Congestion in Detention Centres in Nigeria
The situation where the number of persons in detention far outweighs the capacity of the detention centres is predominant in Nigeria. The purpose for which these inmates are kept in detention is to guarantee their attendance in court for their trials, and to prevent them from further commission of the offence.
However, the purpose of pre-trial has been defeated as it has led to the congestion of the detention centres. The contribution of pre-trial detention to prison congestion can be discussed under the following headings:
Law and Pre-trial Detention:
There are several rules and regulations governing pre-trail detention. Some are wide and discretional in nature while some are specific and call for strict compliance and or enforcement. Constitutionally, the rights and personal liberties of individuals such as right to life, freedom of movement, dignity of human person etc. are guaranteed.
However, section 41 which is derogation from the fundamental rights provides for restriction on those rights: “In the interest of defense, public safety, public morality, public health or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons”.
Therefore, detention that is effected in accordance with the provision of laws governing pre-trial detention is justifiable. Nevertheless, pre-trial detention is detrimental to fundamental human rights principles, since detention in practice derogates the right of movement of individual suspects.
Police and Pre-trial Detention:
Police are vested with powers and responsibilities for the enforcement of laws, maintenance of peace and order and to prevent crimes in society. To enable police, discharge their responsibilities, they are empowered to arrest and detain any person found committing crime in their presence without warrant.
In practice, because of the wide and discretionary nature of powers vested on the police by other statutory enactments, it has been very difficult to curtail police excesses and arbitrariness in law enforcement.
Thus, the pre-trial reports of brutality, killing of suspects by police at the check points and police station cells, extortion of bribes from suspects; falsification of evidence, etc. by Nigerian Police have played a leading role to prison congestion.
Also, police are ill equipped to speed up investigations, often there are no vehicles to follow-up cases, forensic laboratories are inadequate. These are predicaments for police in performing their duties.
Therefore, an option left to the police often is to lock up suspects in prison custody indefinitely pending the conclusion of investigation. The immediate effect of this practice is the constant supply of inmate suspects to prison and the cumulative effect of congestion in the prisons which remains an abuse of human rights of those prison inmates.
Courts, Pre-trial Detention, and Prison Congestion:
Though the courts are vested with greater powers of detention, they have similar experience as the police as discussed above. According to the constitution the police cannot detain a suspect more than 24 hours except in special circumstances. Any detention beyond this period has to be sanctioned by the court of law.
Court also has discretion to detain and remand suspects in prison pending the final determination of trials or to release suspects on bail unconditionally or upon such conditions in the circumstances as may be considered reasonable by the court. Just like the police, the discretionary powers that are not judiciously used could lead to excessiveness and arbitrariness on the part of the court.
The implication is that where a court chooses to detain rather than release on bail because court by law has discretion to do the immediate, result is the congestion of prisons. Judges, magistrates, and lawyers also engage in some behaviors and practices that encourage undue delay thereby slowing down the final determination of cases.
For instances lawyers sometimes manipulate judges and magistrates who tend to succumb to the endless demand of adjournments. Due to this single act alone, many suspects are repeatedly sent back to or, perpetually kept in prisons especially for non-bail able offences.
Causes of Congestion of Detention Centres
Some of the causes of congestion of detention centres are as follows;
Outdated legal standards: Suspects should only be arrested if a police investigation links them to a crime. But in Nigeria arrests trigger investigation. Detainees are kept in custody while the police claim to investigate and seek the certification of the Director of Public Prosecutions as to whether or not to prosecute. Sometimes, securing this certification may take more than five years pending this certification suspects remain detained. Also, Nigeria police lack facilities to conduct effective investigations.
Incessant strike actions by Judiciary staff: Regular strike actions by judiciary workers have also contributed to the congestion of detention centres in Nigeria. Between the month of March and June of the year 2021, Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria embarked on an industrial action in order to press home their demands for judicial financial autonomy. So many inmates had to remain in the detention centres for these periods as their trials were stalled as a result of the strike action.
Inadequate Courtrooms, Infrastructures and Poor Working Conditions: The courtrooms of some courts in Nigeria are an eye sore, and are not fit to house even animals. It is no longer news that some courts across the country have their sittings under thatched huts and houses. The courts also lack adequate infrastructures like chairs, tables, cabinets and other office equipment. The court staff are now constraint to pass these burdens to poor litigants and their families in order for them to get justice.
Delay Caused by Judges: The attitude of judges who are mandated to ensure that justice is done in any matter before them has also been called to question. Some judges have allowed themselves to be use to secure illegal detention orders and judgment. The compromise by some judges is not unconnected to the fact that they are the employees of the government and will often do the biddings of the government.
Even when the court does not have jurisdiction on some matters, they trend to come up with technicalities to justify their decisions. Orders are obtained at odd hours of the day which has put the judiciary in the eye of the storm.
The activities of judges lately led to the invasion of the premises of some judges in Nigeria in the year 2016 where some illegal valuables and cash were recovered from persons who were supposed to be the harbingers of justice.
Delay Caused by Legal Practitioners: Legal practitioners are key actors in the administration of CJS in Nigeria. They are expected to be ministers in the temple of justice and are expected to exhibit high moral standards in the conduct of their legal practice.
However, some legal practitioners have conducted themselves in manners that are unbecoming of lawyers in order to impress their paymasters of to subdue and suppress the administration of justice. Trials get stalled by litany of incidents ranging from request for unnecessary adjournments by counsel to the parties. Some of the counsels engage in this unethical and unwholesome attitude in order to keep the cases pending in court while appearance fees are still being collected from their clients.
Delay Arising from The Conducts of Prison Authorities: The Nigerian Correctional Services are faced with a lot of challenges. One of the main challenges which serves as an impediment to the access to justice and which has led to the congestion of detention centres is the lack of vehicles for the authorities concerned to transport the inmates to court in order for them to stand their trials.
It is common practice for the authorities to be absent in court when their matters are called by the courts. The absence of the authorities concerned that has caused the congestion of the detention centres. Some officers of the correctional services and other detention centres are also in the habit of being involved in corrupt activities as they only bring suspects whose family members have mobilized them to come to court.
Frequent Transfer of Officers: The officers responsible for investigation and prosecution are mostly civil servants who are susceptible to transfers by their employers. It is common practice and procedure to find out that witnesses to the prosecution who are civil servants are transferred to other formations in line with the practice and procedures of their establishment.
The transfer of these officers makes it difficult for new investigation officers to get accustomed with the cases they have been assigned to investigate and prosecute. This is a challenge and the inmate or suspect is left to bear the brunt. There are situations where the witnesses deliberately frustrate the hearing of the case for some very inconsequential reasons.
These have led to the congestion of the various correctional centres across the country. It is commonplace to hear that these witnesses have not been mobilized to come to court and thus, the suspects are meant to suffer from the inadequacies of the officers in charge of the investigation and prosecution of the cases.