Inmates cramped in a large prison hall

Extortion by P/Harcourt Prison officials angers inmates’ relatives

NEWS DIGEST–RELATIVES and friends of inmates at the Port Harcourt Maximum Prison have lamented the level of extortion in the facility by prison wardens and officials.

Some of the sources, who spoke to a PUNCH reporter on the issue, explained that to visit an inmate one must be ready to part with between N800 and N1,000.

One of the visitors to the facility, who simply identified himself as Benji, described his experience at the Port Harcourt Prisons as “terrible and shocking.”

Benji explained that there were about 10 points, where a visitor must give prison wardens money before he (visitor) could be allowed to see an inmate.

He said, “My experience at the Port Harcourt Prisons was terrible. The wardens extorted money from me and other people who visited their relatives or friends in the prison.

“The level of extortion there is on the high side. Right from the gate, they (the prison officials) will collect money from you. From outside alone, there are about five points, where one must pay.

“The least they collect at each point is N100; at some points, it is N200. As soon as you leave the gate and enter the prison facilities, you start paying again. Inside the building, you have about five points where you must pay again before you can see the person you want to visit.

“I spent almost N1,500 just to see the person (inmate) I went to visit. When I asked why the situation was like that at the Port

Harcourt Maximum Prison, they said it had been like that for a long time. I believe the authorities are aware of what is happening.”

Another visitor, who simply gave his name as Promise, told Southern City News that he was forced to part way with over N1,000, adding that the act had been ongoing for a long time.

“We are in pains because our people are here. Some of those in the prisons are innocent; they are there because of circumstances they could not control.

“But relatives and friends are made to pay money before they can visit them. This is not fair. I paid more than N1,000 before I could see an inmate in the prison,” he added.

Our correspondent, who visited the facility on April 16, 2019, observed that the first prison official, who one of the visitors called Omunna, was busy collecting N100 each from over 200 visitors that streamed to the facility on a visit.

The official, however, refused to respond when our correspondent asked him why he collected money from visitors to the prisons, even when there were posters around warning against extortion.

The official said, “Do you want to know why? Go and sit down; I will tell you later.”

He (Omunna) never did, even after our correspondent waited for about an hour.

Speaking on the matter, the Zonal Director, Civil Liberty Organisation, Stave Obodoekwe, told Southern City News that the situation would continue because it appeared to be an arrangement from the prison authorities.

Obodoekwe added, “This is part of the corruption that is affecting this country. It is sheer wickedness and criminality. A situation, where prison wardens make money out of people’s pain is wickedness.

“If they are serious, the Nigerian government should investigate what is going on in the prisons across the nation and deal with those involved in extorting money from innocent Nigerians.

“The culprits should be tried and jailed. On our own, what we will do is to bring in the Prisons Controller General into it. This also happens in the police and nothing has been done about it.”