Additional reporting by Chudi Felix
- Our bosses sell jobs, promotion for big money
- Graduates charged N1m for immediate employment
- Inmates sell hard drugs, use phones in Kirikiri, others
A groundbreaking investigation by The Point has exposed a corrupt cartel within the Nigeria Prisons Service. Warders who risked their jobs to speak with The Point said the cartel consisted of senior prison officers at the highest levels, comptrollers of prisons and junior prison officers who act as the cartel’s foot soldiers.
During the investigation, The Point’s reporter, who infiltrated the prison system, spoke with officers and warders in several prisons across the country.
The warders described the condition of the country’s prisons as ‘rotten’ and called on the Federal Government to quickly arrest the situation.
Our reporter said the cartel’s criminal enterprise consisted of a money-for- job scam, a bribe-for-posting-and-promotion scheme and a racket that ensures that prisoners enjoy privileges that they are not entitled to.
While most of the warders, who spoke with The Point, pleaded anonymity because of the fear of reprisal, one of them did not object to being quoted.
Mr. Blessing Ugwo, a junior officer at the Umuahia Federal Prisons, Abia State, said he chose to speak on the record because the criminal collusion between prisoners and warders “is a threat to peace and stability in Nigeria.”
Ugwo accused senior prison officials of “brazen corruption”, adding that they had affixed price tags to postings, positions and entry-level jobs. He said prison authorities were preying on thousands of desperate unemployed Nigerians who were “ready to sacrifice anything to get jobs.”
According to him, degree holders in search of jobs in the prisons are charged N1 million for jobs; Higher National Diploma holders pay N700,000; and school certificate holders, between N350,000 and N400,000.
Ugwo said the situation had reached a point where he had to “shout to the world,” notwithstanding the risks involved.
Ugwo claimed that his promotion had been delayed for six years because he could not join the band-wagon of “dubious” officers who exchanged money for promotion.
He revealed that there is a periodic “backdoor recruitment exercise” in which positions are simply put up for sale, while top officials line their pockets in the process.
A prison official in Owerri Prison, who spoke with The Point, confirmed the findings, especially the existence of the cartel. He listed job positions that were often exchanged for cash from applicants to include Assistant Superintendent of Prisons, Inspector of Prisons, and Prisons Assistant.
The official, who asked not to be named, said, “The posting of senior officers to man sensitive positions in prisons across the country is usually influenced by how much money the prospective officers can offer, and not by merit.”
“This cartel has corrupted most of the Deputy-Comptrollers of Prisons, Chief Warders and Yard Masters, who man the prison yards. (They steal money meant for the welfare of prisoners) resulting in the poor quality of food being served to inmates. This has further resulted in the extortion of money from inmates, neglect of their welfare, poor maintenance of facilities and gross abuse of prisons’ rules.”
Blame Our Bosses
Many of the prisons officials blamed its leadership for the rot in the system, accusing those in charge of either being part of the criminal enterprise or looking the other way while corrupt practices thrived.
The Point learnt that a huge number of prison officers, ‘who are overdue for promotion’, had been rendered stagnant on ‘different low ranks’ for over 22 years.
Another warder, who asked not to be named, said, “We are not being paid like uniformed officers in our sister organisations; our promotions don’t come as and when due. We observe almost regularly, deductions from our monthly salaries. The incessant jailbreaks and riots we experience in prison yards are because of the negligence we suffer. We hold the keys to the cells, operate the normal prison rules and nobody comes to work happy be- cause of the way we are being maltreated.
“We know the normal duties of prison officers. But they lay the whole blame on terrorism and riots without finding out the root causes. We have actually lost confidence because of the problems the corrupt authorities imposed on us and, thus, derive no pleasure in doing the job which we have been assigned to do.”
The Prisons officials also disclosed that inmates usually parted with between N30,000 and N100,000 to be able to walk within the perimeter fencing of the prison yards.
It was further gathered that friends and relatives of inmates were forced to pay N40,000 on each visit before they could be allowed in or give food to their people.
Random visits to some prisons in the South-East, specifically those in Abia, Imo, Ebonyi and Anambra, among others, reveal that the prisons are over-populated with inmates living in a state of squalor.
During a recent familiarisation tour of prisons, the Comptroller-General of Prisons, Dr. Peter Ezenwa Ekpendu, had said that the incessant jailbreaks were caused by the use of handsets by inmates, explaining that this informed the decision to ban cell phones in prisons.
Ugwo, who spoke in Owerri, the Imo State capital, noted, “Many inmates who are awaiting trial or jailed for various capital offences like armed robbery, kidnapping, murder, Indian hemp possession and human trafficking, among others, are found right inside the prison yards smoking and trading in Indian hemp, with the connivance of the prisons officials in charge of the yards, particularly the Deputy Controllers of Prisons, Chief Warders, and Yard Masters.
“Most worrisome is the criminal conspiracy between some unscrupulous prisons’ officers and lawyers who defraud uninformed inmates and their parents or guardians of various sums of money for bail applications and other deceptive services.”
1,000 Prisoners, 1,000 Phones
A newly released couple, who just finished nine months prison terms, re- vealed to The Point that about 1,000 male and female prisoners in the Kirikiri Maximum Prisons, Lagos, were proud owners of telephone handsets.
This is in spite of the fact that prisoners are forbidden, by prison rules, from using telephones.
The Point gathered that prisoners, aided mostly by warders, have devised various means of beating the metal detectors and scanners used to sniff out phones.
Sources in the prisons told our reporters that prisoners and their visitors hide contrabands, such as phones, in baby diapers, soap packages, body cavities, especially the anus, and in footballs. Findings show that phones are also concealed in food containers that are usually hurled over security fences.
However, dissident warders, who spoke to The Point, insisted that prison- ers could not smuggle contrabands into prisons without the help of the criminal cartel run by rogue prison officials. They also added that the tentacles of the cartel extended to all the prisons in Nigeria.
This scenario has been a source of worry to law enforcement agents, including Prisons officials, who fear that inmates could use their phones to make threatening calls to prosecution witnesses, direct drug deals and plan escapes.
Jailbreaks and Prison Revolts
Meanwhile, security ex- perts and rights activists have warned that unless urgent action is taken to clean up the prisons, Nigeria risks inmates’ revolts and jailbreaks.
Chief Gabriel Giwa-Amu, a social critic and constitutional lawyer, said it was high time the Federal Government paid proper attention to the funding of prisons in order to “avoid the incidents recently recorded in some prisons abroad.”
He said, “We need to set an agenda for the government. The prisons must be overhauled. …..