The much-awaited launch of a manual on gender-sensitive approach to the treatment of women prisoners in Nigeria held in Abuja on the 10th of December 2018, at Reiz Continental hotel. The event brought together stakeholders and guests from the Nigerian Prison Service, Civil Society organizations and the media, among whom were the Minister of Interior, Controller General of Prisons, Deputy Controller Generals of various departments in prisons, the Vicar of the Discalced Carmelite Nigeria, Members of CAPIO’s Board of Trustees and the National coordinator for VOICE Nigeria. The event kicked off with the opening remarks of the Executive Director of CAPIO, Fr. Ambrose Ekeroku OCD. Fr. Ambrose welcomed invitees and particularly thanked the Minister of Interior and the Controller General of Prisons for their support and contributions in the development of the manual. He acknowledged the efforts made by the present administration in constructing additional facilities in the prisons. He, however, emphasized the need for reform in the following areas; construction of female prisons across Nigeria, construction of crèches in female prisons, construction of Borstal Homes in all states of Nigeria, increase in the number of high-ranking Female officers, revamping and upgrading of clinic facilities and importantly employment of additional qualified medical staff in prisons.
The Minister of Interior, in his address, said that a lot has been achieved in the prison sector with policies and implementations. He noted that the problem of overcrowding in prisons should not be burdened on the Nigerian Prison Service but on the ill-efficient justice system delivery. The Minister reiterated the government’s resolve to implement established Rules, such as the Bangkok rules and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA). He thanked the management of CAPIO for the development of the gender Manual, noting that it was the first of its kind to specifically target female prisoners in Nigeria. He called on the CGP to ensure that the Manual is used in the training Institutes with effect from 2019.
The Controller General of prison in his speech added that the present administration is working to address the needs of pregnant women and children in prison, and noted that in certain circumstances, while giving preference to the best interest of the child, a child above 18 months may be allowed to remain in prison with the mother, especially where there are no family members to cater for him outside the prisons. He also said that large cartels of drugs have been provided for distribution across prisons in Nigeria. In addition, he added that construction of female prisons and Borstal Homes are ongoing in some states. While concluding his speech, He assured guests of the implementation of the gender manual with the 2019 calendar.
The National coordinator for VOICE Projects in Nigeria thanked the Minister and the CGP for their commitment to addressing the plight of female prisoners in Nigeria. She added that CAPIO’s gender project speaks to the core value of VOICE agenda which focuses on and targets vulnerable groups whose voices are not heard. Such groups include; female prisoners, people living with HIV, petty traders, rural farmers, age discriminated people, ethnic minorities and so on. She appreciated CAPIO for taking up the initiative to advocate for the rights of women in prison and encouraged other Civil society organizations and the government to work towards amplifying and heeding the voices of these vulnerable groups.
In reiteration, the gender manual seeks to influence prison leadership in Nigeria to entrench gender-sensitive principles in prison administration across Nigeria. The manual, which is a key deliverable of VOICE project was developed by renowned gender consultants, in collaboration with stakeholders in the prison sector and civil society organizations. The manual is made up of ten (10) modules, with each module addressing various problems confronting women in prison, including issues of women’s rights. Particularly, the manual addresses issues of allocation, admission and classification of female prisoners. It addresses issues of Hygiene and special health issues pertaining to women, menopause, and safety of women prisoners. The manual also addresses issues of rehabilitation of female prisoners and best practices for safeguarding the interest of children in prison. At the conclusion of the keynote address, the Minister of Interior and the Controller of Prisons unveiled the manual. A press briefing with members of the media followed subsequently. CAPIO donated 2000 copies of the manual to the Nigerian Prison Service and gave complimentary copies to invited guests. In the coming months, CAPIO will be paying advocacy visits to the Controller of Prisons in the designated VOICE States in Nigeria, to monitor implementation of the gender manual.