/ 26 February 2008

Nigerian prisons a ‘national scandal’

Nigeria’s prisons are a ”national scandal”, filled with thousands of inmates who have never been convicted of any crime while some prisoners wait decades to face trial, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

The human rights group said only about 35% of Nigerian inmates have been convicted in court.

”The Nigerian government is simply not complying with its national and international obligations when it comes to the criminal justice system in Nigeria and must begin to do so seriously and urgently,” said Amnesty’s Aster van Kregten.

”The conditions we saw and the stories we heard from inmates are a national scandal,” she said.

Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999 after decades of military rule and the government has repeatedly promised to reform the justice system to reduce over-crowding in prisons and speed up the pace of trials, but there has been little change.

”The reality is that those in prison stand little chance of their rights being respected.”

The report said poor conditions, including severe over-crowding, were seriously damaging the mental and physical health of thousands of inmates.

Many of those awaiting trial are effectively presumed guilty, even when there is little evidence of their involvement in the crime of which they are accused.

The group also found that people not suspected of committing any crime, but rather arrested in place of a family member the police could not locate, are locked up with convicted criminals.

Amnesty also cited the case of 35-year-old mentally ill woman, who was brought to prison by her brother because the family could no longer cope with her condition.

The woman spent about three years in jail, sleeping on the floor with 11 other women in a cell, until she was rescued by a local women’s rights group.

Amnesty says there are about 700 prisoners on death row in Nigeria, some of them convicted by sharia courts in the predominantly Muslim north. It says 200 of them have been awaiting death for over 10 years and some for more than 25 years. — Reuters