December 5, 2016 is one of the days I will not forget in a hurry. That was the first time I participated in a prison visit.
The prison visit is an annual exercise of The Chief Judge of Anambra State (it is a tradition maintained across all states in same fashion) where Judges, Lawyers and stakeholders in Criminal Justice Administration embark on an exercise to consider the cases of inmates and at the end of the exercise many inmates are set free while others are granted bail on liberal terms. The inmates who are considered for this favour are those who have stayed long in detention without trial, those mentally deranged, the aged, juveniles and women.
This exercise revealed several distasteful anomalies. We have a lot of challenges in our hands. You will not believe this, but it is true. There are no Police Case Files for several inmates!!! Most case files do not exist. Most are missing without trace. The implication? The suspect remains in detention euphemistically dubbed ‘awaiting trial’. The reality is there is no trial and none will ever be!!! I saw cases like that. Some of the suspects who were released were mentally deranged. They had spent decades in prison without trial. They lost their sense of reasoning. It will be difficult reuniting them with their people. SAD!!!
Prof. Wole Soyinka in his classic “The Man Died” described the prison when he was there as the mad man’s asylum. I saw reasons to believe that yesterday. There is no life in Nigerian Prisons.
With the faces of frustrated inmates, poor cell conditions, lack of basic amenities, the feeling of hopelessness, I was convinced that given the condition of the prison, there cannot be any sensible rehabilitation in there. The touted noble aim of the prison being to make the “convict a better person” is a ruse. Such end cannot be achieved in that condition!!!
I now go to another issue. The way our bail conditions are given makes it difficult for indigent inmates to meet up with them. A normal bail condition goes thus: “Bail is granted in the sum of N10, 0000, 2 Sureties resident within jurisdiction, Surety to present evidence of payment of tax for 3 years....” Etc. Now you need to appreciate the fact that most of these inmates are from poor homes. To eat is a challenge. Payment of tax is a luxury. To get someone to meet those conditions is a herculean task. For most of these indigent persons, it is difficult to believe, but the reality is that when any of them is in custody, it is a ‘relief’ financially for the family. That explains why inmates are usually forlorn. They are abandoned to their fate. It is not hatred but a thing of the pocket!!!
In Nigeria arrests are made before investigation. Remand Proceedings which ought to be a potent tool to checkmate this malady has lost its virility owing to the way it has been applied. The implication is that many suspects are remanded when that should not be the case. Consequently the number of inmates swell!
Some of the Judges in attendance are: Hon. Justices Ike Ogu, Hope Ozor, Ijem Onwuamaegbu, Ndigwe, Arinze Akabua, DOC Amaechina, G.C. Anulude, Peace Otti, Chudi Nwankwor, Emeka Okuma, Vincent Agbata and Mike Okonkwor.
Barr. Ifeanyi Agwuncha, a legal practitioner writes from Awka, Anambra State.