Nigerian Correctional Service partners with UNODC, UNFPA to provide dignity kits to women in custodial centres in Nigeria

Abuja, 11 January 2022- 

Globally, women in prisons are a minor­ity and their needs do not often receive adequate attention from relevant authorities. In Nigeria, only 2% of all persons presently in detention are women. There are only three custodial centres across the country dedicated exclusively for women, while the majority of female inmates are being housed in separate wings of custodial centres with an otherwise male prison population. As a result, women’s needs are inadequately addressed.

In 2021, the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) in coordination with the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) and the Nigerian Correctional Service conducted with the support of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the United Nations Population Fund, Heartland Alliance Nigeria, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the Federal Ministry of Justice (FMoJ), and Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Nigeria (SOGON) a rapid situational assessment of women’s health, including sexual and reproductive health in custodial centres in Nigeria.

While the final report is pending publication, some of the preliminary findings reveal some significant gaps in terms of access to public health services by women in detention. While the UN Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rule) state that “The provision of health care for prisoners is a State responsibility” and that “Prisoners should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community, and should have access to necessary health-care services free of charge without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status”, the reality in Nigeria, as it is the case in many other countries, remains that access to health services for diagnosis and treatment of common health conditions among people in custodial centres is often inadequate.

There is high prevalence of psychopathology among people in Nigerian custodial centres, with depression being the most common; and yet there are only a few psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and psychiatric nurses presently employed by the Nigerian Correctional Service.

Moreover, awareness and knowledge regarding the transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis and Tuberculosis as well as the perception of risk of infection are low among people in custodial centres in Nigeria, especially among females.

The study further showed that many women in detention have limited access to even the most basic health and hygiene products. 

UNODC and UNFPA therefore joined forces in responding to this immediate need and partnered with the NCoS in the provision of 346 Dignity Kits containing foldable mattresses, mats, buckets, blankets, towels, insecticide treated nets, wrappers, pants, rubber slippers, reusable menstrual pads, hand sanitisers, toilet soaps, and polyester packaging bags.

Receiving the items at the handover ceremony held at the Nigerian Correctional Service on 7 January 2022, the Controller General of Corrections, Haliru Nababa, FICMC, mni, expressed his deep gratitude to UNODC and UNFPA for the donation and assured the agencies that “the items donated will be put to maximum and effective use to justify cost, energy, and commitment volunteered for the intervention.” He stated that under his tenure, the Nigerian Correctional Service had “established a Gender Desk and deployed a Gender Advisor to attend to gender concerns” to ensure the gender-specific needs of female inmates are adequately met. He stated that he looked forward to further collaboration with UNODC and UNFPA.  

UNFPA Deputy Country Representative, Ms. Erika Godson said: “Self-efficacy in menstrual care, including having access to clean and reliable absorbent materials, safe and functional facilities for changing and cleaning, convenient and acceptable disposal methods, and accurate knowledge of health behaviours and hygienic practices during menstruation is essential for the dignity and bodily autonomy of Women and Girls.” She therefore expressed her pleasure in continuing to work closely with the NCoS “to address the health challenges that female inmates face to ensure their complete reform and rehabilitation.”

Commending the excellent cooperation established between the Nigerian Correctional Service with the UN system, UNODC Country Representative, Oliver Stolpe, mentioned several new technical cooperation projects which will support the NCoS in the effective implementation of the Nelson Mandela Rules, including by improving the capabilities to rehabilitate and reintegrate inmates, enhancing the infrastructure of several custodial centers, and improving dynamic security management.