The electrocution of five awaiting trial inmates at the Ikoyi Correctional Centre in Lagos is an unfortunate tragedy that should be condemned. It demonstrates the ineptitude of those in charge of our correctional centres. According to reports, many inmates of the correctional centre suffered varying degrees of injury in the incident that was triggered by a power surge which caused an explosion at the facility.
While one account said the explosion was caused by an electric wire which fell on the cell housing over 100 inmates, another attributed the incident to the slackness of the prison authorities who abandoned a live wire after an inspection of the facility.
Among the dead were those who were near the metal bunk beds used in the facility.
We decry the unfortunate incident in which some inmates lost their lives. It should have been avoided if those in charge of the facility were cautious enough in discharging their duties. It is sad that the country has continued to treat prison inmates with great disdain. In some other climes, convicted persons in penal institutions are still regarded as members of the society. Some attend schools, graduate and leave the correctional facilities totally reformed. Unfortunately, the reverse is the case in Nigeria. Convicted persons and those awaiting trail are seemingly lumped together in crowded cells bereft of comfort. Instead of being reformed, many leave the prisons as hardened criminals desperate to inflict terror on the society.
Only recently, the Federal Government rechristened the nation’s prisons as correctional centres. But, beyond the name change, not much has changed in the attitude of the prison officers. Far from being correctional centres, some inmates see Nigerian prisons as torture chambers.
A recent report by an undercover journalist revealed the rot in the Ikoyi Correctional Centre. The report confirmed that no fewer than 140 inmates are packed together in cells designed for 35 inmates.
Some inmates bemoan the anguish they pass through at the Ikoyi Correctional Centre on a daily basis, including paying for their beds.
Last month, prison officials allegedly battered an inmate to death at a correctional centre in Eket, Akwa Ibom State. In April, Amnesty International revealed how detained women and children suffered sexual violence in some prisons and detention centres in Borno State.
The Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, has given an assurance that there would be a coroner’s inquest to determine the cause of the incident at the Ikoyi Correctional Centre. He also disclosed that government would also set up a panel to probe the circumstances behind the incident.
However, we hasten to add that the government must not stop at setting up a fact-finding panel. It must ensure that those responsible for the tragedy are prosecuted. Our correctional centres should be made more habitable for inmates, including those awaiting trial.
Good enough, the Controller-General of Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS), Ja’afaru Ahmed, confirmed the pathetic state of the correctional centre. He noted that the Ikoyi Prisons, which was established in 1955 to accommodate 800 inmates, now houses 3, 113. Of the number, 2, 680 are on the awaiting trial list. We urge Ahmed to do something to change the situation.
While we agree with the NCS boss that those awaiting trial should be moved to other centres with more humane facilities, there is also need for a thorough reformation of the judicial system in the country. We say this because justice can hardly prevail in a system that allows trials to last for decades.
The prison authorities owe a duty of care to all the inmates. We call on the government to make the correctional centres safe and habitable for all inmates.
Fire-fighting equipment should be provided in all the correctional centres and all the cells rehabilitated. We urge the Minister of Interior and the leadership of the correctional centres to nip in the bud such incidents in future.