Inmates awaiting trial, death row convicts fill Nigeria prisons

Thursday May 11 2023
Maiduguri prison in Nigeria

Nigerian correctional officers escort inmates into Maiduguri prison. Nigeria's prisons are currently facing an inmates' congestion crisis PHOTO | COURTESY


Amidst complaints of delayed justice, Nigeria has more than 52,446 inmates awaiting trial and 3,298 on death row currently in correctional centres across the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Rights activists have continued to complain of prison congestion caused by convicts on death row and people awaiting trial.

Mr Gimba Dumbulwa, Assistant Controller-General of Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS), confirmed on May 10, 2023 that the inmates awaiting trial were overstretching facilities in custodial centres.

At a high-level conference on decongestion and corrections administration in Abuja, Dumbulwa said that some of the inmates have been locked up without trial for over 10 years. He said that the congestion of custodial centres remained a major problem in the management of inmates in the country.

He said that by May 9, 2023, there were 75,436 inmates are in custody across the country while 52,446 were awaiting trial.

“Out of this figure, more than 70 percent of them have overstayed in custody due to lateness in sentencing them and keeping them for more than they should be. Over 2,000 inmates have overstayed for more than 10 years in custody without getting trial,” he said.


“Over 5,000 inmates have stayed for more than five years and over 10,000 inmates have stayed for more than one year to six years without trial. All these add to the issue of congestion across our custodial centres,” Dumbulwa added.

Delayed trials

He said that the effort to get the custodial centres decongested has been hindered by delays in the trial of inmates.

“The problem we have all over our custodial centres is quick dispensation of justice to these inmates,” he added.

He said the only option for the NCoS was to transfer inmates from overcrowded prisons to others with available space.

Dr Uju Agomoh, the executive director of Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), said that to address the problem, Nigeria must ensure that the justice sector functions effectively.

She said that “a disproportionate number of people are in places of detention in correctional services and stay there longer than they ought to stay’’.

“We also have high number of those who have not been convicted. That is not right because once you have high number of people who are not convicted, it is difficult to plan proper rehabilitation and programmes for them or even plan their resettlement. This has become very problematic. Therefore, we must be concerned about what happens to them while they are there,” she said.


Agomoh said it was important to address issues of overcrowding, non-trial of inmates, proper reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders.

She said state governments now have a role to play in the management of corrections and as such should ensure that only those who are supposed to be in custody are there.

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari recently signed the amended constitution removing prison administration from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent list, making it possible for states and local governments to run prisons.

Earlier, Public Relations Officer of the Correctional Service Abubakar Umar confirmed the number of those on death row, who also clog the prisons, and also explained that the term ‘condemned criminal’ had been abrogated because it is stigmatising.

He said that the service preferred to use a friendlier term of ‘inmates on death row’ (IDRs). He pointed out that death sentences are not always carried out immediately they are imposed.

“There are often long periods of uncertainty for the convicted while their cases are being appealed at higher levels. Inmates awaiting execution live on what we call death row; some offenders have been executed more than 15 years after their convictions. They were basically awaiting the hangman’s noose in our custodial centres after being found guilty of capital offences,” he said.

Inmates on death row

“We have quite a number of them; as at today, we have a total of 3,298 inmates on death row. They constitute about 4.5 percent of the total number of inmates in our various custodial centres nationwide,” he disclosed.

Umar said that some IDRs had been in custody for many years, adding that some had been there since they were arrested up to when they were tried and sentenced. According to him, many of them committed capital offences like culpable homicide, armed robbery and terrorism among others.

“The good thing is that we engage all of them in activities that will reform and modify their behaviours. The goal is to make them better citizens of the nation. We also make them undergo personal development programmes like anger management, civic education as well as entrepreneurship. Some of them, who do well and show some glimpse of hard work, industry and discipline, are recommended for clemency to the relevant authorities,” he said.

Human rights groups

The spokesman said that many IDRs had been executed in the past before the proliferation of the activities of human rights groups and organisations.

“Currently, there is somewhat a kind of moratorium on execution of offenders. Before the moratorium on execution of IDRs became widespread, executions of IDRs were being carried out as and at when due. But with the rising activities of human rights groups, many governments shy away from signing the death warrants of these offenders,” he said.

“Though it is still in practice, it is not common as it used to be. The last execution of IDRs was carried out in 2016 in Edo state in South South Nigeria. We encourage state governors, who shy away from signing the death warrants, to commute them into other sanctions. This will ensure that the toga of death is removed from them. It will also help us to properly manage them smoothly,” he added.

According to statistics displayed on the website of the service, there are 22,933 convicted inmates, 22,522 of them male and 411 female serving sentences of April 2023.