGHT TO THE RIGHTS AND VIOLATED RIGHT OF PRISONERS
Section 19 of the Prisons Act defines a “prisoner” as any person lawfully committed to custody.[i] By this definition, it means a prisoner is any person that is lawfully confined in a prison. The prison population in Nigeria is described here as a “mixed grill” of adult males and females, young persons, old, criminal and civil lunatics, pregnant women, debtors, detainees, first time offenders etc
Rights are very fundamental to human existence. It is meant to be enjoyed by every citizen and therefore should not be deprived except in circumstances provided for by the law. Let’s go down in history; before the 1960s, in the United States, a prisoner was seen not only to have forfeited his liberty as a result of crime, but also all his personal rights except those that the law of humanity accords to him; and a prisoner was thus regarded as a slave of the State.[ii] It was in the 1960s and 1970s that the court began to extend constitutional protection to prisoners.[iii]
Courts may confine offenders to prison terms, which ordinarily deprive them of certain freedoms that should be enjoyed if not for the order or pronouncement of the court. It is important to note that while the correctional center is reforming prisoners and sending them back into the society as better citizens, there are some fundamental rights that should be enjoyed by prisoners which are recognized by the constitution, local and international laws. However, it is sad that while these rights are in place, the prison officials and administrators truncate many of these prisoners’ rights.
Nevertheless, it is important to make reference to the Nigerian Court of Appeal held per Uwaifo, JCA in the case of Peter Nemi v Attorney General of Lagos State and Ors[iv] he stated that prisoners still have their rights intact, except those deprived by law. He stated further that even a condemned criminal awaiting execution still maintains his rights until properly executed by the due process of law.
A prisoner, just as any other Nigerian, is ordinarily entitled to the fundamental rights entrenched under chapter IV of the Constitution. However, these rights can be taken away in accordance with the exceptions in the constitution. For example, the right to life as enshrined in section 33 of the constitution can be deprived in agreement that no one shall be deprived of his life intentionally except in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.[v]
Let’s talk about section 42 which laid emphases on the right to freedom from discrimination which has mostly been override in the Nigeria legal system. We live in a society where this right has been overlooked where the poor man will be arrested in place of the rich man’s son because of bribe, connection and affluence. Where bail that is meant to be free is given with a high amount of money which mostly cannot be afforded by the poor man. We understand the crime is punishable by the law but let it be clear that what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. Gone are the days where we all believed in equality but in our world today, equality is a different ball game for the upper class and the ones under the bridge but wait o, how napoleon take enter the country take give the upper class a different dimension of equality?
Quick reference to Mike Ikpeme, a public affairs analyst, he said that Nigerians are not enjoying freedom again. He expressed the opinion that what is in place in Nigeria today is far from democracy which I wholeheartedly agree to.
2.1 CONDITIONS OF PERSON IN PRISON
What comes to the mind of the general public when discussing prison world-wide, is overcrowding. Prison overcrowding is one of the key contributing factors to poor prison conditions around the world. It undermines the ability of prison systems to meet basic human needs, such as healthcare, food, and accommodation. Overcrowding, as well as related problems such as lack of privacy, can also cause or exacerbate mental health problems, and increase rates of violence, self-harm and suicide. It was recorded in 2012 that with the 173 prisons of total capacity for 46,024 inmates audited in Nigeria by the Commission, it was shown that a total of 50,645 inmates were locked up in the prisons with the Awaiting Trial detainees far outnumbering the convicted prisoners, leading to congestion.[vi]
The issue of overcrowding has violated the right of prisoners as inherent human beings. They sleep in shifts on the floor not as human beings but as animals. This is contrary to the constitutional guarantee and the prisons Act which has given the prisoners the following rights:
(a) the right to life and integrity of the person;
(b) the right to be free from torture or other ill treatment;
(c) the right to health;
(d) the right to respect for human dignity;
(e) the right to due process of law;
(f) the right to freedom from discrimination of any kind;
(g) the right to freedom from slavery;
(h) the right to freedom of conscience and of thought;
(i) the right to freedom of religion;