The prison inmates consist of both those awaiting trial and those convicted of their various offences. However, in most cases, as we can see later, the awaiting trial inmates in prisons outnumber those already convicted. We must also note that those awaiting trial are and remain innocent until they are convicted by a court or tribunal for committing an offence under the law.

According to Showunmi, an awaiting trial person (ATP) is someone remanded by an order of a court or tribunal in prison custody in order to ensure his availability before the detaining authority in due course for the hearing of his case to prove or establish his innocence or quality. Awaiting trial persons constitute a significant percentage of the Nigerian prison population. And many factors are responsible for it, among which is the police practice of holding charge.

Holding charge is one of the causes of the large number of awaiting trial inmates in Nigerian prisons and as such a major source of congestion of prisons. Over congestion of prisons in Nigeria is extremely acute. Both convicted prisoners and those awaiting trial are all dumped together in the same cells. The greater proportions of prisoners in Nigerian prisons are those awaiting trial, those remanded by the orders of courts. Those remanded by the orders of the courts accounted for about sixty-seven percent of prison population. Due to mainly administrative reasons such as lack of transportation to take the prisoners to court, absence of counsel, unwillingness of magistrates to go on with the case because of lack of jurisdiction, many of these remand prisoner remain in prison for prolonged period of time without trial. Consequently, the prisoners are incarcerated indefinitely under harsh and inhuman conditions even where they have not been found guilty.

The Civil Liberties Organization has described the condition of Nigerian prisons in the following words:
“Behind the wall of practically every prison in Nigeria is a slum where men and women too literally live on top of each other. From prison to prison the housing conditions consistently reveal themselves to be wretched and in human.”

In line with the above observation, Hon. Justice Alhassan Idoko of the blessed memory had in 1981 said
They reveal a complete picture of dehumanizing conditions. Convicts and even those awaiting trial are caged and cramped together in cells meant for either only one person or fewer persons than are hoarded there. The sloppings (sic) and stench all around defy solution and the considerable regimentation throughout the period of the prison sentence has less of a therapeutic value.

The report given by Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) on the sanitary conditions of the Nigerian prisons is relevant in this context. The report states:
The state of sanitation and hygiene in the prisons was quite appalling. Water shortage was acute. Inmates were usually unable to take their baths for several days and had even less access to water for washing clothes. Toiletries were a luxury. Bed bugs, cockroaches, rats and mosquitoes bred freely. Ventilation was poor because most cells either had no window at all or their windows were sealed in an attempt to prevent prison escapes.

     Suffice to note at this juncture that different actors fuel the holding charge phenomenon in the criminal justice system in Nigeria notably, the police, the judiciary and the prisons. The police have the statutory function of effecting arrest of suspects, initiating prosecution, conducting investigation and arraigning suspects in appropriate courts of law. Admittedly, the police force is handicapped by numerous logistic constrains such as inadequacy of trained, dedicated and well-motivated officers. The inadequacy of office accommodation, stationary, transport and communication facilities further limits their efficiency. Transfer of officers handling a case and the lack of transportation facilities to bring prisoners to court constitute additional constraints. The ministries of justice are similarly faced with the problems of acute shortage of dedicated, honest and well-trained state counsel thus necessitating calls for adjournment of cases. The courts have to grapple with inadequacy of judges and magistrates, logistic constrains such as few secretarial staff, manual recording of court proceedings and insufficient library resources for research, corruptive tendencies and poor conditions of service. However, frequent resort to imprisonment as sentencing option even for the most minor offences, under-utilization of the powers of prerogative of mercy and bail are often cited as additional reasons for delays in conclusion of cases by the courts. The overall implication is to prolong the stay of detainees in prison awaiting trial.    

Prison congestion is partly responsible for the seemingly insufficient infrastructural amenities in Nigerian prisons. Prison facilities are stretched to the limits by the unchecked population explosion. Furthermore, congestion in the prisons results to failure on the part of the authorities to attempt classification of prisoners as required by local and international rules. Thus, the former director of the Nigerian Prison Service, Mr. Lily Ojo admitted that there is a problem when he said:
“The problem of overcrowding has not only imposed strains on prison management but has rendered the concept of classification meaningless in our prisons.”

Perhaps, one obvious cause of prison and police cell congestion is arbitrary arrests and detention on ground of holding charge under discussion. Recently, it has been shown that out of the total of 45,000 inmates in the Nigerian prison about 30,000 are awaiting trail which has made the prisons to be congested.29 For instance, the Ikoyi prisons was designed to accommodate 400 inmates but as at today there are about 1,600 inmates in the prison, while some have spent up to 10 years without trial and others have spent 5 to 19 years on trial.30 Also, Abakaliki prisons have been rated to have the total number of 583 inmates, with awaiting trial persons of 413, which is a 70%31 awaiting trial inmate. Finally, the writer’s personal visit to Abakaliki prison on 6th June, 2013, showed that only 47 prisoners were convicted while 694 are awaiting trial persons, notwithstanding that the maximum capacity of the prison is just 387.
            As regard congestion in police cells, there is no gain saying the fact that police lack adequate cells to detain suspects. While prisons congestion is an issue that constantly attracts attention in Nigerian criminal justice discourse, little or no attention is paid to the congestion of police cells and the ways and manners in which the police deal with the congestion.
            Thus, Jiti Ogunye32 observed that owing to poor crime intelligence gathering, police officers usually commence their investigation after affecting arrests, and this accounts for congestion in police cells. He went further to state that arrest are not made when investigation is at an advanced stage, rather, arrests are made at the beginning of investigation by the police and advised that pre-arrest intelligence can help in limiting the number of days in which criminal suspects are kept in police custody.

19 Showunmi L.A.; “Reform of Criminal Justice System and Congestion of Prisons by Awaiting Trial Persons-
   Are there Alternative? Paper presented at the Summit of Stakeholders on the Administration of Justice in
   Lagos on 17th June, 2004.
20 T.O. Ifaturoti (Mrs.), “Nigerian Prisoners and the Human Rights Campaigns: Some Challenges”. Nigerian
    Current Law Review 1994, P. 87.
21  Civil Liberties Organisation Annual Report in Nigeria 1999, at P. 200.
22 Taofik Adedamola, Op. cit at P. 289.
23 See Behind The Wall, A report on Prison Conditions in Nigerian and Nigerian Prison System. CLO. 1996
    edition p. 13.
24  See Behind The Wall, Ibid, and Quoted in Ignatius A. Ayua, “Towards a more Appropriate Sentencing
    Policy in Nigeria” in Nigerian Law Reform Journal No. 3, January, 1983 P. 22.
25 See CLO’s Report Human Rights in Retreat, 1993, P. 120.
26 The ATP influx is at the  core of our prison reform formular, for if we can effectively and sufficiently reduce
    and control their inflow into our prisons, then it would be possible with better management techniques, for
    the available resources to more efficiently serve the needs of deserving inmates. See Odinkalu A.C. and
   Ehonwa L. Behind the Wall-A Report on Prison Conditions in Nigeria and the Nigerian Prison system”
   (1991) CLO, Lagos PP. 208-2009.
27  See generally section 8 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rule for the Treatment of Prisoners; and
    Sections 15, 16 and 17 of the Prisons Regulations, made pursuant to the Nigerian Prisons Act Cap. P. 29
    L.F.N 2004.
28 See Lily Ojo, “The State of the Nigerian Prisons” being a paper delivered at the National Seminar on Prison
    Reform. June 18-20, 1990, P.7.
29 Ikemefuna Patrick, “The Administration of Nigerian Criminal Justice and Reform of the Penal Code”, a
    Paper presented at the Conference on Prison Reform Organized by the Metropolitan Grand Knights of Saint
    Mulumba, Lagos. See Vanguard Newspaper, May 30, 2013. P. 5.
30 Ibid.
31 Agomo Uju, “The Prisons Tomorrow Civil Society Perspective”. A paper Presented at the Reform of
   Criminal Justice System III, Organized by the Lagos State Ministry of Justice on June 16, 2004.
32 Jiti Ogunye, Criminal Justice System in Nigeria: The Imperative of Plea Bargaining”, Lawyers’ League for
    Human Rights,  August 2005, P. 29.
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