Usman Abubakar, 30, hails from Kallalawa Village of Damaturu Local Government Council of Yobe state. Abubakar, whose father was arrested and detained when he was 10-years-old and has been awaiting trial 20 years after, lost his mother in the process and was forced to become the bread winner of his home. MUSA M. BUBA reports that he wants to study law to free his father.
Nigerian prisons remain over populated because of awaiting trials inmates, some of who spend years beyond the constitutionally provided term of imprisonment for the crimes they are being tried for.
Over time the issue of awaiting trials has become a national challenge with efforts by the legislative arm of government and civil society organisations to solve the problem, however, not much result has been achieved in that respect. Fears have been expressed in some quarters that Nigerian prisons may become grounds for breeding psychological or mentally unstable citizens except tangible efforts are made to curb the trend of detaining accused persons in custody for years on end while awaiting trial.
Awaiting trials syndrome
It is a known fact that Nigerian Prisons are over stretched beyond 100 per cent of the designated capacity. According to publications made in one Nigeria’s dailies, the federal government said that about 70 per cent of serving inmates are on awaiting trials according to Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahaman Danbazzau (retd).
The Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) also confirmed that, as at December, 2017, the populations of inmates in Nigeria stood at 72,384 with 48,527 of the figure are on awaiting trial, therefore constitutes 66 per cent.
Also, a recent report published in the Guardian Newspaper on September 14, 2018, indicated that the total number of inmates in the country stood at 73,631 and 50,159 for awaiting trials which represents 68 per cent, are awaiting trials that means in few years to come more than 90 per cent may be on awaiting trials having noticed that crimes in the country are on the increase.
The rampant cases of prisons and jail break across the country may be as result of long period inmates awaiting trials spend in detention. Some Nigerians have expressed fear that relatives of aggrieved inmates may be involved in this to make sure they are released.
Large number of awaiting trial inmates in Nigeria prisons also exposes the inmates to outbreak of diseases as a result of overcrowding.
While speaking to our correspondent on his ordeal and that of his family, Usman who hails from Kallalawa village of Damaturu Local Government Council of Yobe state, said he was 10 years old when his father was arrested for a crime that only God knows the truth about the matter.
According to him, his father has spent almost 20 years in prison custody without trial and his case is just one of many such cases usually classified as awaiting trial.
While decrying the alarming rate of waiting trial cases in Nigeria, Usman said that is why he wishes to study Law and after being called to the Bar, free his father and others facing similar fate.
“I want to study Law either at Yobe State University or elsewhere in Nigeria to fight for people that their rights are being denied. “As I was told, at the age of ten-years-old our father was arrested and up to now he is still at Jos Prisons, dumped there without trial. Our mother died some years ago, now I am the bread winner of the family and I want to study Law Insha Allahu to free my father.”
“Had it been my father was convicted and sentenced to some years in imprisonment, he might have completed or about to complete the jail term by now,” he lamented.
He further decried the fact that lack of sponsorship is the biggest challenge that he is facing, noting that he will surely learn a trade that will sustain him while schooling, so as to also provide for his younger ones.
Prison decongestion efforts
Experts are of the opinion that to address the plight of awaiting inmates, there is need for implementation of the plea bargain aspect of 2011 Administration of Criminal Justice law. For this school of thought, if implemented the law will help in addressing prolonged cases of awaiting trials of inmates and equally save cost.
The stakeholders are expected to work towards also addressing the issue of slow prosecution, indiscriminate arrests and stringent bail conditions by the courts as well as provision of adequate prison facilities across the country.
End in sight?
Prisons are supposed to be a place where people convicted of crime are kept with an aim to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society at the end of their prison terms. However, with the recent trend of awaiting trails and overcrowding of Nigeria prisons anyone taken to prison runs the risk of imbibing more criminal traits rather than turning a new leaf.