Despite the reforms, the nation’s criminal justice system remains comatose, writes Davidson Iriekpen
The recent revelation by the Nigerian Prison Service (NPS) that about 70 per cent of inmates in the prisons are awaiting trial has again confirmed that Nigeria is a country where people hardly go to jail for their crimes.
Speaking at the quarterly meeting of the Penal Reform Media Network (PERMNET) in Lagos, the Controller General of the NPS, Jaafaru Ahmed, put the total number of inmates in prisons in the country at 72,384 with 48,527 of these awaiting trial inmates.
Jaafaru, who was represented by the spokesperson of NPS, Francis Enobore, called for synergy among the three arms of the criminal justice system so that the case of anyone brought to prison as awaiting trial inmate would be determined as quickly as possible.
While breaking down the prison population in states across the country, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported that Lagos State had the highest with 6,522 inmates, while Kano and Rivers recorded 4,082 and 4,054 respectively. In addition, it said Lagos also recorded the highest number of awaiting trial inmates at 5,603 out of a prison population of 6,522. This was followed by Rivers and Edo with 3,625 and 2,434 awaiting trial inmates respectively.
Yobe and Borno states have the least numbers of awaiting trial detainees of 163 and 216 out of a prison population of 562 and 603 respectively.
The total number of awaiting trial inmates in the six geo-political zones stood at 45,158. The South-south region accounted for the highest un-sentenced prisoners at 11, 073 inmates followed by the South-west which recorded 10, 687 and South-east at 7,946 inmates. Others are North-west which accounted for 7,050 un-sentenced detainees; North-central, 4,798 and North-east, 3,604 inmates.
The figures released by the NPS, have become the subject of observation by analysts who could not understand why there are few prisoners in the face of many crimes. â€Ž The common conclusion is that Nigeria’s prison population is largely disproportionate to its about 180 million population. Their submission is that if the country has a total of 72,384 inmates in prisons and 48,527 are awaiting trial, it means that only about 20,857 have actually been convicted by the courts as those awaiting trial cannot be considered convicted and could indeed be set free by the courts.
NPSâ€™ figures were corroborated by the Centre for Crisis Communication (CCC) which in a report recently, disclosed that over 70 per cent of Nigerians in prison custody were awaiting trial, while inmates whose cases had been concluded and convicted for various offence comprised a mere 20 per cent.
With a total of 240 holding facilities comprising maximum, medium security prisons, satellite prisons, borstal institutions for juveniles, farm centres, open prison camps and female prison being operated by the NPS, the countryâ€™s huge population figure coupled with the rather high incidence of crimes make the figure a definitely confounding one for many analysts who see Nigeria as a country where people do not go to jail.â€Ž
For instance, South Africa with a population of 56 million, has a prison population of 162,000, the United States with a population of 323 million has a prison population of 2,194,000. While Brazil has a population of about 211 million people and 372,000 prison inmates, the United Kingdom has a population of 66 million and prison inmates figure of about 89,000.
From these figures, analysts believe that Nigeria with much higher crimes is grossly under-prison populated. To them, even a 500,000 prison population is insufficient given the high rate of crimes in the country.
Another damning finding, according to observers, is the category of people in detention. While in most of the countries mentioned above, both the mighty and lowly are serving prison terms, only the poor are in Nigerian prisons. In Nigeria, the rich have devised means to avoid prosecution for crimes they committee.
For instance, from 2007 to date, anti-graft agencies in the country have arraigned no less than 60 high-profile public officers but are yet to get any of them convicted.
Since the figures of the current prison population were released by both the NPS and the NBS, many analysts find it curious how a country with so much impunity, murder and other forms of criminality, would have just 17,000 people in prison when other countries with lower crime rates have thousands of people in prison. The reason may not be hard to figure out. Though there is no dearth of laws in the country, the rich often used their means to frustrate their trial.
Analysts wonder why people who commit murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, robbery, steal public funds, and those who commit financial fraud are allowed to freely walk the streets when they are supposed to be behind bars.
It was against this background that many Nigerians were jolted recently when an Osun State High Court in Osogbo sentenced a 31-year-old man, Kelvin Igha Igbodalo, to 45 years imprisonment for stealing a Sony Ericson mobile phone. Igbodalo, who was arraigned on a six-count charge of conspiracy, obtaining by false pretence, stealing, impersonation and advance free fraud, pleaded guilty. Justice Jide Falola sentenced him to 10 years in prison for each of the first three charges and five years each for the last three counts.
But a former Assistant Director in the federal civil service, Mr. John Yakubu Yusufu who admitted to being part of those who stole N32 billion was practically allowed to go free. The sentencing of Yusufu which was the first conviction in an elaborate scam that came to light in 2012, involved several top officials, offices and banks. The convict was tried on a 20-count charge alongside Atiku Abubakar Kigo (Permanent Secretary), Ahmed Inuwa Wada (Director), Veronica Onyegbula (Cashier) and Sani Habila Zira (ICT Officer). His sentencing came after he pleaded guilty to betraying trust and fraudulently converting N2 billion of police pension funds to private use. He admitted to the 19th and 20th offences relating specifically to him, each involving betrayal of trust and the conversion of N1 billion apiece. But to the consternation of Nigerians, the trial judge, Justice Abubakar Talba, handed the convict a mere sentence of six years in jail and an option of N750,000 which he promptly paid to avoid going to jail.
It was in order to enhance justice sector delivery system that informed the passage of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act in 2015. Three years after, there hasnâ€™t been any improvement in the countryâ€™s justice sector. Since the inception of the current administration, over 10,000 people have been killed by Fulani herdsmen, cultists, kidnappers and trigger-happy law enforcers, and others, yet there is no political will to arrest and prosecute them.
To further buttress how hard it is to go to jail in the country, while Nigerians waited for justice to be served five years after Cynthia Osokogu was raped and killed by Facebook friends, the British criminal justice system recently put Nigeria to shame.
In just six weeks, six men who committed a similar offence in England were tried and jailed.
The gang that groomed teenage girls on Facebook before raping them iin Coventry were jailed for a total of 44-and-a-half years. The five men, who are all from the city, plied their victims with alcohol and drugs before the attacks in 2015 and 2016.
Waqaar Khan, Marcus Woolcock, Kadeem Bourne, Keenan Kelly and Zahid Chaudhary were found guilty of a total of 18 offences just before last Christmas.
However, in Nigeria, 24-year-old Cynthia, the only daughter of General Frank Osokogu (rtd), was murdered on July 22, 2012, at Cosmilla Hotel, Lakeview Estate, Festac Town, in Lagos by her Facebook lover and friends.
Her body was found in a Lagos morgue a month after she was declared missing by her family.
She was a post-graduate student who had a boutique in Nasarawa State until her death.
Police detectives led by the then Area Commander of Festac, Mr. Dan Okoro, were celebrated nationally and internationally when they cracked the case quickly with the aid of technology and arrested four suspects â€“ Okwumo Nwabufo, 33; Olisaeloka Ezike, 23; Orji Osita, 33; and Ezike Nonso, 25.
The suspects were charged to court on a six-count charge of conspiracy, murder, stealing, recklessness, negligence and possession of stolen goods. The murder trial began on February 8, 2013, with the state calling the hotelâ€™s receptionist as the first witness.
It was not until March 2017, four years after, that the suspects were convicted. While kudos was given to the judge for eventually convicting the suspects, thousands of other killers are daily walking the streets free.
In 2009, many banksâ€™ managing directors and directors were arrested and charged for financial crimes and other related offences that could have sent them to prison if convicted. About nine years after, the cases are still in courts. The only person who was convicted through a plea bargain, was Cecilia Ibru. She spent her six-month jail term in the hospital instead of prison.
Reacting to NPSâ€™ report, a public affairs analyst, Peter Ahonsi, said he did not find the figure surprising. â€œI was not surprised with the figures released by the NPS. Why do you think this country is not making progress? The simple reason is that those who are supposed to be in prison are the ones either calling the shots or making decisions on our behalf. It is unfortunate. For as long as this continues, development will continue to elude us.â€
While corroborating Ahonsi’s views, a Lagos-based lawyer, Ademola Kolawole, described Nigeria as a country of jokers. He said until influential persons such as ex-governors, ministers, managing directors of banks are put in prison for various offences, the country will never develop. â€œThe figure by the NBS did not surprise me. It is what I have always known. Nigeria is a country of jokers. People who should have been locked away are the ones ruling us. Have you ever seen any governor, minister, bank managing director in jail in this country? Until this happens, nobody will sit up.â€
Since the inception of the current administration, over 10,000 people have been killed by Fulani herdsmen, cultists, kidnappers and trigger-happy law enforcers, and others, yet there is no political will to arrest and prosecute them.