Pubdate: Tue, 16 Oct 2007
Source: Nigerian Tribune (Nigeria)
Copyright: 2007 African Newspapers of Nigeria Plc.


The plight of citizen Yoosu Nyitse, the 82-year-old convict currently
languishing at Makurdi  Medium Security Prison, has attracted the
sympathy of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Nyitse, who
is serving a life sentence for selling Indian hemp, was convicted and
jailed five years ago by a Federal High Court in Makurdi after
confessing to the crime.  He has just spent about five years in prison
and his state of health is said to be pathetic.

Citizen Yoosu is reportedly paralysed and suffering from acute
arthritis. Members of the NHRC who visited the Makurdi Medium Security
Prison recently saw the pitiable condition of the old convict.

The aged convict was practically being carried around by fellow
inmates because he could not stand on his feet. The prison authorities
were said to have ignored the convict's request for medical attention.

Against the worsening health condition of Mr. Nyitse, the NHRC has,
therefore, promised to take his case to the Prerogative of Mercy with
a view to securing his release to enable him to have access to medical
attention. According to the NHRC, it would make a special plea on
behalf of the prisoner to the Prerogative of Mercy to release the
convict on compassionate grounds.

Although, it is hoped that the old man will be released based on the
intervention of the Prerogative of Mercy or at least be allowed to
have urgent medical attention so that he does not die of the disease,
which was reported to be threatening his life, it should be stressed
that age is not a defence for crimes under the Nigerian law. If an old
man would not consider his age before committing a crime, there is no
logical reason he should be given any special consideration on the
same grounds of old age when he is being considered for punishment.
This logic is more apt under circumstances where the offence committed
was not a product of accident or necessity but premeditation.

The offence committed by Nyitse is, to say the least, very grievous.
That he could engage in the sale of a hard drug at 78 is criminal and
irresponsible. It is most likely that his major clients would be
youths and hoodlums.

These elements would, under the influence of marijuana, go about
disturbing public peace.

It is not clear when Nyitse started his illegal and ignoble trade but
it could be safely argued that while it lasted he was a veritable
cause of social dis-equilibrium and a facilitator of violent crimes.

Consequently, he deserved the punishment meted out to him and even
more against the backdrop of his age and the bad influence he is to
members of the younger generation.

Nevertheless, given Nyitse's state of health, and not necessarily his
age, we align with the NHRC that the convict be released on
compassionate grounds.

Though a convict, Nyitse still has some rights under the law,
including that of life. He should, therefore, be given adequate
medical attention and very promptly too; and, indeed, the old convict
should be given his freedom.

The five years of incarceration, hopefully, would have served as a
deterrent to him and other like minds who may wish to engage in
criminal activities. The lessons of his self-inflicted travail will be
learnt by others.

But these lessons will not have the desired effects should Nyitse be
allowed to die in prison.

Once again, the case of Nyitse has brought to the fore the deplorable
conditions of Nigerian prisons.

Prisons in Nigeria hardly reform or bring about penitence in
criminals; instead, the prisoners come out more hardened and
determined to take revenge on the society.

The prisons are very congested, not necessarily as a result of an
increase in crime wave, but because of institutional

The contributions of the police and the judiciary to prison
congestion, which in turn put undue pressure on the available
resources and facilities, are enormous.

Tardiness and slow pace of investigations by the police and avoidable
delay in the disposal of criminal matters before the law courts are in
part responsible for overcrowding of the prisons with its attendant
implications for the welfare of the inmates.  Agreed that some of
these inmates are social misfits who deserve to be kept apart, even if
temporarily, from civilised persons, but while doing so, the state has
no right to subject them wittingly or unwittingly to dehumanising or
agonising conditions, such as the one in which  some members of NHRC
found Yoosu  Nyitse at the Makurdi Medium Security Prison.
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