Even Hungry Dogs Will Reject Our Meals — Abba Kyari, Prison Inmates Lament

In October 2021, the Senate Committee on Interior approved the increase of the daily feeding allowance of the Nigerian Correctional Service, NCoS, from N450 per inmate to a minimum of N1, 000 per day. NCS officials who were at the Senate to defend their 2022 budget had proposed N750 but members of the committee who described the amount as grossly inadequate jerked it up to N1, 000 in line with the current economic reality.

When the announcement of the increase was officially made by the Comptroller of NCS, most of the inmates in prisons across the country were ecstatic believing that their daily feeding portion would automatically increase. Seven months down the line, Encounter’s investigation revealed that the feeding portion of inmates has remained the same despite the purported increase by the government.

Our correspondent spoke to some inmates of Kirikiri and Ikoyi Correctional facilities who confirmed the situation and stated that the meals remain as horrible as they’ve always been. Two inmates who were recently released from the facilities also told our correspondent that nothing had changed with respect to the feeding of inmates before their release.

Inmates narrate experience

Akoni (not real name) who is an awaiting trial inmate and has been in the Kirikiri Custodial Facility since 2019, said the beans served every morning usually made him stool for months until he got used to it.

Akoni said he was one of those inmates who were excited over the announcement of N1000 feeding allowance for inmates but has since concluded that it was just a ruse by government since the meals in the prison still remain poor and horrible.

He said: “The first week I came into the prison, it was difficult for me to adapt because I usually don’t like beans but that was the only breakfast served seven days a week.

“At some point after eating the often badly cooked beans with stones inside, I would be having running stomach for most part of the day. The food is terrible. Sometimes I prefer to endure hunger than eat the meals they serve us. You need to come and see it to know exactly what I am talking about.

“When I heard that the Federal Government had increased the budget for our feeding, I thought that there will be improvement in the quality of the meals. Knowing government for their lies, I was skeptical about the announcement but now I know that it was all lies. Come and see horrible food! It is even getting worse.”

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Daily rations

Former Resident Pastor of Kirikiri Prison, David Godfrey who spent 14 years in the facility and was released late last year, also shared his experience with regards to feeding in the prisons.

He said: “Our prison feeding pattern is regimented. We eat three times a day but even a hungry dog will reject the food they serve us. Our only saving grace is that some of us were allowed to cook to supplement the small ration we are given.

“Usually, the prison meals are not for everybody because some of us have stoves and pots with which we cook inside the cell. If inmates depended solely on the prison meals, I can assure you that the death rate in the prison will be very high because of malnutrition.

“Our regular pattern on Mondays is beans in the morning, eba and watery soya bean soup without meat or fish in the afternoon and dry garri in the evening. They just serve us dry garri with nothing to accompany it. We are expected to just chew it and sleep.

The cooked beans is often full of stones because it is not properly picked. Inmates are served just one spoon of the beans which they call portion. The dry garri is just one small milk cup for an inmate and nothing else goes along with it.

Preferential treatment for condemned inmate

“The only inmates that enjoy more ration of food are condemned prisoners. They always get double ration because it is often assumed that they will die any time since they have been sentenced to death. Their ration plate is always full. Any day we are privileged to be served Titus fish, they usually get full ration while others get a piece of the fish. Ten inmates can share one small fish amongst them.

“On Tuesday, we are served beans in the morning, rice in the afternoon and eba is the evening. We call the soup Japa because it is just a mixture of water, soya beans and little oil and salt. On rare occasions, they add scent leaf to the mixture. The rice served in the afternoon is just white rice with a mixture of oil and water as stew. Rice is also served only on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. We eat beans every morning from Monday to Sunday.

An inmate of the Kirikiri Female Prison Kate Oke who was released in December 2021 also described the horrible meal inside the prison saying that the meals are meant to kill inmates rather than sustain them. She said: “Prison is not the best place to desire a good meal, but one would expect that at least, the meal should be decent.

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“Before I left the female prison in December 2021 after my three year’s incarceration, the meal was still horrible. The female officer in charge of the prison usually go out of her way to give inmates good treat on special occasions such as Christmas or New Year day celebration. Aside those special days, the meal is always horrible with no consideration for the health of inmates.

“I didn’t expect to eat good food there, but what they serve us is very undignifying. We eat beans every morning throughout the week. The eba and watery egusi soup served in the afternoon is without fish or meat. It is only on special occasions like Christmas, New Year, Easter or any of the Muslim festivals that we eat small piece of meat. I had to look for alternatives else I would have been malnourished by the time I was released. I heard that government had increased the feeding allowance for every inmate but until my release, the meals were still the same.

Another inmate, Ikenna also shared his feeding experience. He said: “We eat fish four or five times in a month. Some inmates who can cook and can also afford to buy kerosene stove and pot are allowed to cook in a corner of their cell.

“Once they have these items, they can then order for raw foodstuff through the prisons welfare officer. Everything the inmates want to buy must be through the welfare officer who then goes to the market to buy it for them. The VIP section is different because the inmates there have their own luxury which include generating set for electricity, washerman, errand boy and a cook.

Alternative arrangement

Encounter investigation revealed that to augment the poor meals, prison authority allows the inmates to either buy food outside or cook inside the cell. An inmate of the Ikoyi Prisons, who wished to be identified as Emma, told Encounter that he has since stopped eating the meal provided by the prison authorities.

He said: “I have been on awaiting trial since 2019. When I got there newly, I was relying mostly on the small ration of food that the prison authority serves every inmate. Seriously the food is bad.

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“After a while, I got a kerosene stove and started cooking my own meal inside my cell. I am still doing that till today. The only time I don’t cook is when either NGOs or religious organisations come to serve us food. The Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, often brings food for us every Sunday so we often look forward to eating their meal.

Prison authority denies claims

Speaking with Encounter on the issue, the spokesperson of the Lagos State Prisons Command, Mr. Rotimi Oladokun said the claim by some inmates that their feeding has remained the same despite Federal Government’s increase of their feeding allowance, is not true.

He said: “There has been a review of the feeding as stated in the Nigerian Correctional Facilities Act of 2019. The N450 initial provision was reviewed upward but I am sure it is not up to N1000. I must tell you that regarding feeding in the prisons, there is a unit measurement that we use for each ration of food for inmates.

“That measurement has increased to reflect the review in the feeding allowance. The feeding generally has improved but everything gets better with time. My response on this issue is with regards to the Lagos State Prisons Command and not what obtains nationwide.

“Our partnership with Non-Governmental Organisations and religious bodies which periodically provide food for the inmates, is also working perfectly well. When asked why inmates in Lagos prisons rarely eat fish or meat, Oladokun ignored the question and rather insisted that all inmates are provided three square meals daily. “All I can tell you is that there has been an increase in the meal ration that inmates get and it is getting better.”

But contrary to Oladokun’s denial, a senior prison officer who did not want to be quoted confirmed to Encounter that nothing has changed with regards to the feeding of inmates across the country.

The officer said: “Nothing has changed here in terms of quality and quantity of food the inmates eat. It is still the regular miserable eba with watery egusi soup, beans and rice.

“That is the only three kinds of meal that inmates eat. I can’t tell if the government has released the increased fund to the prison authority but I can tell you that nothing has changed here. The only way that inmates survive is by providing their own food.”

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