How do we care for the health of Nigeria’s Increasing Female Inmates Population?


“No hospital, no dispensary and no sickbay in the prison. All the time I was there, no doctor came to check me and my baby and I was the only person pregnant in the prison. They have no special food for pregnant women. They serve us less than one cup of beans every morning. [In the] afternoon, sometimes they give us ordinary garri to soak without sugar or anything else, or sometimes, eba. And in the evening, garri with soya bean soup that is tasteless and has no oil, fish or meat in it. They normally serve us rice only on Sundays.”

These were the sad recollections of 18-year-old Kemisola Ogunniyi, one of the #EndSARS protesters arrested in 2020, as she narrated her ordeal to a reporter with The Cable. She was not aware of her pregnancy until she was transferred to the Ondo Female Prison on November 24, 2020.

There, she stayed with 16 others in a room she said was “not big”. “The prison has no bed frame, only foam and it is kept on the floor,” she said. “The foam is like a normal student foam and we each have a blanket to cover our body. We were given one uniform each to be worn from Mondays to Fridays”

There are 18 women like Ms Ogunniyi for  every 1000 prisoners in Nigeria as revealed in data released by the World Prison Brief (WPB) in January 2022. Of the 70,797 inmates in Nigerian prisons as of 2022, 69,501 are male while 1,296 are female. Thus, men currently account for 98.2% of the prison population, while women are 1.8%.

Prison Population Trend (2012-2022)

Years Number of Female Prisoners Number of Male Prisoners Total Prison Population
2012 975 51,161 52,136
2014 897 54,933 56,036
2016 1,357 67,329 68,686
2018 1,398 72233 73,631
2020 1,238 63,404 64,642
2022 1,296 69,501 70,797
Source: National Bureau of Statistics, National Correctional Service, and World Prison Brief

Over the years, the number of women going to prison has risen at a much faster rate than that of men. For instance between 2013 – 2016, the percentage increase in the number of women that went to prison was more than that of men, except for 2016. The latest data (2020) shows that the percentage increase in the number of women that went to prison stood at 8.8% in 2020 from 0.6% in 2016, while that of men dropped to 0.1% from 5.8% in 2016.

Percentage Increase of Prison Inmates by Year and Gender (2012-2020)

Year Male Female Male Percentage Female Percentage
2012 51161 975
2013 54151 887 5.8% 9.0%
2014 54933 1,103 1.4% 24.4%
2015 63668 1,365 15.9% 23.8%
2016 67,329 1,357 5.8% 0.6%
2020 63,404 1,238 0.1% 8.8%

In 2012, there were 975 female inmates. In 2013, the figure dropped to 887 but picked up the following year. It has since increased annually, and only dropped slightly in 2020.

The two all-female correctional facilities, Kirikiri Female Prison in Lagos and Numan Old Prison in Adamawa were built to accommodate 611 inmates, but as of 2020, there were 1,238 female inmates in these prisons, which is more than twice the population of female inmates that ought to be there.

Prison overcrowding appears to be a major problem in many African countries, not just Nigeria. In 2021, Cote d’Ivoire’s prison system had a capacity of 8,000 inmates, but 23,000 were admitted. Similarly, Ghana’s prison system has a capacity of 9,945 inmates and a total prison population of 13,480. In Senegal, 11,547 inmates were crammed into prisons with a total capacity of 7,350.

However, in Nigeria, the majority of these inmates are awaiting trial as reported in Dataphyte’s story that revealed at least 7 out of 10 inmates currently serving time in Nigerian prisons are still awaiting trial.

Inadequate health-care facilities, inadequate correctional facilities, overcrowding, and insufficient sanitary products are some of the age-old challenges confronting prison systems in the majority of African countries.

According to the 2019 Cote d’Ivoire human rights report, prisons lack mattresses, insufficient water and food supply, poor ventilation, and are in unsanitary conditions.

Beside the fact that the Nigerian prisons are overcrowded, the inmates are also exposed to harsh treatment and life threatening conditions. Most inmates, particularly women are denied access to necessary healthcare services.

Many female inmates in prisons across Nigeria have limited access to basic hygiene and health care products, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported.

According to article 9 of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, all prisoners have the right to health and must have access to the health services available in the country without discrimination, yet, many women in prison like Ms Ogunniyi, are denied their right to health care.

The Nigerian Correctional Service Bill, which President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law in 2019, mandates that all inmates, including violent extremists, must receive medical, counseling, spiritual, and psychological services as part of their behavior modification.

Ita Enang, the then Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on National Assembly Matters, stated that the Nigerian Correctional Service Bill was passed not only to change the name of the Nigerian Prisons Service to Nigerian Correctional Service but to ensure that all inmates are treated humanely and workers have good working conditions.

However, speaking on the type of food inmates are fed in Nigeria prisons, Oyedokun and Onabanjo noted that it is unbalanced and can lead to malnutrition. They explained, “The majority of inmates consume more cereals than vegetables, meat, fruits, and poultry. A diet that focuses on one food group for an extended period of time is unbalanced and can lead to malnutrition”.

Studies have shown that a poor diet and lack of exercise are known to increase the risk of developing chronic illnesses such as diabetes and depression in young women. In addition, a lack of essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals can also lead to imbalances and dysregulation of neurotransmitters, causing mental distress.

Women, especially those pregnant or with children, have even greater health and hygiene needs and as the population of women in prison grows, it is becoming even more critical to actively figure out access to adequate health care products and nutritious foods for proper rehabilitation and reformation.

Expanding prison capacity is also critical for the health and hygiene of inmates.

Original article as published on DATAPHYTE


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