At least 20 inmates have died of pulmonary tuberculosis< and about a hundred suffered the infection in the old Katsina custodial centre, insiders have told PREMIUM TIMES. They described the incident as an effect of corruption and a “shockingly poor” state of hygiene and health services in the 104-year-old facility.
Senior officials, including those in charge of the facility in Katsina, have attempted a coverup to avoid accountability, this newspaper learnt. Also, officials, who should know because their role involves receiving reports on such development, were kept in the dark, PREMIUM TIMES understands.
A senior official expressed shock that “such thing could be happening and I will not know but I will not dismiss it.”
The prison, constructed in 1918 by the British, has an installed capacity of 300 inmates but currently holds about 900, an official said. Medical experts say living in an overcrowded space and poor nutrition and environmental hygiene raise the risk of TB spread from an infected person.
According to Medline Plus, an online health information resource run by the United States National Library of Medicine, pulmonary TB is a contagious lung infection that spreads easily when people breathe in air droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person.
Due to a weak and sluggish criminal justice system, many suspects still undergoing trial languish in prisons, causing severe overcrowding in the facilities and a tremendous risk of spread of contagious infections such as TB.
“Officers In Charge (of prisons) deliberately keep inmates’ numbers high so they can claim more money for their feeding,” a prison source said asking not to be named as he has no permission to talk to journalists. “In connivance with Police DPOs, they arrest vulnerable people, go to court, and remand them in custodial centres.”
“Bad things are happening”
At the beginning of April, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation, 71 inmates of the Katsina prison were infected. But by the middle of the month, 89 were sick. As the prison remains overcrowded with poor healthcare and ration for inmates, many more inmates are feared infected.
“TB is curable, but with insufficient medication, poor quality and quantity of food, spread and deaths from the infection will continue to rise,” said a source, who is familiar with the situation. “Bad things are happening.”
The spokesperson of the Nigeria Correctional Service, Francis Enobore, said the outbreak was in January and only seven inmates had died. Mr Enobore said as a result of “intensive care and drugs supplied” the situation “has been brought under control” with only one case recorded in the month of April.
However, Mr Enobore’s claims are contradicted in substantial part by our findings based on disclosures by sources with direct knowledge, including those on the ground, photographs and documents reviewed. An official document shows several inmates were confirmed infected in April and are currently hospitalised.
PREMIUM TIMES reviewed photographs of inmates, who died after catching TB, and scores of others lying sick due to the ailment.
The photographs depict many sick inmates sleeping on mats on the bare floor in a ward without drips, a situation our sources said describes the abysmal state of healthcare service available to inmates.
A few others, lucky to have beds, are on drips, photographs show. Yet others on beds have no drips.
Controversial Feeding System
Inmates in Nigeria’s overcrowded prisons are poorly fed and treated, thereby making them susceptible to illnesses. Officially, N750, less than two dollars, is allocated to feed an inmate per day. Until 2021, it was N450. However, only a trifling sum is spent on inmates’ rations as a consequence of corruption, insiders said.
“Inmates are officially fed on N750 per day per head but contractors buy these contracts for about 30% from the prison authorities, meaning contractors receive about N525 per inmate for feeding,” a prison official told PREMIUM TIMES. “Contractors take out profits and generally hand over between N250-N300 per head to the officers in charge of Custodial Centers (Prison) for inmate feeding.”
“Officers in Charge then decide how well to feed inmates. Well-do-to inmates survive on self-feeding…they cook their own food or have their families supply food.
“Inmates in big custodial centres, especially in urban centres and in the southern part of the country are usually fed better because NGOs, churches, mosques, etc supply endless quantities of free food items.
“Inmates in rural areas and the Northern part of the country like Katsina’s old prison are underfed,” the source, who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation, added.