Condemned prisoners – The Nation

  • Their quest for varsity degrees calls for a review of the justice system

Of what use is a university degree to a condemned inmate or one serving life imprisonment? This was the question that the cousin of one such prisoner asked him during a visit on the day he (prisoner) was matriculating. According to the condemned prisoner, simply referred to as Francis in a report carried by this newspaper on August 25:”On the day of my matriculation, a cousin of mine who was not aware that I was sentenced to life imprisonment came and asked me what was the hope of inmates furthering their education but have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment?”

This is a natural question that would agitate the mind of any Nigerian, especially so because our prisons symbolise the bad and the ugly, where life could be short and brutish. The question becomes even more poignant since neither life in prison nor the rigours of academic work is a soft bone in our kind of country.

We can understand the situation where a convicted criminal who hopes to be free someday craves for university education and indeed does everything to acquire it, right there in the prison. At least there is the expectation that he would have the opportunity of utilising whatever he has learnt for the betterment of the society and himself sometime in the future, in spite of the stigma attached to being an ex-convict in the society. But it is simply incomprehensible that a prisoner serving life imprisonment, or one that has been condemned and is only awaiting the arrival of the hangman would still have the presence of mind to pursue academic careers even up to higher degree levels.

We can only commend our prison authorities because this could be pointer to the fact that things are gradually looking up in some of our prisons. As a matter of fact, the thought of further studies would have been one of the last things to engage the minds of prisoners in the country. What with insanitary conditions in which they are kept, the terrible meals they are served, the inadequate medical attention, among other challenges. We also commend the prisoners who have braced the odds to satisfy their hunger for western education in spite of the seemingly insurmountable problems.

However, we still find something odd in the urge by prisoners serving life jail, and, worse still, those already condemned to death having an unquenchable thirst for university education. What could be the attraction? As a matter of fact, it looks more of a mockery of the justice system. As a newspaper, we do not support capital punishment because of its demerits, chief of which is the possibility of miscarriage of justice with irreversible consequences. But, for as long as it is still part of the punishment in our statute books, governors do not have to be reluctant to sign the death warrants of condemned criminals.

The number of condemned prisoners can only continue to increase since those of them condemned do not get their deserved comeuppance. This indeed is one of the factors responsible for prison congestion in the country. The government must do something about this. It either has to remove capital punishment from our statute books and replace it with life imprisonment or ensure that those condemned have a date with the hangman. For how long are we going to live in denial when we had over 1,700 condemned prisoners awaiting execution as at 2016? By now, the figure must have risen and this is not good for the prisons and the officials.

Indeed, the entire justice system needs a thorough structural overhaul. Where we need to expand the prison facilities, the government should do that. It should also address the social issues that could lead people to crime. Whatever it is, we do not have to wait for revolts in the cells which are already carrying more than their capacities before doing the needful in our prisons.

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