Tales from Badagry prison


Their stories touch the heart, even as the majority of them proclaim their innocence. SAMUEL AWOYINFA chronicles the stories of some inmates of Badagry Prison during a visit by The Directorate for Citizens’ Rights, an arm of the Lagos State Ministry of Justice

 Prisons are definitely not luxurious suites in a five-star hotel. Those who had had a conflict with the law and were sent there, either as Awaiting Trial or condemned inmates, have stories to tell whenever they come in contact with someone from the real world.

Badagry Prisons, located at the beachfront of the historic town, could pass for any modest storey building in that environment. But the curious colours of deep green and cream, the official colours most prisons in the country have adopted, easily gives it away as a correction centre.

Again, the Armoured Personnel Carrier stationed almost directly opposite the building serves as a warning to mischief makers and the prisoners who might be nursing any hideous schemes of escape.

Members of the Directorate for Citizens’ Rights, an arm of the Lagos State Ministry of Justice which pays official visits to prisons in the state on quarterly basis to see how they could decongest the prisons by providing legal assistance to inmates, arrived on the premises some few minutes after 11:00am.

A director in the Justice Ministry, Mrs. Florence Utomi, led the team. She had requested that the vistors be allowed to meet the Awaiting Trial inmates, especially if there were underage people among them. The prison officials noted that there were two underage inmates on Awaiting Trial list, but they had been taken to court that morning.

Not less than eight other inmates were brought out to meet the team.

From a crouching position a few metres away, they narrated their offences and travails since they arrived at the penitent centre. While some almost broke down in tears over their ordeal, others seemed to have accepted their fate.

The story of 35-year-old Obiefuna Edesong who claimed to be a petty trader at Alaba Market has a curious twist. He was charged with the abduction of a 13-year-old girl, Doris Onyejiowa for 14 days, but he told the DCR team that he was only acting a Good Samaritan.

He said, “I did not abduct the girl; I saw her around Pako Ketu Bus stop after Agbara. She told me that her sister and mother had thrown her out of the house. It was around 7:00pm while I was returning from the office; I was only trying to help her.”

He claimed to have accommodated the girl for “only one night.” He said though he had appeared in court a couple of times, he had been held there since March 2011. He had another date in court on March 17, 2012.

For 26-year-old commercial bus driver, Isiaka Tella, it was his conductor that railroaded him into trouble since September 2011. Looking tired and subdued, he narrated how his conductor had a fight with an unnamed female passenger who ended up with a swollen face. “My conductor ran away, and the police arrested me,” he narrated. He has also appeared at a magistrate’s court in Iworo, Badagry, but has yet to breathe air of freedom.

Another youngster was Sunday Okorie, who claimed to be 22 years old. He said he stole a BlackBerry phone from a lady in Oshodi sometime in February and he was caught. When asked what school he attended, he said he dropped out of school after he lost his parents.

Dressed in a red long-sleeve shirt and a pair of shorts, Okorie, who could not spell his surname, said he had appeared before the Special Offences Court in Alausa, Ikeja, once.

A male member of the team recognised him and remembered he had seen him in the court when he was arraigned alongside other suspects.

These inmates’ stories corroborate findings by Amnesty International, which states: “Human rights violations are prevalent in Nigeria’s justice system. Arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and failure to hold trials within a reasonable time are features of many inmates’ experience. Seven out of 10 people held behind bars in Nigeria’s prisons have not been convicted of any offence. They are waiting in appalling conditions to be tried.”

Indeed, Amnesty’s 2011 report on human rights put the number of prisoners in Nigeria at 49,000; out of which 29,000 are awaiting trial inmates, while 856 are on death row.

The story of Benjamin Bitrus who’s on a charge of manslaughter caught the DCR team’s attention. He has been there since 2010. And though he has been granted bail, his inability to perfect the bail requirements has been responsible for his continual detention. Since visitors are not allowed to read the charge sheets, however, the bail requirements were not known.

Twenty-seven-year old Raji Olanrewaju’s case was that of rogues and vagabonds, which was otherwise known as wandering. Looking morose, he narrated that he was arrested at Agbara between 7:00 and 8:00pm while going to his residence at Okokomaiko. He’s been there since August 2011. Though he has also been given a bail, he has been unable to perfect it. He claimed he had appeared before a magistrate at Iworo.

Wasiu Alabi shares the same fate with Olanrewaju. He was also arrested at Oshodi in the middle of the night while fast asleep inside one of the abandoned vehicles. He claimed that he had nowhere to lay his head because his parents live in Ibadan, and he had come to Lagos to ‘hustle.’

But Alabi, who said he was arrested sometime in February, begged the DCR team to help him, “because as soon as I am released, I want to go back to Ibadan.”

Having listened to all these inmates, Utomi requested the prison officials to make photocopies of their charge sheets for her. She promised to take up their cases from this point. “Definitely myself and my team will go back and sit over their matter and see where we can offer assistance to them,” she stated.

“For those who could not perfect their bail requirements, we will get in touch with their family members. And for those who need legal representation, we will send lawyers to the magistrate’s courts where their matters are being handled when next they have their days in these courts.”

The Assistant Comptroller of Prisons in charge of Badagry Prison, Mr. Mojeed Olaniran did complain about the congestion of the prison, and he sought the assistance of the government in completing the ongoing expansion work there.

He also called on the state government to give them more buses, because some of their vehicles had developed mechanical problems and were out of use.

“We need more cells for the inmates, because originally, the space we have here is to accommodate 200 inmates but now, we have close to 400. I want to appeal to the government to hasten the construction work on the expansion of the prison,” he said.

According to the Nigerian Prison Act 1972, which spells out the goals and orientation of the Nigerian Prisons Service, prisons are charged with taking custody of those legally detained, identifying causes of their behaviour and retraining them to become useful citizens after having served their term.

Whether this is done as required is a subject of debate on the country’s penal system because most times, many prisoners leave prisons more hardened than they were before their incarceration.

In developed countries, there is a difference between a jail and a prison. A jail is a transitional facility for those undergoing legal proceedings and awaiting judgment on their trial. A prison, on the other hand, is for those whose judicial fate has been decided and who have been convicted.

Those whose trials are in progress and those whose trials have been concluded should not, ordinarily, cohabit in the same facilities. But, considering Amnesty’s report, this is what obtains in many Nigerian prisons.
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