…We don’t want our dreams to die with us in prison – Inmate
BY MAURICE ARCHIBONG
About 200 Nigerian immigrants in Ghana will celebrate the forthcoming Christmas and New Year day behind bars, Travels can authoritatively reveal. The majority (182) of the roughly 200 Nigerians in Ghana’s jail houses are inmates at the Medium Security Prison in Nsawam, but “a few others are in detention elsewhere across the country”, according to Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Ghana, Ambassador Ademola Oluwaseyi Onafowokan. The Medium Security Prison (Male and Female) in Nsawam is Ghana’s principal penitentiary.
That correctional home stands roughly an hour’s drive north of Accra; on the road to Kumasi. Built roughly 50 years ago, Nsawam Prison was designed to hold less than 800 inmates. Today, however, the facility is home to over 3,500 detainees.
From a visit by officials of Nigerian High Commission Accra to Nsawam Prison on Wednesday, December 12, 2012; it came to light that Nigerians account for 182 of the total 3,541 inmates at that jailhouse. The number of Nigerian convicts at Nsawam stood at 139, while 43 others are in remand there pending conclusion of their trial.
A breakdown of the number of Nigerians at Nsawam Prison reveals that one of the male convicts, an indigene of Niger State, was sentenced to death in 2010; after trial for “causing the death of someone in Tamale”. Another male convict is doing life-sentence for robbery. Out of the 139 convicts, 47 were found guilty of robbery; while 14 of the 43 inmates, whose trials are ongoing, are accused of this same offence. Interestingly, one of these inmates was sentenced to 115 years for robbery.
Although female Nigerian detainees were 11 in number, one of them is in remand for murder; while the other 10 women are in prison for narcotic offences. It is, however, worth pointing out that; whereas 47 of the Nigerians at Nsawam are in for robbery; narcotic offenders account for the highest number of Nigerian convicts at this jailhouse. Indeed, no fewer than 62 Nigerian convicts are serving time inside Nsawam for drug-related crimes. Aside from narcotic and robbery offences, fraud and defilement are two other reasons 12 Nigerians were also sent to Nsawam Prison. Convicts for fraud are seven, against five for defilement.
Sadly, 23 of Nigeria’s 36 states are represented at Nsawam Prison. Anambra State tops the list with 32 inmates, followed by Abia (22) with Imo coming a close third (20). Delta and Lagos States tie at number four with 14 inmates each; Enugu posts nine, while Edo and Ogun states have eight each. Further analyses showed that Borno and Ebonyi have four inmates each, while Kaduna, Rivers and Sokoto have three each; against two each for Kwara, Osun and Oyo as well as one inmate each from Akwa Ibom, Katsina, Kogi, Niger, Ondo and Zamfara.
Speaking during a compassion visit to Nigerians at Nsawam Prison on October 3, 2012; Amb Onafowokan had promised to look into the welfare of the inmates with a view to addressing issues of suspected harsher sentences often meted out to Nigerian convicts.
The top-flight diplomat had also promised to explore the possiblity of getting the President of Ghana to invoke his Prerogative of Mercy to commute the sentence on the Nigerian on death-row to life-imprisonment. Furthermore, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s envoy to Ghana had promised the inmates that he would also initiate moves toward prisoner-exchange to enable the repatration of deserving and willing Nigerian convicts, so they could complete the remaining part of their jail-terms in prisons back home.
Before departing Nsawam Prisons on October 3, the high commissioner had additionally promised to visit the inmates again to celebrate Christmas with them as well as give them an update on the efforts he had made after that trip. And, true to his words; Amb Onafowokan did visit the inmates with presents on December 12.
That visit was earlier scheduled for Monday, December 10 but had to be deferred because virtually every official of the Nigerian High Commission was fully occupied. It could be recalled that former President Olusegun Obasanjo was head of a 250-man ECOWAS Observer Mission to Ghana’s latest general elections, which took place on December 7. Aside the Chief Obasanjo-led group of 250, some of the embassy staffers were also kept on their toes by demand from countless other tasks; all of which conspired to abort the planned visit to Nsawam on December 10.
Interestingly, due to other pressing engagements that required the presence of Amb Onafowokan elsewhere on December 12; the high commissioner had to delegate other staffers to represent him during the encounter with Nigerian inmates at Nsawam.
One was almost moved to tears by the sight of the inmates and the thought rankled in our mind: How many of these prisoners’ parents knew that a son or daughter was doing time here? Is it impossible that desparation to fend for aged parents or children in school pushed some of these people to crime? Tragically, instead of lessening their dependents’ burden, these prisoners have practically compounded their families’ woes. And, listening to their melodious rendition of Nigeria’s National Anthem, many a pair of eyes turned misty as you wished their song and the Green-White-Green fluttering on two of the hall’s four walls were in celebration of some honourable achievement.
Such was the prisoners’ singing of Nigeria’s anthem that the Ghanaian assistant director of prisons had to ask the inmates for Ghana’s anthem, too; which they dutifully performed. One of the inmates subsequently flagged-off procedings with a Christian prayer. From Amb Onafowokan’s address read by a representative, it was revealed that, though there is willingness on both sides to succour the prisoners, dearth of bi-national conventions bogged the process.
He, however, said efforts at exploring Prisoner Exchange Convention with a view to repatration of Nigerians at Nsawam to go and complete their prison terms back home has begun. Additionally, plans are afoot to solicit presidential clemency and commutation of death sentence to life-inprisonment as well as getting legal consultants to review the case of any Nigerian perceived to have been handed down unduly harsh sentence toward triggering appeals on such convicts’ behalf.
It also came to light that the prisoners’ plight had been brought to the attention of Ghana’s Attorney General, ECOWAS and other relevant bodies as well as VIPs on both sides. Nigeria’s Number One citizen in Ghana also informed the prisoners that he had helped to facilitate the return to Nigeria of a convict that was discharged after serving her term at Nsawam and that any of the inmates was free to contact the high commission for support to return home, whenever they were discharged. The high commissioner had also sent Yuletide present to the inmates.
The offering, a representative Christmas Day lunch, was enough to go round the 200 inmates. Before concluding, the high commissioner’s representative; who advised the inmates to respect constituted authorities of the prison, also told the inmates that Nigerian High Commission Accra was and is still doing its best to protect their welfare. In response, one of the three inmates that spoke on behalf of the whole, thanked President Jonathan for sending Amb Onafowokan as his envoy to Ghana.
“From what we have witnessed and heard since the current ambassador assumed duty in Ghana, we believe Nigeria is undergoing better times. In the past, we were like orphans, like people without nationality because the Nigerian High Commission neither bothered about us nor our welfare. But today, I am happy to say that we are no longer like sheep without shepherd”.
Another of the trio submitted: “We are happy that the high commissioner is concerned about us. We are encouraged by this and will do everything we can to abide by the rules and regulation of the prison’s authorities.
Hopefully, we will all return home because we don’t want our dreams to die with us inside this prison”. The third inmate that spoke also thanked President Jonathan for sending a humane diplomat like Amb Onafowokan as his envoy to Ghana, while expressing appreciation to the Nigerian mission for the Yuletide gift brought to them. To round up, a Moslem convict closed the encounter with Islamic prayer as we prepared to depart after about an hour with the inmates.
Truly, mistakes had been made, but it is useless to cry over spilt milk. As if to convince the visitors that Nigerians inside Nsawam Prison were putting their time in incaceration to good use, the inmates also sent a present to Amb Onafowokan.
The gift was a miniature bass-relief sculpture carved out of a cow-horn. Interestingly, the portrait on a pedestal showed some semblance of the incumbent Nigerian high commissioner to Ghana! Yes, inmates at Ghana prisons are encouraged to learn a trade, while doing their terms. That way, upon discharge from prison, the ex-con’s rehabilitation and reintegration would be easier and the former prisoner would be less-likely to resort to crime as he was now armed with a trade or some skill to earn a living.
Apart from skill-acquisition opportunities, prisoners inside Nsawam that are eligible to vote actually exercise their franchise during Ghana’s latest general elections on December 7. Yes, the Electoral Commission had sent officials to prisons to register eligible inmates for the elections and on E-day, EC officials and party agents had returned to this medium security prisons with voting materials, thus enabling detainees to vote. It is also worth pointing out that the prisoners were able to follow the parties’ campaigns on television.
Yes, inmates at Nsawam Prison are current with regard to news and information because their cells are furnished with TV sets. And, despite the 3,540 detainees held here; Nsawam Prisons’ architecture features very large windows, which make artificial ventilation unnecessary.
Therefore, even without fans, the warders offices are so cooled by cross-ventilation that many visitors often fall asleep once they settle into the couch inside the office of the assistant director or deputy director of this facility.