The Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, has revealed that the Port-Harcourt Prison, originally designed by the British colonial masters to conveniently take 800 prisoners, currently has total inmates of almost 5,000.
Osinbajo disclosed this in a public presentation of three volumes of prison survey report put together by the Nigerian Prison Service and the Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action, held at the Sheraton Hotels and Towers in Abuja.
The Vice-President, who was represented at the occasion by the Minister of Interior, Lieutenant General Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau (retd), said the situation calls for concern as government at the federal level could not go it alone in the administration of Criminal Justice System in the country.
The Minister also revealed that most of the colonial prisons built over 100 years ago across the country are now turning their inmates into animal due to their deplorable and gory conditions over the years.
Most of the prisons, especially those built between 1830 and 1918, were said to be lacking rooms, thereby operating as mere warehouses to accommodate inmates and to defeat the purpose of reforming the prisoners.
The Minister said for a long time, Nigerian prisons were neglected by successive governments, thereby making their reformatory mandates to be defeated.
On the Port-Harcourt Prison with over 5000 inmates, the government noted with regret that 3,700 inmates are awaiting trial and have been dumped in the prison for over five years.
However, to remedy the situation, the Minister disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari has picked up the challenge with the approval for construction of 3,000 capacity prison in each of the six geopolitical zones of the country.
Besides, Dambazau said President Buhari had procured vehicles to convey prison inmates from prisons to courts across the country to enable them stand for trial without hinderances.
He however appealed to state governments to give full support to the Federal Government in the Administration of the Prison Act, which he said is aimed at getting prisons rehabilitated and ensuring good welfare for the inmates so as to make them responsible citizens at the end of their incarceration.
He also spoke of the need for the Public Prosecution Units in criminal cases to be beefed up so as to stop undue delay of inmates while also charging the police to look into their skills in investigation, adding that if investigation is poor, prosecution would also be poor.
Dambazau counselled courts to avoid incessant adjournment of criminal cases so as to get prisons decongested in due course.
He said: “I was in Port-Harcourt and I used my stay there to visit Port-Harcourt Prison built in 1918 by our colonial master. What I saw was gory because the prison has no rooms but just serving as warehouse for the over 5000 inmates accommodated in it instead of 800 inmates designed as capacity for the prison.
“From my finding, they say no room for prisoners and any human being that goes there would come back as animal. My finding also reveals that prisons have been neglected over the years by the successive administrations at the expense of the inmates.
“It is however a thing of joy that President Muhammadu Buhari has shown keen interest in prison reforms and had carried out tremendous progress on prison rehabilitation even though funds are not there.”
Earlier in his Opening Remarks, the Comptroller General of Prisons, Ahmed Jaafaru, noted that lack of data on inmates over the years was responsible for the congestion of Prison, but he thanked the Presidency for the unprecedented intervention and the National Assembly for improvement in budgetary allocations to the Nigerian Prison Service.
In his own remarks the Chairman of the Board of PRAWA, Chief Gabriel Tobi, described the Survey Report presentation as a momentous occasion because the issue of over-crowding of the prison would be urgently looked into when the reports are being implemented.
The elder statesman called for multi-sectoral cooperation among security agencies and those in the administration of criminal justice to rise to the challenges and give each other support that would impact on prison reforms in the country.
In his own remarks, the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory Judiciary, Justice Ishaq Bello, noted that Nigerian prisons failed in the reformatory mandates issued out during their establishment, but however called on appropriate authorities to help give legal needs to inmates in the Prisons.
Bello commended PRAWA for its leading initiatives in conducting the survey and compiling the report with the assistance of experts and appealed to other relevant bodies to follow the gesture of the organisation.
The Prison Survey Report, which was an outcome of a painstaking effort by NPS and PRAWA, was sponsored by the United Kingdom government has three volumes, namely: A research on Pre-Trial Detention in Nigeria, the Socio-economic Characteristics of Prisoners and Impact of Imprisonment in Nigeria, and the Perception Survey of Prison Officers in Nigeria.