Nigeria: "Ikoyi Prison not fit for animals"

SOMETIMES in 2017, a financial analyst, Lukman Okunade, was transferred to Ikoyi Prison Service pending the time he would meet his bail conditions. The three days, he told The Nation, were the darkest days of his life.

From food that appeared poisonous to the crowded place with lack of space to sleep, Okunade said nothing could be more horrible than the situation he went through at Ikoyi Prison.

At a point, he felt making it out alive in the dungeon would be through the grace of God.

“Everything was not just in the proper way it ought to be. The place is not fit for animals not to talk about humans’ habitation. The fact that it is a prison does not mean it should not be habitable.”

“Human beings were packed like bags of consumables. Life there is brutish.”

“The innocents, who were unfortunate to find themselves there, might turn out to be criminals when they leave the place except their psyche was quickly worked upon. It was that bad and those in charge of running its affairs were not bothered. Maybe to them, those who found themselves in the prison are condemned criminals, which of course, are not true. A day in that place will make you weep for the inmates,“ he said.

According to him, the place is not fit to be called correctional centre as the Federal Government wants Nigerians to view it. A healthy person, he said, might be infected with communicable diseases due to the nature of the place. Many things, he said, need to be changed, not just the name alone.

The Nation met Okunade after he and his family members and friends donated clothes to the inmates some days ago.

“Sometimes ago, I was on trial for a case and was transferred to Ikoyi Prison pending the time my bail would be granted. After three days, my bail conditions were met and as I was about leaving the prison, some of the inmates asked for my singlet. I was sad by their condition; gave it out and promised to return to donate clothes to them,” he said.

He said the prison is populated by those awaiting trial than those convicted. “Average persons in Ikoyi Prison don’t know the offence that got them there – it’s either that they got here through means that they cannot explain or someone just feel like punishing his neighbour and the person ends up there. I realised that many don’t even have anyone to check on them. So, giving them clothes will at least, help them to stay calm and make them understand that someone outside there loves them irrespective of whatever is happening inside,” he said.

Okunade, who said the case that took him there was later dismissed, recounted his harrowing experience.

“My experience was horrible if I must say because those days I couldn’t even eat the food they made. The food was just a mixture of garri and egusi. I could not even eat it. I actually don’t eat beans but the one that was served was extremely awful. At the end of the day, the only thing I took was garri without water. That was my daily meal until I left here (the prison) after three days. I remember one of those days when a Catholic Church group brought Jollof rice, that’s the only thing I ate.”

“Then, the sleeping condition is extremely nauseating; It is nothing to write home about because once you sleep on one side, there’s no room for you to turn to another side. If you must turn to the other side, you will have to stand up but as at that point, there’s no more room for you to sleep again because another person would have quickly occupied that tiny space. It is that bad. The place is extremely over crowded.”

He appealed to government to look into the worsening situation of the prisons. “I think basically the government needs to first understand that this place is supposed to be a correctional centre. The judiciary system needs to be fine-tuned. There’s no point remanding someone in prison custody for a bailable offence. There are some cases that in an ideal situation should not even get to the point of putting someone in remand.”

“I met a couple of people, who had been remanded for little things. Things that have been recovered already, so there’s actually no need for keeping those people in prison custody for a long period.”

“The government needs to restructure our judicial system and try as much as possible to create more room for a probably correctional centre that’s different from prison. That would be for people who committed light offences to stay for few days and just be corrected.”

“Another issue is the show of affluence and influence. People should stop the power syndrome of ‘I can just lock you up and nobody would look for you.’ That’s extremely bad, people should really care about humanity, it’s very important,” he said.

He urged the judiciary commission and the Body of Benchers to employ more of Community service on minor offences than sentencing offenders to prisons.

This, he said, would reduce the crowd in the prisons. He appealed to Nigerians to find time to visit the prisons regularly.

“Yes, we should do more of community service to support people in the prison because not everyone in the prison has actually committed offence. We should come out more to donate to them and show them love and care. It could be clothing, it could be food and it will definitely mean a whole lot to them,” he said.

Built for 800 but housing 3,113

The Ikoyi Medium Security Custodial Centre, built in 1955 for 800 inmates, has a population of 3,113 with 2,680 of them being persons awaiting trial.

On Monday, five inmates were electrocuted.

On the incident, NCoS Controller General (CG), Mr Ja’afaru Ahmed, said: “Early this morning, CG Ja’afaru Ahmed received with the deepest grief, the unfortunate death of five inmates of Ikoyi Medium Security Custodial Centre, Lagos, as a result of electrical fault in one of the cells.”

“It was indeed tragic and most ill-fated despite the fact that it was the first time in the history of the NCoS to experience such a disaster.”

“The CG, therefore, has ordered an immediate investigation into the sad incident with a view to taking necessary actions in order to forestall future occurrences.”

“We also assure members of the public that inmates’ safety and humane custody will continue to be a priority of this administration.”

“We further restate our commitment to pursue the policy thrust of the Federal Government at improving the general welfare of inmates.”