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Cablegate: Prison Riot Sparks Debate On Prison Reform

VZCZCXRO5819
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHOS #0688 2951241
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 221241Z OCT 07
FM AMCONSUL LAGOS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9502
INFO RUEHUJA/AMEMBASSY ABUJA 9273
RHMCSUU/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS LAGOS 000688

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR AF/W, INR/AA

DOE FOR CAROLYN GAY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KDEM NI
SUBJECT: PRISON RIOT SPARKS DEBATE ON PRISON REFORM


SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED; HANDLE ACCORDINGLY

1. (U) SUMMARY: Several prisoners died recently during an attempted
jail break in a federal prison in Ibadan, Oyo State. The Government
of Nigeria (GON) pledged to institute lasting prison reform that
would improve prisoners' living conditions. However, human rights
activists argued that no meaningful prison reform is possible
without an overhaul of the entire justice system. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) On September 11, no fewer than 12 prisoners died and twenty
others were injured when police fired live bullets and teargas in an
attempt to quell a riot and prevent a possible jail break at Agodi
prison, a federal prison facility in the Oyo State capital, Ibadan.
The prisoners were protesting poor living conditions, inadequate
medical care, and the alleged deaths of several inmates due to lack
of drugs and medical equipment. Overcrowding and long delays in the
trial process added to prisoners' frustrations. (Note: The Agodi
Prison, with capacity for 500 inmates, presently houses 680
prisoners, 619 of whom are awaiting trial. Only 61 have been
convicted of a crime. End Note.) During the protest, the prisoners
destroyed medical and kitchen equipment and broke several iron gates
in an attempt to free other inmates.

3. (U) On August 27, President Umaru Yar'Adua, during opening
remarks at the annual Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) conference,
said his administration is committed to due process and the rule of
law. During the same conference, Michael Aondoaaka, federal
Attorney General (AG), said the GON is committed to the reform of
the criminal justice system. Aondoaaka also said he has directed
all criminal justice agencies, including the police and the Economic
and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to arraign suspects within 48
hours as required by law. In addition, he disclosed that he will
soon convene an international summit to achieve a common platform
from which Nigerian law enforcement agencies, whose work relates to
the criminal justice system, can operate. Additionally, Kehinde
Ajoni, Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
promised to recommend lasting reforms that would improve funding for
living conditions in federal prisons. She told journalists, during
a visit to Agodi prison, that the Ibadan prison riot and similar
riots in Lagos and Port Harcourt are symptoms of the appalling
prison conditions.

4. (SBU) In a September 26 meeting, Lagos human rights watchers
appeared to be unaware of the President and AG's pledges. They
criticized the GON's prior performance noting that the emphasis has
always been placed on prison reform rather than reform of the entire
justice system. They stated that no meaningful reform can be
achieved until the entire criminal justice system is overhauled.
The human rights activists gave examples of the corruption within
the system. They told Poloffs how law enforcement officers
manipulate the system to enrich themselves by luring innocent
persons into committing minor misdemeanors with the aim of extorting
money from them. They cited an example of how police in Lagos lead
pedestrians to illegally cross public roads, only to have them
arrested on the other side. The offenders are compelled to part
with N2,000 to N5,000 (USD15 - 40) in order to be released. Those
unable to pay the bribe are detained and subsequently transferred
from police cells to prisons, where they swell the ranks of
detainees awaiting trial. The human rights advocates also cited
examples of how corruption in the federal and state courts
contributes to prison congestion. Attorneys and litigants often
have to bribe their way through the proceedings, paying court
employees to file cases, and to obtain relevant documents, including
copies of judgments; those who cannot pay remain in jail.

5. COMMENT: Although funding and maintenance of prisons are federal
responsibilities, the prisons also house prisoners awaiting trial
for misdemeanors in state magistrate courts, and state customary
courts. This has not only contributed to prison congestion, but has
also absolved state governments of any responsibility for funding
the prisons. Meaningful prison reform requires a commitment, from
both federal and state governments, to build capacity in the
judiciary and ensure due process. END COMMENT.

HUTCHINSON

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