”All humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood” UDHR (1948; 111). The rights addressed here are those ingrained in dignity in the concept of the ‘worth and value’ of man as a human being. As good as these rights are entitled to human beings; it is not totally clear whether prisoners have recognizable rights embracing this dignity of the human person. In the United Kingdom, the bill of rights 1988 aptly outlaw the cruel and ill treatment of prisoners and set a standard for the treatment of all persons in custody. Amnesty International (2008) stated in its report that prisoners are to be provided with floor space, bed and beddings, proper ventilation, personal hygiene, proper sanitation, medical care, contact with family members and access to legal representation.
Human rights are those rights accrued to a person because he is human. These rights are equal and absolute to all human beings (Donnelly, 1999). International human rights instrument recognizes these rights and it is expected that all member states uphold and protect these rights. The human rights and the protection of prisoners is documented in the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRTP). It outlines the minimum standard that should be applied in prisons. It specifies that prisoners retain rights that have not been restricted by their incarceration which includes; the dignity of all prisoners be respect, the classification of prisoners, the standard accommodation, the proper discipline and sanction of prisoners, contact with the outside world, access to health facilities and legal presentation (UNODC, 2016). Overcrowding in prisons poses a serious threat to the protection of these rights (Steinberg, 2005).
Generally speaking, when an individual is incarcerated in, the constitutional implication is that, this individual will be deprived of his or her right to liberty and those rights that would naturally be restrictive by reason of the said deprivation of his liberty (Steinberg, 2005). It is however disturbing to note that the present experiences in the prison systems in Nigeria are unacceptable and total annihilation of the residual rights of the inmate in deviation of the constitutional guarantee of the fundamental human rights of the individual as contained in the chapter IV of the 1999 constitution as amended. This is particularly so with regard to the right to human dignity as contained in section 34 of the same Constitution (Omale, 2006).
A major concern of the criminal justice system in Nigeria, as well as in other parts of the world, including the United States is overcrowding of prisons (Ayade, 2010). Rather than a decrease, overcrowding continues to be of major concerns to both the government and the criminal justice system in Nigeria. Inmates spend years awaiting trial (Omale, 2006). In 2014, the total inmate population in Nigeria was 56, 055 for an installed capacity of 49, 505 inmates in the 239 total prisons nation-wide, from the total prison inmates population, 17, 404 representing 31% were convicted prisoners; a total of 38, 651 inmates representing 69% were un-convicted/awaiting trial. Additionally, the total number of male inmates was 54, 948 representing 98%, while the total number of female inmates was 1,107 representing 2% (Nigerian Prisons Service, 2014). The implication of the above staggering statistics is that more than 50% of the prison population have not been tried in a court for a number of factors ranging from their inability to afford the services of a lawyer, corruption and other bureaucratic processes. According to the report released by Human right watch (2011) in countries like Bangladesh, Chad, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Rwanda, Uganda, Uruguay, and Venezuela; remand prisoners make up the majority of the prison population. In Nigeria, a majority of these type of prisoners are locked up in prison for a long period of time before they are tried in the court. They may even be imprisoned for periods longer than the sentences they would have served had they been tried and convicted. This state of affairs does not only violate fundamental human rights, it contributes significantly to prison overcrowding, a problem that is in itself the root of numerous additional abuses. The lengthy detention of remand prisoners has its origin in two common phenomena; the denial of pretrial release to criminal defendants, and the excessive duration of criminal proceedings. These two factors violate human rights norms but combined together they constitute a grievous affront to justice.
The case of the remand prisoners brings out both the brutality and the perversity of the Nigeria prison system. As a rule, the remand prisoners constitute a significant percentage of the prison population. They stay longer in prisons than most convicts and suffer worse conditions of imprisonment than the average convict (Omale, 2006). The reasons for this are legion and range from prison congestion to inadequate funding of the prison. However, the most important of these are the corruption and inefficiency of police investigation, excessive and indiscriminate use of imprisonment by the courts as well as the profound hostility the wardens bear toward the unsentenced prisoners. These prisoners are in a sort of limbo being yet convicted, they suffer all the agonies of incarcerations without enjoying the few blessings that convict status bestows. For the same reason, the government extremely poorly provides for them. All these make their life in prison more hellish than that of the average convict(Omale, 2006 and Shajobi-Ibikunle, 2014).
The Nigerian prisons have been a part and parcel of the Nigerian nation-state. The prison system is not protected from the challenges of development and growth that other sectors have been and are still facing. It is therefore a given to posit that over the years, the Nigerian prison system have gone through avoidable decay, retrogression and in some cases stagnation. Facilities in the prisons have remained largely undeveloped; the complimentary criminal justice system has remained colonial and undeveloped, not reflecting contemporary realities (Nnam, 2016). Successive Nigerian governments have introduced policies and reform schemes that have basically remained on paper without achieving the desired outcome or the realization of the target results. Just like the other sectors of the country’s social and economic development, the prison system has long been yearning and is due for comprehensive and sustainable reforms (Opafunso and Adepoju, 2016). These reforms should be geared towards the regulation of custodial and noncustodial practices and simultaneously guaranteeing the outcomes associated with the primary purposes of imprisonment.
Overcrowding in prison is the state in which the number of inmates exceeds the maximum capacity of a prison to the extent; the prison cannot provide the adequate ‘physical and psychological’ needs of the incarcerated persons (Noel, 1995). The problem of overcrowding in the Nigerian prisons poses a serious challenge which exposes prisoners to human rights violations. Living conditions in the prisons are appalling, they are damaging to the physical and mental wellbeing of inmates. Conditions such as overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of food and medicines and denial of contact with friends and families fall short of United Nations’ standard of treatment of prisoners (Amnesty International, 2008). In some of the Nigerian prisons, there is widespread of diseases as prison cells are crammed and filthy, as inmates practically sleep on each other inside the cells with bad toilets and in some cases no toilets at all. Hence, the need to raise additional concerns and awareness on the causes, consequences of overcrowding and also develop workable strategies appropriate in the Nigerian context.
1) To what extent has a human rights framework been deployed to intervene upon prisoner’s conditions in Nigeria?
2) What are the main obstacles to ensuring human rights of prisoners are upheld in the Nigerian context.
Overview of chapters
Chapter one constitutes the rationale for the dissertation, the research question, the literature review and theoretical framework and importantly present the frame work on which this dissertation is designed and constructed.
Chapter two focuses on the research method, how data are sourced and compiled, the rationale behind the chosen methodology and the limitations of using the chosen method.
Chapter three seeks to outline the rights of a prisoner. It focuses on international, regional human rights instruments like the minimum standard rules for the treatment of prisoners, the African charter and also the rights of the Nigerian prisoners entrenched in the constitution.
Chapter four focuses on the historical background of the Nigerian prison before and after independence, the number of prisons in Nigeria and when they were built, categories of prisoners found in the Nigerian prison as well as the challenges and conditions of these prisons.
Chapter five focuses on overcrowding in Nigeria prisons; factors responsible for these overcrowding in Nigerian prisons, the effects of overcrowding, is overcrowding peculiar to Nigeria alone and the strategies that have been adopted by the Nigerian government in tackling the problem.
Chapter six answers the questions; to what extent has Nigeria been able to intervene on prisoner’s condition in Nigeria using the human rights framework and what are the obstacles to ensuring human rights of prisoners are upheld in Nigeria.
Chapter seven is the recommendation and conclusion.