African Women Honours and Empowerment Group, (AWHE), a global initiative established to celebrate, unite and empower women through its ‘EmpowerHer Projects’, has called for concerted efforts to improve the conditions of prisons in Nigeria, especially for female inmates, in order to enhance their seamless integration back into the society, after serving out their terms.
Prisons, by their nature, are meant for correction and re-orientation, but with over-crowded cells, poor feeding of inmates and several inhuman conditions, the image of Nigerian prisons has always been that of de-humanization centres. According to figures by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), 90% of women awaiting trial across the country, are either nursing mothers or pregnant. While making the call, the coordinator of the prison outreach for AWHE, Naiyeju-Oloyede, stated that some female prisoners are victims of poverty, sexual abuse, emotional trauma and domestic violence, while some are wrongly incarcerated. She said, “some of these prisoners were innocent of the crime they were accused of while some made simple mistakes and had to pay for it. These are truths. This is exactly the reason why all responsible citizens should rally round any programme that will help these women.” She further explained the need to restore human dignity of female prisoners and ex-convicts, noting that Nigerian prisons lack the needed situations and systems to diligently correct female inmates and effectively reintegrate them back into the civil society.
Corroborating this call, Mrs Aishat Bello-Garuba, AWHE Ikeja Chapter District manager said that the visit will also serve as a platform to draw attention to the state of prisons in Nigeria and what needs to be done to alleviate prison conditions in order to make inmates suitable for reintegration back into the society.
Africa has the lowest ratio of women in prison compared to other continents. But due to perennial underfunding of prisons in Africa, research by Lisa Vetten, a Social and Economic research analyst at the Wits Institute, showed that women are often denied basic sanitary needs. For instance, access to pads is not provided for female inmates in Malawi and Mozambique. In Zimbabwe, women settle for their blankets or uniforms and newspapers as alternatives, and in Ethiopia they are expected to wash and reuse cloths provided to them. Horrifically, in Nigeria there are instances where two women shared one pad, while Ugandan inmates didn’t even have underwear.