An inmate of the Ogwashi-Uku Prison in Delta State who was awaiting trial died on Monday following the refusal of the prison authorities to take him to a hospital for treatment when he was ill.
This has led to a call for a health emergency to be declared in all the prisons in the country, or for the Ogwashi Uku Prison to be shut down immediately.
The deceased, Smart Ohuzu, was remanded in prison by a magistrate court just five months ago.
SaharaReporters reliably learned that Mr. Ohuzu had been sick for two months but efforts by fellow inmates to persuade the prison authorities to take him to the hospital were rebuffed until he died.
Narrating the incident to our correspondent at the prison, an inmate who was close to the deceased said Mr. Ohuzu died due to negligence, warning that the prison managers have no regard for human life.
He said that after the sick man collapsed on Monday morning, prison authorities asked the cell leader to go around and gather the sum of N5,000 from his cell mates to be used to transport him to the Ogwashi Uku General hospital.
“We contributed money,” he said. “Some contributed N10, N50 just like that and we were able to contribute only N3,500 and this got prison officers angry because we were unable to raise the N5,000 and they refused to take Smart Ohuzu to the hospital.”
According to our source, by that time, Mr. Ohuzu was on the floor struggling and crying until an inmate, out of sympathy, gave out the remaining N1,500 balance to enable the prison officers to take him to the hospital. He said Mr. Ohuzu was rushed to the hospital where the doctors attended to him, but then recommended he be taken to the Federal Medical Center or Okwe General Hospital. He noted that the doctors complained that they will stop accepting inmates from Ogwashi Uku Prison because they are always brought for treatment at the point of death.
"The officers, instead of taking Smart to the hospital the doctors referred him to, with chains on his legs they led him into the Black Maria and took him back to the prison yard complaining of man-power where he was left in chains in the cold, struggling before he died with tears in his eyes. Smart died three hours after he was forcefully brought back into the prison yard. The inmates can't complain because if we do, they will either change our cells or inflict us with inhuman punishments," the inmate stated.
It would be recalled that a similar incident occurred early this year where two inmates lost their lives.
Reacting to the death of Mr. Ohuzu, Harrison Gwamnishu, an ex-awaiting trial prisoner and leader of Behind Bars Intervention, called in a statement for the immediate sack or resignation of the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau and the Controller-General of Prisons, Ja'afaru Ahmed, and advised that health centers be built in all the prisons, especially Ogwashi Uku Prison.
He challenged the two men to publish the names of all prisoners awaiting trial since 2013 who have died in custody, alleging that they are close to 10,000 or Behind Bars Intervention will be forced to publish their names.
The group also wants urgent measures to be taken to set up toilet facilities for prison inmates as a way of reducing infection in the facilities, saying that at the moment, there are only two toilets for 150 inmates.
The group also wants signs in each prison saying "Visit Is Free," in line with the signs in police stations and the courts which say, "Bail Is Free.”
"Minister of Interior/CG prisons should answer this question: 'Are Prisoners supposed to pay for water, light, hospital medication, repairs damage vehicle and pay transportation to court?'” the group asked. “If the answer is no, then please start fighting corrupt practices from Delta State Prison. Our phone conversation last year, after we published pictures of two malnourished inmates who later died, you promised that the living conditions of these inmates especially awaiting trial prisoners will improve, what have you done till date?"
The group also recommends that top prison officers who used the prisons to amass wealth to the detriment of innocent prisoners be sacked, and called for prisons partnership with other stakeholders towards decongesting them.
Calling for a health emergency to be declared in the prisons, or the Ogwashi Uku Prison shuttered, Behind Bars Intervention said it would otherwise embark on other measures.
“If nothing is done, we will lawfully gather 4,250 families of those in Delta prison for a nationwide peaceful protest. The last panel the Minister of Interior and the Controller General of Prisons set up to investigate the past deaths in Ogwashi-Uku Prison was an exercise in futility. They came and entertained at Ogwashi-Uku town, ate fresh fish, drank beer and left with huge kola-nut wedges."
Meanwhile, Onos Osagie, an inmate in Ogwashi Uku Prison who has been awaiting trial for five years, is reported to be undergoing punishment by the prison authorities who claimed that he was behind the leakage of the information about the malnourished prisoners.
SaharaReporters reliably learned that Osagie was chained, tortured and locked up in a special punishment cell.