Prisoners' human rights are being systematically violated in west Africa's power-house, Nigeria, according to a report by human rights group Amnesty International. The report says most of the estimated 45,000 inmates in Nigerian prisons have never been convicted of any crime and Nigeria's poor are particularly vulnerable to abuse by the system. Sarah Simpson reports from the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
Arbitrary arrests, torture to extract confessions and unsanitary cells packed with detainees - including children as young as 11 - are among the failings of the Nigerian criminal justice system, according to Amnesty.
Author of the 50-page report, Amnesty Researcher Aster van Kregten, tells VOA that Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, is setting a poor example to the rest of the continent.
"Nigeria is supposed to be a leading country in Africa and what kind of example is this for a country that has power? [To see] a country that is taking care of its own citizens in prisons like this - it is absolutely not right," said Aster van Kregten.
According to Amnesty, 65 percent of inmates in Nigerian prisons are awaiting trial. Some have been waiting for as long as 15 years.
Van Kregten said Nigerians too poor to afford a lawyer are most likely to languish in overcrowded, disease-ridden prisons without any healthcare.
Overcrowding, he says, is a serious problem.
"When we went into the cells, I would enter a cell for 30 inmates, for example, 30 beds," he said. "I would count the inmates and it would be 60, 90 over 100! They would be sleeping two in a bed, underneath the bed, on the floor."
Amnesty is calling on Nigeria's new government to fulfill long held commitments to reform the prisons.
Amnesty says Nigeria is breaking international human rights laws. As a member of the United Nations, it says, Nigeria is obliged to comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which extends to prisoners.
A representative of Nigerian Prisons Service was not immediately available for comment, though the Ministry of Interior told Amnesty it was not "unaware of most of the observations" in the report and that "various reform initiatives" were ongoing.
Amnesty based its findings on a study of 10 prisons in cities across the country, where it interviewed wardens, medics and 250 prisoners.
In 2006 and 2007 the Nigerian government promised to release a large number of inmates, but Amnesty says it is not clear weather these commitments were ever fulfilled.