Joe Effiong, Uyo
For the Controller of Prisons, Akwa Ibom State Command, Mr Alex Oditah, the new nomenclature of the Nigerian Correctional Service (previously Nigerian Prisons Service) is not a pressing issue as he has yet to be briefed on the modus operandi of the reformed service.
As far as he concerned, it is still the same old Nigerian Prisons with its attendant challenges, especially in terms of congestion and inadequate facilities.
Oditah told Daily Sun that the Uyo and Ikot Ekpene prisons are so congested that when he assumed duties he had met inmates sleeping on the bare floor.
Uyo prison, originally designed for 613 persons, houses about 1192 inmates; Ikot Ekpene prison, built for 408, has extra 300, to make it 708; Eket prison, built for 123, houses three times that number with 350 inmates. On the other hand, a prison in the coastal town of Ikot Abasi, which was designed for 230, houses 147 inmates.
Oditah says 70% of the inmates in all the prisons in the state are awaiting trial, some of whom have been detained for many years on very flimsy reasons. The controller further lamented that since provisions are usually made based on the capacity of each prison, the extra number of inmates in Uyo, Oron, Eket and Ikot Ekpene prisons has put a lot of strain on management.
He asked the state government to replace the Abak prison, swhich it destroyed to build a flyover and a civic, with a promise to rebuild it within nine months.
“Where the prison was situated, the state has now built a civic centre on that land. We are supposed to take the state government to court for a breach of contract and they’re even taking part of our property to build a structure on which they collect rent. That civic centre is supposed to be for the prisons because anything you build on my land belongs to me according to law,” Oditah said.
Daily Sun learnt that the Uyo prison, which caters to 21 local government areas, has only five functional vehicles, even as the perimeter fencing of the prison is almost caving in due to gully erosion.
The Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) in the state has raised concerns over the squalid nature of Uyo prison in particular.
The report of its visit to the prison, as made available to Daily Sun on Tuesday said:
“We note with fear the imminent collapse of the perimeter fence of the Uyo Correctional Centre due to the very frightening incursion of gully erosion into the facility. It is noted that the fence is now within less than three metres from the ravine created by the massive erosion.
“We observe that Uyo Correctional Centre housing over 1200 inmates has only five functional vehicles as the only means of transporting inmates to over 52 courts within the prisons jurisdiction. It is instructive to note that one of the core functions of the service is to ensure that awaiting trial inmates are brought before the court for their trials. This duty cannot be adequately performed without adequate transportation.”
On the congestion in Uyo prison, the CLO said the prison, which was built in 1902 with a capacity of 613 inmates, now accommodates 1,200 prisoners.
“The overstretching of facilities has its attendant negative effects on the inmates, who are made to be crammed into spaces that leave much to desired.”
The organization asked the state government to revisit its promise to relocate Uyo prison to a more suitable location to make room for improvement.
“With the new reforms, with emphasis on correction and rehabilitation, the accommodation of inmates should also be improved to have the necessary mental, physical and psychological effect on the inmates,” CLO said.