Nigerian prisons are neglected, in bad states – and prisoners are practically abandoned and left to their fate. The interventions which can make life behind bars bearable are few and far between; largely inadequate.
Ikoyi Prisons, Polo Road, off Ribadu Road, Ikoyi (Lagos), built over 100 years ago to accommodate 800 inmates, has almost three thousand people behind its high walls with more than 90 percent awaiting trial inmates like Lekan Shonde. The awaiting trial inmates are the most neglected, living in the worst part of the prison and forsaken.
Lekan Shonde began his long stay at Ikoyi Prisons in the afternoon of Friday, May 20, as he was remanded by the magistrate. This prison in the heart of high brow Ikoyi may be his home for a long time.
Here are some of the episodes and dramas and scenarios that will become his everyday life:
- Terrible state of facilities
Whatever image of prison he has is far from reality. So far from what he could imagine. Ikoyi prison is over 100 years old, built for 800 inmates. With water scarce, and toilets few and inadequate, overbearing stench of human sweat and wastes hang everywhere. With bed spaces inadequate, the cells are overcrowded. Unbelievably overcrowded that some take turns to sleep. The walls have seen better years.
- Special inmates
There are always special inmates, from prisoners of conscience to looters. These inmates are so special that they enjoy privileges. They are well dressed, have good accommodation with manageable facilities. They keep the prison running with money. Sometimes they engage lawyers for inmates, feed some and take care of a lot of things.
- Condemned prisoners
Those who are awaiting the hangman’s noose are generally kept away from other inmates. They are carefully treated because suicide is common among them, and some have lost their minds, while many are violent. They usually adorn a different uniform.
- Inmates that have been abandoned
Many of those awaiting trial are lost, cannot afford lawyers and hardly go to court. For mundane offences with a few years jail term, they spend far longer behind bars. They have been abandoned by family and friends and government. They rot in prison and are in constant need of help. From hair cut to food and basic essentials like soap.
- Corruption and constant fleecing by officials
Nigerian prison exemplifies the corruption in the corridors of power and the larger society. The money budgeted for upgrades, food and programmes are misappropriated, misapplied and stolen. The so called N14,000 feeding allowance per prisoner per month is stolen, and the meals served there will be rejected by animals. Even the metal plates are a sight.
- Gays in hiding, sex in prison
There are gays and lesbians in prison. Though frowned at, gays are known behind the walls. They are punished when caught, but they exist and are called ‘alhajas’. Special prisoners and those that can afford it find a way to engage in sex. Sometimes offices are used.
- Trouble makers, mischief makers and dramatists
Funny characters, mischief makers, troublesome souls and dramatists are in abundance. To curry favour, they make up stories and get inmates into trouble. There are informants who report to officials. And those who gloat as events escalate into big scenarios. Liars, gossips and tale bearers are many.
- Studying for a higher degree
There are those who want to better their lives, stay more in the library and study for exams. There are talks that degrees will be awarded to deserving inmates. There are serious people behind bars.
- Vocational training
There are opportunities to learn different crafts and skills. This opportunities are usually taken up by inmates spending a few years.
There are many more things going on behind bars. And over the months, Lekan Shonde will be able to tell…