A recent visit by Lagos State Chief Judge, Justice Funmilayo Atilade to Badagry prison revealed an unimaginable condition in which underaged inmates live. AYOMIDE OWONIBI ODEKANYIN of Sunday Tribune, who was part of the entourage reports.
TO any visitor, the exterior of the Badagry Prison complex located at the beachfront of the historic Badagry town looks deserted and without any activity — a false impression, given the number of inmates inside. It has the same features as most prisons in Nigeria – heavy green gates, high walls, heavily armed security personnel and a vast army of eagle-eyed prison wardens who go through the daily motions of receiving new inmates and also ensuring that inmates serve their time. But it is a house of horror as any visitor would find out.
Held deep in the dingy cells of the prison among convicted murderers armed robbers, rapists and the likes, are also children and teenagers serving sentences for various offences ranging from petty theft to wandering and even street hawking. The horror within the Badagry prison cells is better imagined.
When the Lagos State Chief Judge, Honorable Justice Funmilayo Atilade decided to visit the prison hoping to set free 28 under-aged inmates, little did she prepare for the spectacle she was confronted with – hundreds of hungry and unkempt children, displaying varying stages of diseases and neglect.
The children and teenagers clad in oversized green and blue prison garments were seated on wooden benches in the prison chapel, hoping for a possible stroke of luck or divine intervention that could secure them freedom.
The air was heavy with the smell of disinfectant, but it could not hide the odour of unwashed bodies, packed so tightly that it made one’s stomach churn.
The children, especially, were sick, hungry, weak, dying and crying.
The expressions in their eyes were the same. They wanted to go home. They wanted their parents.
While they waited for their names to be called, their hands went unconsciously into their oversized trousers, scratching their private parts without any form of embarrassment.
Their movements seemed choreographed. They all had places to scratch with their skin turning ghostly white from constant scratching.
Signs of chicken pox, ringworm, scabies, possibly leprosy and a host of undiagnosed skin could be seen all over their skins. There were some with open sores oozing thick and yellow pus. There were others with open bullet wounds. Some also have had their legs amputated legs. All were expectant and hopeful for freedom.
At the back of the prison chapel was a boy not less than 13 years old, suffering from stroke. According to his friend who brought him, he was physically fit, but had become sick, more or less a vegetable, depending on others for survival.
There was palpable silence among them when the prison decongestion committee began calling names of those granted amnesty.
Once they hear their names, the beneficiaries leapt for joy, hurried forward, holding their oversized trousers held by pieces of rope and rags.
There was not a dry eye in sight as judges, police officers and even those in the CJ’s convoy wept.
The sight of the children, lined up like criminals, their shaven heads bowed, was a wake-up call for concerned authorities to do something urgent about the nation’s judicial system.
The inhumane condition that the children were made to endure was brought to light by one Mrs. Dupe Olubanwo who petitioned the Lagos CJ while calling for immediate action.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a member of the prison decongestion team revealed that death is a common experience in Badagry Prison.
“The children die like flies. They have no care whatsoever. It was because of the CJ’s visit that they were made to have their baths. As you can see from their gaunt and emaciated bodies, feeding is a major problem. The children are starving. They are literally dying of hunger. Many come here healthy but are slowly consumed by treatable diseases,” he said, adding that the sleeping conditions of the children are quite traumatic.
“The children, alongside other prisoners are packed so tightly in small cells that they sleep in sitting position. They seldom have their baths, as potable water is a serious problem here,” the team member stated further.
Investigations by Sunday Tribune revealed that many of the children and teenagers committed alleged bailable offences. Several others were held for minor offences like loitering, wandering, street trading and in some cases, alleged stealing, for which they were charged before mobile courts which imposed a fine of N35,000 or less.
Sadly, many of the children are from poor homes. While their parents continued to find means of perfecting their bail conditions, the children continued to rot in jail.
Speaking with Sunday Tribune, one of the prison inmates, a 14-year-old boy, Samuel (pseudo name) said that he was picked up by a task force for hawking beef sausage, popularly known as Gala.
“I am from the East. I came to stay with my distant relative. I was made to start hawking. My people do not know that I am here,” he said adding: “I want to go back home.”
Another teenager who had open sores all over him, exposed to Sunday Tribune his private parts and with tears in his eyes, said: “Aunty look, my tin don finish. To piss dey pain me. E dey scratch me and the wound no gree go.”
Looking closely one could see that his private parts, covered in thick black scabs oozing out yellow pus, had been eaten up by a severe case of scabies popularly known as ‘krawkraw.’ The insides of his buttocks were also not spared.
Another boy, not more than 13 years of age cried out in a loud voice: “E joo, ara n ni mi. E saanu mi,” meaning “please I am in pains. Please have mercy on me.”