In its bid to ensure effective improvement on the deplorable state of prisons in the country, the Senate yesterday advanced its move to transform all the prisons across the country, to make them habitable for inmates.
To this end, the upper legislative chamber has harmonised and passed for second reading three bills seeking to repeal and re-enact the Prisons Act.
The three bills were sponsored by Senators Babajide Omoworare (APC Osun East), Oluremi Tinubu (APC Lagos Central) and Mohammed Sha’aba Lafiagi (APC Kwara North).
The sponsors of the Prisons bill were allowed time independently to lead separate debates on their proposals, during which they convinced their colleagues on the dire need to repeal the extant Prisons Act.
Senator Tinubu particularly focused on prison congestion and the pathetic condition of infants and pregnant women in prisons, stressing the need to improve on the situation.
She said, “It is disheartening to sight infants living with their mothers in the prisons where movement is restricted, freedom restrained and liberty impeded. It is a common knowledge that this phenomenon has the potential of impeding all round growth of the infant and may cause retardation. This forms the basis for this amendment.
“The incidences of women going to serve jail term while they are pregnant or nursing infants is known to many nations of the world but while some nations have found solutions to the problem by way of legislation, Nigeria has left these matters to chance and the magnanimity of individuals and charities.
“My colleagues in the seventh Assembly would recall that the plight of infants in prisons gave cause for concern which prompted the members of the Women Affairs Committee of the Senate to embark on an oversight visit to Suleja prisons in 2013 where members expressed their concern and pledged assistance.
“This Bill attempts to provide solution by ensuring that Prison Authorities provide special accommodation to meet prenatal and postnatal needs of pregnant inmates, designate structures as nursery to be staffed by qualified persons where the infants shall be placed when they are not in the care of their mothers, and also fight against stigmatisation of babies born in prison by providing that the circumstances of their birth shall not be included in their birth certificate.
The lawmaker pleaded with the Senate to see the Bill in light of catering for young Nigerians who were unable to dictate the circumstances of their birth and who, if well taken care of today, might be great leaders of their own generation.
All the senators who contributed to the debate, all supported the passage of the harmonised bills, so that the agonizing challenges in the nation’s prisons could be adequately tackled.
Senator Shehu Sani, in particular, narrated his ugly experiences in the various prisons across the country, where he had served in his days of activism, lamenting that successive governments had never given attention to the prisons.
He further lamented that criminals who went to serve in Nigerian prisons usually came out as more hardened criminals, thereby posing more serious security threats to the society than before going to prison.
“Nigerian prisons simply upgrade criminals from what brought them into that prison to what they were not before. The most important element in this bill is the correctional aspect of it.
“You send people to prisons, they spend 10 years as awaiting trial and five years as convict and they are later released to the society; they simply come back to us with what they have learnt. A pickpocket sent to Nigeria prisons graduate as an armed robber, and an armed robber sent to the prisons graduate as a kidnapper or as a hired assassin.
“My own personal experience has shown it clearly that even within the prisons all those structures that were established from the awaiting trial cells to the convict cells to the psychiatric cells to the condemned cells and to what they called workshops still remain colonial structures that were left behind more than 70 to 80 years ago”
“One thing which I observed with successive governments is that nobody wants to do anything about prisons. In fact within the constituency projects of many people no one has even thought of the issue of prisons there and no government wants to be seen to be building prisons; no government wants to be investing but it is a reality we have to deal with”, Senator Sani stressed.