Inmates at the Ogwashi-Uku prison, Aniocha South local government area of Delta State, have raised alarm over what their abject neglect and dehumanization by the prison management.
The inmates, many of them remanded in prison for long periods of time as they await trial for crimes some of them insist they never committed, also told our correspondent that they need urgent medical and legal assistance in order to cater for their health and regain their freedom.
In an interview with SaharaReporters from inside Ogwashi-Uku prison, an inmate, Peter Onyema, said he had passed through hell in the prison. Mr. Onyema also added that he was suffering from an undiagnosed chronic ailment.
He said his offence was to be involved in a fight with another man, adding, however, that he had been charged with attempted murder and remanded in prison since 2015. He stated that his health had deteriorated to a point where he finds it difficult to urinate, adding that inmates were neglected and dehumanized. He explained that the inmates ate beans once a day as their lone meal.
He appealed for legal aid to regain his freedom to enable him to take care of his deteriorating health. Mr. Onyema stated that several innocent persons were being kept in the prison without trial, adding that many in deteriorated health had died out of negligence by the prison authorities who have provided neither food nor healthcare.
Another sick inmate awaiting trial, David Okolie, said a magistrate had remanded him in prison for alleged conspiracy and attempt to rob.
Mr. Okolie lamented the prison authorities’ neglect of his worsening state of health, confirming that inmates only ate once a day. He said inmates die from time to time due to the absence of proper medical care.
Harrison Gwamnishu, the Delta State chief coordinator of Stephen and Solomon Foundation, a non-governmental organization (NGO), arranged the visit to the prison. Mr. Gwamnishu, himself a former victim of prolonged prison detention while awaiting trial, brought along an undercover journalist and a few lawyers on a visit to the Ogwashi-Uku prison. Mr. Gwamnishu, who secured his freedom last year, lamented the fate of inmates who are held under inhuman conditions as they await trial.
He disclosed that he got his freedom through the voluntary assistance of the founder of Stephen and Solomon Foundation, Mr. Gabriel Giwa-Amu, a Lagos based lawyer and others. He told SaharaReporters that he used the opportunity of his recent visit to the Ogwashi-Uku prison to take photos and to discuss with some of the ailing inmates awaiting trials.
“During my Friday visit to the Ogwashi-Uku, I met with ailing inmates, those awaiting trials and dying innocently in prison for offences they may have not committed. No medical facility, no drugs. They are dying. I was able to get a lawyer who has promised to defend them so they can leave prison and get quick medical attention. Some of them can’t urinate or stand for ten minutes. Our laws say they are Innocent until proven guilty. They deserve a better life,” he said.
The former inmate added: "I was a victim of awaiting trial for about four years until I was discharged and acquitted in November 2015 by a Delta State High Court. I am a Deltan and was an ex-awaiting trial inmate at Kirikiri medium prison in Apapa, Lagos State for two years. And then I was at Ogwashi Uku prison in Delta State for another two years over a crime that was committed in Asaba that I knew nothing about.
“When prisoners are released, after a time, you see them committing another crime again because of idleness. Coming down to Ogwashi Uku prison, you see inmates dying, especially the awaiting trials. And nobody says anything or knows the cause of death. They sleep on the congested floor only to wake up the next morning and discover that the next man lying close to you is cold and dead,” said Mr. Gwamnishu.
He said the state and federal governments had failed in their responsibility even after various committees had been set up on prison decongestion, adding that the number of inmates in a cell was on the increase. According to him, between 180 and 200 inmates are often crammed into one cell and use one water system.
“Several of the inmates are tuberculosis patients,” said Mr. Gwamnishu. He added, “Imagine tuberculosis patients sleeping in the midst of 200 people.”
He called on the state government to take action on prison reform, adding that some people think prisons were exclusively for the Federal Government. “They forget that 80% of prisoners are remanded or sentenced by state courts.”
He further explained, “I am not advocating that offenders shouldn't be punished, never. But punish them and reform them because they are still returning to the society. Currently I have close to 20 ex-prisoners who left prison and have decided to join me to create awareness so that the lives of our beloved brothers and sisters behind bars will not be cut short. I stand with Yali Network to bring awareness to our government on the need for the welfare of Nigeria prisoners.”
All efforts to speak with senior prison officials in Delta State were unsuccessful.