The Nigerian Prison System in Dire Need of Reformation

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Men sitting in overcrowded prison cells.

Breeding a space for hardened criminals

The Nigerian prison system is in dire need of reformation as successive governments have not given sufficient attention to this unique environment that should be a center of reformation but has become the center for the production of hardened criminals.

A bit of history

One of the oldest prisons, the Broad Street Prison, on Lagos Island, was initially built from mud and grass thatch in 1882. It was rebuilt using bricks imported from England in 1885 as anti-colonial activists kept setting it on fire.

Those who did any wrong against the reign of her majesty’s government in Nigeria were kept there. Prominent Nigerians who wrestled for independence once suffered incarceration at this location that has been turned into an art center that attracts people from all walks of life.

The Nigerian prison system has respect for the sexes; male and female prisons are partly separated. Also, the prisons are divided essentially into maximum and medium facilities based on inmate offenses, while detention centers are managed by the Nigerian Police Force.

Systemic Issues

There are many disheartening tales about the Nigerian prison system which is hinged on other factors beyond the control of the Federal Government paramilitary organization, as no individual state has a prison. As Nigerians are serving jail terms in other countries; so are other nationals serving jail terms in Nigeria. These are predominantly individuals who identify as African or Arabic. However, the State Government, Non-Governmental Organizations and well-meaning Nigerians have directly or indirectly supported this system over the years.

There is an unending complaint about congestion in Nigerian prisons. Unfortunately, many of those who are in the prisons are “awaiting trial” and not yet convicted of a particular crime.

Many people have been wrongly accused of perpetrating a crime that they know nothing about and they have not been tried for years. There are a few lucky ones, whose friends and relatives know they are there, but many of the incarcerated are assumed to be dead.

A cell that should accommodate two inmates now houses about 15 people.

However, the state of congestion can be blamed on the judicial system of the country. The dispensation of justice is usually prolonged, as such; many people do not get discharged and acquitted in good time despite being innocent. This needs to be addressed in order to reduce the level of congestion.

The aftermath of congestion includes jailbreaks, which have happened in some prisons in Nigeria most especially between 2013 and 2014. States where jailbreaks occurred include Ogun, Ondo, Bauchi, Lagos, Kogi, Ekiti and Niger States. Nigerian prisons are operated as a community from the comptroller general to the wardens.

However, it is noteworthy that the number of staff needs to be buffered. The shortage of staff is also included in the availability of healthcare for prisoners.

One person was found dead and 270 freed in one of three mass prison breaks in Southwest Ekiti State, Nigeria, over a two month period in December 2014.

Insurgency has also added more people to the prison system in the country. There are many arrests that have been made, nevertheless, there is no dedicated prison to all those involved in terrorism, as far as the public is aware of. They are scattered all over maximum centers in Nigeria.

VIP Treatment

The spate of corruption in leadership has warranted that politicians be incarcerated after mismanaging the national treasury. Recently, the former minister of Interior, Abba Moro, was remanded.

But there have been allegations of selective VIP (Very Important People) treatment to former political office holders and their allies based on the “Order From Above”, whoever that may be.

Women’s Prison

Female prisoners care for their children in the prison courtyard. Photo/

The Bangkok Rules, also known as “The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders”, is a set of rules focused on the needs of women offenders and prisoners adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2010.

Female prisoners suffer from the miserable conditions of overcrowding just as male prisoners do, this is compounded by the disregard for the Bangkok Rules in relation to women with infants and breastfeeding mothers in prison.

Female prisoners and detainees do not have access to services and programs that allow them to properly care for themselves, their unborn children, and their infants.

According to a United States Human Rights Report in 2010, there were more than 300 children in prison with their parents in Nigeria, most of whom were born there, a report the Nigerian authorities denied.

The Nigerian Prison System needs to be revamped or may continue to be a breeding space for hardened criminals who may commit more heinous crimes after completing their sentences.

Also, the lives of the staff of the paramilitary organization should be protected as they are faced with life-threatening situations frequently.