Nigerian Prisons Service

Below is the history of prisons in Nigeria as written by Dr Ifediorah W. Orakwe.

 

 

THE ORIGIN OF PRISONS IN NIGERIA

Dr I. W. Orakwe

The origin of modern Prisons Service in Nigeria is 1861.  That was the year when conceptually, Western-type prison was established in Nigeria.  The declaration of Lagos as a colony in 1861 marked the beginning of the institution of formal machinery of governance.  At this stage the preoccupation of the colonial government was to protect legitimate trade, guarantee the profit of British merchants as well as guarantee the activities of the missionaries.  To this end, by 1861, the acting governor of the Lagos colony and who was then a prominent British merchant in Lagos, formed a Police Force of about 25 constables.  This was followed in 1863 by the establishment in Lagos of four courts: a Police court to resolve petty disputes, a criminal court to try the more serious cases, a slave court to try cases arising from the efforts to abolish the trade in slaves and a commercial court to resolve disputes among merchants and traders.  The functioning of these courts and the police in that colonial setting necessarily means that prison was needed to complete the system.  And it was not long in coming for in 1872, the Broad Street prison was established with an initial inmate capacity of 300.  In the Niger Delta, the relationship between the local people and the British merchants had before then been moderated by special courts of merchants backed by the British Navy especially with the appointment of John Beecroft as a consul in 1849.  The need for a merchant court was underscored by the fact that most conflicts between the merchants and the local people were in the main commercial.  Although there was evidence of prison in Bonny at this time, not much is known about its size and content.  But those who were later to oppose British rule were usually deported as happened in the case of Jaja of Opobo and King Dappa of Bonny.

 

However, the progressive incursion of the British into the hinterland and the establishment of British protectorate towards the end of the 19th century necessitated the establishment of the prisons as the last link in the Criminal Justice System.  Thus by 1910, there already were prisons in Degema, Calabar, Onitsha, Benin, Ibadan, Sapele, Jebba and Lokoja.  The declaration of protectorates over the East, West and North by 1906 effectively brought the entire Nigeria area under British rule.  However, that did not mark the beginning of a unified Nigerian Prisons.  Had that been so, it would have negated official colonial policy for that would have required funds which the colonial power was not prepared to expend.

 

Even so, the colonial prison at this stage was not designed to reform anyone.  There was no systematic penal policy from which direction could be sought for penal administration.  Instead prisoners were in the main used for public works and other jobs for the colonial administration.  For this reason there was no need for the recruitment of trained officers of the prisons.  Hence colonial prisons had no trained and developed staff of their own and instead the police also performed prison duties.  As time went on ex-servicemen were recruited to do the job.

 

They were also very poorly run and the local prison conditions varied from one place to another in their disorganization, callousness and exploitation.  But so long as they served the colonial interests of ensuring law and order, collecting taxes, and providing labour for public works, they were generally left alone.  The result was that the prisons served the purpose of punishing those who had the guts to oppose colonial administration in one form or the other while at the same time cowing those who might want to stir up trouble for the colonial set up.

 

The Prison regulation was published in 1917 to prescribe admission, custody, treatment and classification procedures as well as staffing, dieting and clothing regimes for the prisons.  These processes were limited in one very general sense.  They were not geared towards any particular type of treatment of inmates.  Instead they represent just policies of containment of those who were already in prison.  Besides, they were limited in application to those who were convicted or remanded in custody by criminal courts of the British-inspired supreme or provincial types.  Those remanded or convicted by the Native courts were sent to the Native Authority prisons.  The prison regulation also distinguished between Awaiting Trial and convicted inmates and even stipulated the convict – category to be found in each type of prison.  But the limited application of this general rule to the national Prison while the native Authority Prison went their own way effectively stultified the appearance of a national Prison goal-orientation in terms of inmate treatment

 

It was not until 1934 that any meaningful attempt was made to introduce relative modernization into the Prison Service.  It was at this time that Colonel V. L. Mabb was appointed Director of Prisons by the then Governor Sir Donald Cameron.  Although a military officer, Mabb had an understanding of what prisons should be.  And he went on to do his best.  What he seemed to have focused his attention on was the formation of a unified Prison structure for the whole country but he failed.  Yet he succeeded in extending the substantive Director of Prisons’ supervisory and inspectoral powers over the Native Authority Prisons by this time dominant in the North.  It was also during his tenure that the Prisons Warders welfare Board was formed.

 

His efforts were to be continued by his successor R. H. Dolan (1946 – 55).  Mr. Dolan was a trained prison officer and when he assumed duties in Nigeria he already had a wealth of experience in prison administration in both Britain and the colonies.  Although a scheme for the introduction of vocational training in the National Prisons had been introduced in 1917 and it failed except in Kaduna and Lokoja prisons where it was functioning in 1926, Mr. Dolan reintroduced it in 1949 as a cardinal part of a penal treatment in Nigeria.  He also made classification of prisoners mandatory in all prisons and went on to introduce visits by relations to inmates.  He also introduced progressive earning schemes for long term first offenders.  He also transferred the Prisons Headquarters formerly in Enugu to Lagos to facilitate close cooperation with other Department of State.  He also introduced moral and adult education classes to be handled by competent Ministers and teachers for both Christian and Islamic education.  Programmes for recreation and relaxation of prisoners were introduced during his tenure as well as the formation of an association for the care and rehabilitation of discharged prisoners.  But above all, he initiated a programme for the construction and expansion of even bigger convict prisons to enhance the proper classification and accommodation of prisoners.

 

On manpower development, he was instrumental to the founding of the Prison Training School, Enugu in 1947.  He also saw to the appointment of educated wardresses to take charge of the female wings of the prisons and he generally tried to improve the service conditions of the prison staff.  In addition, he took classification a step further when in 1948 he opened four reformatories in Lagos and converted part of the Port-Harcourt prisons for the housing and treatment of juveniles.  Five years later he was to build an open prison in Kakuri - Kaduna to take care of first offenders who had committed such crimes as murder and manslaughter, and who are serving terms of 15 years or more.  The idea was to train them with minimum supervision in agriculture so that on discharge they could employ themselves gainfully.  In fact, Dolan’s tenure represented a very high point in the evolution of Nigeria Prisons Service.

 

NIGERIA PRISONS TODAY:

The abolition of Native Authority prisons in 1968 and the subsequent unification of the Prisons Service in Nigeria therefore marked the beginning of Nigerian Prisons Service as a composite reality.  Prior to this, the prisons in the North were under the general supervision of the Northern Inspector General of Police who was ex-officio Director of Prisons.  In the same vain the Director of Prisons was in charge of the prisons in the south.  The Gobir report put an end to all that.  As a consequence of that report Native Authority prisons were abolished with effect from 1st April, 1968.  However, due to the vagaries of the civil war then raging in the country, it was not until 1971 that the government white paper on the reorganization of the prisons was released.  It was followed in 1972 by Decree No.9 of 1972 which spelt out the goals and orientation of the Nigerian Prisons Service.  The Prisons was charged with taking custody of those legally detained, identifying causes of their behaviour and retraining them to become useful citizens in the society.

 

From the foregoing it seems clear that though the Decree makes secure custody the first role of the prisons, it also makes it explicit that reform and rehabilitation are the ultimate aims of the Prisons Service.  And to achieve this objective the administration of the prisons became streamlined.  The service which had hitherto been generally administered under one Director, now had in addition to the Director “three principal agencies or divisions performing different roles to enable (the prisons) execute its programme expeditiously and achieve its goal.  These divisions are Technical, Inspectorate and Welfare with each unit under a Deputy Director of Prisons.  The idea was that in consonance with the stipulations of Decree 9 of 1972, there was the need to introduce specialized units to take care of specific areas of the Prisons Service.  The Technical Division for instance was charged with the responsibility of general administration and the provision of logistics to addition to supervising the farms and industries.  The Inspectorate Division was to oversee staff deployment, training, discipline, promotion and recruitment.  The welfare division was to be the pivot of the new prison order.  It was to see to inmate treatment, training and rehabilitation.  It also oversees the medical needs of the prisons in addition to liaising between the prisons and voluntary and humanitarian organizations who assist in the treatment and rehabilitation of the prisoners.

 

Following from this was the need to employ skilled manpower especially in the social welfare unit.  To this end between 1974 and 1980 a group of officers, mostly pivotal teachers was recruited as social welfare officers to take on adjustment-related programmes and rehabilitation of prisoners.  In addition professional Nurses and Doctors were recruited to beef up the medical staff strength as well as expertise.  Besides between 1972 and 1974 over three hundred graduates were recruited into the Service as general duty officers to see to the day to day running of the Prisons.  It was hoped that their enlightenment will help direct other staff towards the goals of the prisons which are in the main treatment of offenders.

 

There have been massive transformations in the Service since 1972.  It has undergone some reorganization from its modest three Directorates in 1980 to six Directorates in 1993.  There was the 1986 reorganization of the Prisons consequent upon the creation of the Customs, Immigrations and Prisons Board and centralization of the administrations of these paramilitary Services in the Board.  There was also the removal of the Services from the Civil Service in 1992.   It now has a command structure that boast of 8 Zonal commands, 36 State Commands, 1 FCT Command, 155 Prisons including farm centres and 83 Satellite Prisons.  It also has four Training Schools, one Staff College and 3 Borstal Institutions.

 

At the level of manpower the Service now boasts of more men of the professions than at any other time in its history.  There are among the officers, medical, environmental health officers, sociologists/psychologists, lawyers, general administrators, engineers etc.  As for professional spread, the full complement of these officers is on ground to ensure that the goal of inmate reform is attained.

 

In the last ten years no less than 12 new satellite prisons and 3 prison hospitals have been built.  The purpose being to modernize and create the enabling environment for proper treatment and training of offenders.  There is also no doubt that the Special Prison Reform Programme of the Federal Government in 1999 made a lot of difference to the structure of Prisons.           

 

Dr I. W. Orakwe is the Controller of Prisons in charge of Social Welfare, Prisons National Headquarters Abuja 

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