Prisoners Right And Pitiable Situation Of Nigeria Prison -By Oluwaleye Adedoyin Grace

Nigeria Prisons have 68,259 inmates – Controller General


The goal of prison system in Nigeria is to install offender to the society after some time and make him useful and productive in the community. A prisoner in custody is specifically subjected to restraint of movement and can, therefore, not have total assurance of enjoyment of the freedom of personal liberty under the law. Generally, in this analysis, this dissertation is an eyeopener to see most of the rights of prisoners. Most of the prison cells are not suitable for human lives.Hygienic situations are pitiable; occupational, skill acquisition, educational opportunities and reformation only exist on paper. There is high recidivist statistics of prisoners who relapse into crime after their release from the correctional facilities because they are in no way treated like humanand are being subjected to degrading and inhuman treatment which will make him embittered and go back to the society with wounded psych which will make the society worse. Various Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) and pressure groups have called on the government to reform the prison system in Nigeria but all measures geared towards this has defied an acceptable solution.

Everybody has right whether a freeman or a prisoner. You’ll agree with me that80% think only the free man has rights but restricted to the prisoners, republic of Nigeria confers certain rights on the citizens most importantly, Chapter IV of the document protects certain right that are regarded as fundamental to human existence. A prisoner, just as any other Nigerian, is ordinarily entitled to the fundamental rights entrenched in the constitution. Do you know they also have rights? In my country once a prisoner is set free, his behaviour tends to be dangerous than the one that brought him to prison, it is an acceptable fact that operations and administration of prison system in Nigeria turn the less hardened individuals to more hardened criminals when unleashed to the society due to their experience through the prison; imagine an employee arrested and detained for stealing an amount fromhis company and after beingreleased, he was arrested for robbery and killing. Welcome to Nigeria where prisoners develop a great determination for social vices after detention. I believe if prisoners are given the proper right and treatment they deserve, social vices will reduce if not eradicated.


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According to prison act sub2, which states: Every prison shall include:

(a) The grounds and buildings within the prison enclosure, and

(b) Any lock-up house for the temporary detention or custody of criminals newly apprehended or under remand which is declared by the minister by order in the federal Gazette to be part of the prison.

According to Ndukwe and Iroko 2014; Raju, 2014; Danjuma et el, 2017, prison is view as a place that confines individually who are legally accused of committing a crime pending the determination of their trial or convicted of crimes until they served the sentence imposed on them by the court.

History has shown that prison in the ancient world were used to confine law offenders to carry out hard labour in Gran Aries and other places (John, 2006).


According to English law, a prisoner is a legal term for someone imprisoned.

According to Merriam-Webster, a prisoner is a person deprived of liberty and kept under involuntary restraints or custody.

In section 1 of the prison security act 1992, the word prisoner means any person for the time being in a prison as a result of any requirements imposed by a court or otherwise that he be detained in legal custody.

Do you know prisoners have rights? Well, they do.

According to united nations standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners (The Nelson Mandela Rule) which are reduced into:

  1. Basic principles
  2. Accommodation
  3. Personal hygiene
  4. Food
  5. Exercise and sport
  6. Health care services
  7. Restrictions discipline and sanctions.
  8. instrument of restraint.
  9. Contact with outside world
  10. Books etc

There are so many right the prisoners are entitled to but those in power has done only little in fulfilling their promises over the years, which has contributed immensely to the challenges being faced by the prison system. Below are some of the rights that should be enjoyed by prisoner but alas! they are deprived of those:


Rule 1

All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings. No prisoner shall be subjected to, and all prisoners shall be protected from, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, for which no circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification. The safety and security of prisoners, staff, service providers and visitors shall be ensured at all times.

Let go back and look at the case of Boko haram in Nigeria, LEPAD [Legal Defence and Assistance Project, Lagos, Nigeria] stated that security operatives had committed grave human rights violations in their response to the Boko Haram insurgency. Innocent citizens were arrested, as well as committing extrajudicial killings and obtaining confessions through torture.

Ex-SSS Detainee narrated his experience, Comrade (name withheld), a Niger Delta Ijaw activist whose identity is being protected for his safety, said he met Mr Abiri in SSS custody while detained for nearly two years on allegations of being a militant. Comrade said that before his release in 2017, he was detained with over 50 Ijaw and Niger Delta youth, numerous Boko Haram suspects and members of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) secessionist group, who were all routinely tortured at the SSS Headquarters in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. He said:

“We were all together for over one year so we knew ourselves. I was in New Depot detention facility while Jones was in Old Depot. I remember one particular day Jones was shouting: “They wan go beat me again.’ It pained me so much, I cried,” Comrade said with tears, he narrated how the SSS at different times used beating, electrocution, and exposure of radiation to his testicles to force him to confess being a militant

Prisoner rights have been violated in this aspect. Imagine a suspect tortured with electrical appliances that can even lead to electrocution. Physical or psychological torture, inhuman or degrading treatment and the use of forced confessions are like ‘every day meals’ for the prisoners.


Rule 12

  1. Where sleeping accommodation is in individual cells or rooms, each prisoner shall occupy by night a cell or room by himself or herself. If for special reasons, such as temporary overcrowding, it becomesnecessary for the central prison administration to make an exception to this rule, it is not desirable to have two prisoners in a cell or room.

Overcrowding is a thorn in the flesh bedevilling Nigeria.Nigeria overcrowding is generally called congestion; it constitutes a serious challenge in Nigeria prisons especially in prison located in the metropolitan cities. In such prisons cells in Nigeria, facilities hold as many as twice or thrice their capacity. In such cells there is hardly enough room for prison inmates to move their body and limbs freely. Welcome to Nigeria where the real meaning of overcrowding is found in prison. Prison population grow to fill expanding capacity, this growth has led to mass overcrowding and “survival of the fittest. The size of cells (less than 3m2 personal space) meant for a prisoners being allocated to more than 5 prisoners.


Rule 18

  1. Prisoners shall be required to keep their persons clean, and to this end they shall be provided with water and with such toilet articles as are necessary for health and cleanliness.
  2. In order that prisoners may maintain a good appearance compatible with their self-respect, facilities shall be provided for the proper care of the hair and beard, and men shall be able to shave regularly.

Rule 19

  1. Every prisoner who is not allowed to wear his or her own clothing shall be provided with an outfit of clothing suitable for the climate and adequate to keep him or her in good health. Such clothing shall in no manner be degrading or humiliating.
  2. All clothing shall be clean and kept in proper condition. Underclothing shall be changed and washed as often as necessary for the maintenance of hygiene.

At this point, you will agree with me that once a prisoner is released, the first thing to be noticed is the bushy hair and unkempt beards. Do you know where to find ‘miserable’ looking people?  It’s the prison. Who cares for their upkeep? Prisoners in prison lookhaggard with their hair bushy and dirty which sometimes makes them look times their age. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate a mentally unstable patient from the prisoners.


Rule 22

  1. Every prisoner shall be provided by the prison administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served.
  2. Drinking water shall be available to every prisoner whenever he or she needs it.

The rule states that there should be adequate food of nutritional value, adequate for health and strength. It would have been better if the prisoners are provided with food without nutritional value but hardly are they fed with two square meals per day. We blame the government for everything but it was reported that a prison at Maiduguri (name withheld), some prisoners boldly told the Amnesty International (AI) how the soldier are sexually assaulting them in exchange for food.

In 2018, a “once prisoner ” talked about the food given to the prisoners in prison, he said “there are about 3 or 4 foods in Nigeria prison. Watery beans and dead ass ‘garri’ (cassava flakes). The ‘garri’ are those ones that blind your eyes over time when you eat them too much. At some point, these inmates don’t see properly again because of too much intake of ‘garri”

He said again ” those foods given to prisoners in prison, some animals will reject it, I’m talking about them serving you with beans that looks like water and has no taste and giving you ‘garri’ for lunch. I’m talking about serving you ‘garri’ with no sugar!  Just raw ‘garri’ in plates. No sugar, water milk or anything to it. Just raw ‘garri’ for your chewing pleasure. ”


Rule 24

  1. The provision of health care for prisoners is a State responsibility. Prisoners should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community, and should have access to necessary health-care services free of charge without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status.

Standard healthcare that are available in the community? Does the community even have a standard health care service? Many prisoners have died due to infections and do you know the cause of the death? There is no available standard healthcare. Imagine some minor illness that can be treated eventually degenerate to a major problem which leads to the death of some prisoners.

Rule 42

General living conditions addressed in these rules, including those related to light, ventilation, temperature, sanitation, nutrition, drinking water, access to open air and physical exercise, personal hygiene, health care and adequate personal space, shall apply to all prisoners without exception.

As I’ve said earlier, not all prisons have proper general living conditions, there are many prisons that lack all the necessary living conditions. Some common problems in prison facilities in Nigeria are: most of the prison are old, poorly ventilated, lack sleeping space, food, medical care, sanitary conditions etc.

Rule 43(2)

Instruments of restraint shall never be applied as a sanction for disciplinary offences.

Welcome to my country where all sort of instruments that can even put the life of prisoners at great risk are used to compel them to ‘confess’. Tell me where it is written in the constitution that rods and electrical appliances should be used on prisoners.

Rule 64

Every prison shall have a library for the use of all categories of prisoners, adequately stocked with both recreational and instructional books, and prisoners shall be encouraged to make full use of it.

Hardly are the prisons equipped with newspaper talk lessof a library.

The questionswe need to ask ourselves are: is the government at fault? Are they not performing up to their expectations? Is it the fault of those appointed to do the work? Are they paid but refuses to do the works? It’s a pity, these are just mere rhetoric.

Sentencing a convict to prison term is meant as punishment and not for punishment; therefore, prison authorities have to be accountable for the manners prisoners are treated especially regarding their wide discretional powers. The Nigeria court of appeal held per Uwaifo, JCA in the case of peter Nemi v attorney General of Lagos state and Ors that prisoners still have their rights intact, except those deprived by law. He stated further that even a condemned criminals awaiting execution still maintains his rights until properly executed by due process of law.


The revolting pictures of Nigerian prison cells on the internet and in newspapers are enough to give anyone visiting a jail house in the country a panic attack. But amidst these dingy, damp and dimly lit rooms in prisons, overcrowded with the damned, deceased and dying from all over the country, there are cells reserved for some affluent inmates who live out their terms in happiness and merriment. Yet the law ‘preaches’ equality. Over the years, overcrowding in Nigerian prisons has been a recurrent topic of discussion due to the large number of awaiting trial inmates in the system.

Our prisons are not what they should be. They are overcrowded and smelly. A cell meant for 20 inmates, there you’ll see 150. In such a situation if there is an emergency, there will be many casualties. Prisoners deserve the best of care no matter the crime they might have committed. Perhaps, this was why the government renamed the prison service as the correctional centre. The prison is not meant to harden an inmate but to reform and prepare him for his return into the society. This should begin with how the inmate is treated while in custody.






[1] Prison Act

[2] Ndukwe and Iroko 2014; Raju, 2014; Danjuma st el, 2017

[3] Prison Security act, 1992.

[4] United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for The Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rule)

[5] Ibid

[6] Adetula, G.A and Fatusin, A. F, ‘The Prison Subsystem Culture: Its Attitudinal Effect On Operatives, Convicts and The Free Society’ (2010)

[7] Jon vagg. Prison system – A Comparative Study of Accountability in England, France Germany and the Netherlands, Clarendon Press, oxford 1999.



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