BY ’TUNDE THOMAS, CHIOMA IGBOKWE AND PHILIP OJO
How female inmates get pregnant in prison
■ Their deliveries
■ How kids live with their mothers inside cells
Until that Saturday in January last year, Femi Adewuyi didn’t believe the story he had earlier been told of how pregnant women and nursing mothers live inside Nigerian prisons. To him, it was a fable, a mere hearsay. However, on that fateful day, he was confronted with reality as he came face to face with nursing mothers and pregnant female inmates at Ibara prison in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital.
Adewuyi was part of a delegation led by a non-governmental organisation, Oba Karunwi Evangelical Movement to the prison. The organisation was visiting to offer prayers and present gifts to the inmates as part of its new year programme.
While recalling his experience that day, Adewuyi said that it was while the programme got underway that some women who were nursing mothers and had their babies strapped to their backs were introduced as female inmates who were to render special anthem to welcome the visitors.
“I was amazed, shocked and almost burst into tears when these nursing mothers started rendering beautiful Christian songs to the amazement of all. I was to receive more shocks when later we were being taken round the prison facility to offer prayers for inmates in their cells, and we got to the female section, and saw some toddlers playing innocently behind the bars, while their detained mothers were lying down on their beds”, he disclosed.
Adewuyi’s gripping narrative is not limited to Ibara prison in Abeokuta but a phenomenon in virtually all prison yards all over the country. Further findings reveal that this is the same scenario in prisons across the nation where nursing mothers and pregnant female inmates are becoming common sight.
What has, however, become baffling is how it has been possible for these female inmates to get pregnant while in detention. Who is responsible for these pregnancies? Why are the babies being held in the same cells with their mothers? These and more questions indeed beg for answers.
Although the prison authorities vehemently denied culpability of its personnel, it was gathered that before the return of the country to civil rule in 1999, there were alleged reported cases of warders being sexually involved with some female inmates. It was further learnt that it was also a commonplace then to arrange female inmates to have sex with outsiders.
A top official at Ikoyi prison speaking on condition of anonymity said: “Your claim is true. Yes, warders have been apprehended having conjugal relationship with female inmates. Not only that, men from outside also often have access to female inmates, but such practices stopped in 1999. With the return to civil rule, prison rules became strict, and no female inmate is allowed access to a man. Before then, the prison authority has become object of criticism to the point of being accused of breeding babies for adoption.”
Further findings reveal that most of the pregnant female inmates had been impregnated before coming to the prison. It was also discovered that some of them were impregnated at police stations while under investigation.
One of such victims who spent nine years in Enugu prison over an armed robbery case said that she had to offer her body to some policemen as part of efforts by her family to secure bail.
According to Ngozi (surname withheld), she gave birth to her son in Enugu prison nine years ago. Unknown to her, she has been impregnated by some policemen who slept with her. The policemen had allegedly promised to facilitate her release.
“It was while I was in police detention that it happened. I never knew that I was pregnant until the pregnancy was three months, and by then I had been sent to the prison. It was the most devastating period of my life because up till now, I don’t know the real father of my son.”
Narrating the agony she went through, Ngozi said she suffered tremendously trying to raise the child alone.
“Although prison authorities offered me some support, but their help was limited. I was told that I had to give up my child for adoption when none of my relations or the relations of my baby showed up, I was told that was the prison rule but I resisted and I suffered for it as I have to provide for the boy because we were together in the prison for six years until I completed my jail term.”
It was learnt that small children have become a common sight in the prison because relations of most female inmates hardly bother to show up to inquire about them and this has put prison authorities in a serious dilemma.
Further investigations reveal that as part of efforts by prison authorities to find a temporary solution was to set up crèches or something similar to it.
At the female prison in Kirikiri, Lagos, one of such crèches with modern facilities has been put in place. Every morning, female warders usually come round to take the babies away from their mothers, and return them later to the cells in the evenings.
In Agodi prison, Ibadan, Oyo State, it is the same story, just like in Enugu and Kaduna prisons.
It was gathered that the maximum period a child can stay with a detained mother is 18 months following which any of them that had not been reunited with the family members had to be taken up for adoption or to an orphanage.
Confirming the position of the law on the issue, Lagos-based lawyer, Gabriel Giwa-Amu, said that it is illegal to keep an infant in prison after such a child has attained the age of 18 months.
“That is the position of the law and even prison statute, when a child reaches 18 months in cell, the prison authority must mandatorily evacuate the child from the prison environment”, he stated.
While lamenting that there has been no compliance with the provision of the law on the issue, the lawyer noted that lack of compliance with the prison regulation, standing orders, and the Prison Act as it relates to the welfare of the inmate babies and children was unfortunate.
He said that such amounts to rights abuse. “It is condemnable that children, especially toddlers, should be exposed to prison environment’s life. It has psychological effects on mother and child. We need to revisit this law so as to save these babies from abuse”, Giwa-Amu stated.
Aside the babies saga, another revelation from investigation was the discovery of growing cases of female warders getting pregnant for male inmates, especially rich ones. A top female prison official, who confirmed the development, said that it is no longer strange seeing female warders falling in love with inmates.
She added that rich inmates who seek love or female companionship are ready to part with huge sums of money in order to have their way with female warders.