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40,000 Nigerian prisoners are detained without charges, says report

A report by the Nigerian Centre for Social and Legal Studies (CSLS)  has revealed that  more than two-thirds of the country’s approximately 40,000 prisoners are held without charges.

 Some prisoners have been behind bars for nine years without a trial, the report found. In some of these cases, the paperwork has been lost and there is little hope of piecing together a fair trial.found that 85 percent of prisoners in one facility were held without charge.

 Last year, Amnesty International found that 65 percent of the country’s prisoners haven’t been formally charged.

The Amnesty report also pointed to serious human rights abuses in Nigeria’s prisons:

Living conditions in the prisons are appalling. They are damaging to the physical and mental well-being of inmates and in many cases constitute clear threats to health.

Conditions such as overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of food and medicines and denial of contact with families and friends fall short of UN standards for the treatment of prisoners. The worst conditions constitute ill-treatment.

 In many Nigerian prisons inmates sleep two to a bed or on the floor in filthy cells. Toilets are blocked and overflowing or simply nonexistent, and there is no running water. As a result, disease is widespread.

The conditions are so bad that there have been a few mass escapes in recent months, including one in which 150 prisoners walked out in June. 

The Nigerian Justice Minister said in an interview this summer that the country has made progress in addressing human rights abuses but went on to call for further reforms and improvements in courts, police, prosecutors and public defense.

While a lack of resources throughout the court system allowed things to get this bad, a central problem is surely the severe shortage of legal aid organizations.

 The CSLS report’s co-author, professor Yemi Akinseye George, said long-term  detention is “wrong, illegal” and “against the Constitution.”

The situation in Nigeria demonstrates clearly the need for growth in organizations like International Bridges to Justice, a social enterprise that seeks to build capacity in developing countries by training public defenders and paralegals.