Monday, April 22, 2013

6,000 children in Nigerian prisons

Nigeria's notorious jails and detention centres hold an estimated 6,000 children and minors, many of whom were born there and now serve terms with their parents despite a government's order to effect their release, the United States country human rights report on Nigeria says.

Although Nigerian law forbids the imprisonment of children, by the end of 2012, the government has taken no clear step to implement its order to release and rehabilitate the children, the report, quoting an African Union study, says.

"A report by the African Union on the rights and welfare of the Nigerian child found an estimated 6,000 children lived in prisons and detention centers," the report says. "Despite a government order to identify and release such children and their mothers, authorities had not done so by year's end."

Published by the US state department on country-by-country basis, the document catalogues a range of abuses and rights violations the Nigerian government is guilty of; and particularly delivered a stinging indictment of the government's record on corruption, extrajudicial killings, disappearances and impunity in 2012.

"Impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. The government brought few persons to justice for abuses and corruption," the report says.

"Police and security forces generally operated with impunity. Authorities did not investigate the majority of cases of police abuse or punish perpetrators. Authorities generally did not hold police accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody."

For all, the most serious human rights problem for the nation during the year, the U.S. department said, were abuses committed by the militant sect, Boko Haram, which conducted killings, bombings, kidnappings, and other attacks mainly in northern states.

While the extremist group killed and maimed, the nation also witnessed serious rights violations with illegal killings by security forces, including summary executions, torture, rape, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners, detainees, and criminal suspects, the report said.

The U.S. verdict for 2012 is similar to that delivered on Nigeria in 2011. The 2011 report highlighted Boko Haram and Nigeria's security forces involved in a brutal crackdown on the extremists as the gravest human rights abusers. It also noted the rocketing corruption level in the country.

A year later, the report says, the situation only deteriorated. While impunity flourished, and corruption escalated, the government did nothing to check abuses.

Also, for 2012, the report notes the dramatic clampdown on the media, seen in the arrest of several journalists, and censorship of news reports.

With recent escalation of government onslaught on the media, the 2013 report can only be predictably worse.

The document is compiled from news report, researches, publications by independent organizations and direct interviews with government officials as well as citizens.

On prisons, the report notes the brutal conditions of Nigerian prisons, reputed amongst the world's harshest and most crowded.

The report said prison and detention centres' conditions remained "harsh and life threatening" as prisoners, a majority of whom had not been tried, were subject to gross overcrowding, food shortages, inadequate medical treatment, and infrastructure deficiencies that led to wholly inadequate sanitary conditions.

In many of the holding facilities, the report states, female prisoners were held in same units with the males, and those pregnant at the time of incarceration gave birth to, and raised their babies in prison.

The extensive use of unofficial military prisons, including the Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri, Borno State, and the Special-Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) detention centre, also known as the "abattoir," in Abuja, was also mentioned.

As of March, Nigerian prison authorities said total inmates stood at 50,920 with slightly less than two percent of those being females, and one per cent juveniles.

But overcrowding was a problem as shown in prisons such as Owerri federal prison which held 1,784 against a capacity of 548, the report states.

Ogwuashi-Uku prison in Delta State, with a capacity of 64 prisoners, housed 541, while Port Harcourt prison, with a capacity of 804 prisoners, held 2,955. Ijebi-Ode prison in Lagos, with a capacity of 49 prisoners, held 309.

Most of the country's 234 prisons, built 70 to 80 years back, lack basic facilities. Lack of potable water, inadequate sewage facilities, and severe overcrowding have resulted in dangerous and unsanitary conditions in the prisons.

"The government did not make widespread improvements to prisons during the year, but individual prison administrations attempted to collect donations from religious organizations, NGOs, and the National Youth Service Corps to benefit inmates," the report says.

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