Even In Prison Women Are Treated Like Second-Class Citizens!

By Kemi Yesufu

I just read a post here on FB, where the minister of Interior was quoted as saying that 4,000 inmates in Nigerian prisons can’t pay N500m worth of fines to facilitate their release. The post reminded me of an experience at Suleja Prison, which I often cite when asked why I carry feminism for head.

My secondary school association accepted my suggestion, that we visit a prison for our planned outreach. We chose Suleja Prison because it has a female section. Our school is all- girls, so it makes sense to take our outreach to a prison which has female inmates.
We arrived Suleja Prison the day we were graciously allocated by management. We thought we would handover the items we brought , spend a little time and leave with a sense of accomplishment. But the friendly head of the prison asked us, as part of our short round of protocols, if we would like to pay the fines of stranded prisoners who couldn’t pay fines, some as low as N3,000. My group still had N30,000 left from the donations for the outreach. So, we agreed to pay the fines and then present our gift items. But I promptly told the warden, along with a lawyer friend, who was speaking to him on our behalf, that as an all-girls school, we would first pay for female inmates and as many male inmates our money can cover. The warden only brought out male inmates who we gave money for their fines with all the cash we had.
But to our shock and dismay, when we got into the prison courtyard for the handover of our gifts, a young girl of 19 approached us for urgent help. She was about to have a asthma attack. She begged us to buy her an inhaler. Luckily, we had members with little change in their pockets and we gathered the tokens to send the nurse to buy her an inhaler from a nearby ‘chemist’. On asking this pretty young woman, what brought her to prison, she said just needed N30,000 to settle the matter which got her into trouble with her being remanded in prison! She needed the exact sum we had on us and my school friends all agreed that we would have preferred to give a 19-year-old, female asthmatic patient our money! Even in our dingy prisons, women are forgotten and treated like second-class citizens!
My only visit to prison left me inspired though very angry at first, with what happened with the girl.
Majority don’t care about our prisons or prisoners, President Obasanjo spent time in Jos prison but practically did nothing to modernise the entire correctional system. A name change for our prison service is not a enough. We have to strategically invest and reform our correctional system, especially our prisons. How your prisons look and are managed says a lot about a people. Our prisons look like Nigeria itself.

I’ve said it before that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu hasn’t shown signs that he we radically change our criminal justice system especially how security agencies are run. So, there is little hope for prison reforms under him though his Interior minister has displayed an admirable sense of purpose. But we have to keep advocating for reforms.

For individuals, groups, corporate organisations and NGOs, I encourage them to look the way of prisoners when planning interventions and programmes. Groups/individuals can also help in paying the estimated N500m fines keeping many inmates in prison.
Let’s not judge prisoners after being handed sentences by judges. Many of them are remorseful and willing to change their ways.

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