Peter Onyema, one of many sick inmates held in dismal conditions at the Ogwashi-Uku prison in Aniocha South local government area of Delta State, has died. 

Inmates at the Ogwashi-Uku prison, some of them remanded for long periods of time as they await trial for crimes they insist they never committed, had last week raised alarm about abject neglect and dehumanization by the prison management.

Two of the sick inmates awaiting trial, David Okolie and Mr. Onyema, both suffering from undiagnosed chronic illness, had told SaharaReporters that they needed urgent medical and legal assistance in order to cater for their health and regain their freedom.

Following the exclusive report by SaharaReporters, a few sympathizers donated the sum of N100,000 for the inmates’ medical treatment. Two days later, the two sick inmates were rushed to the Federal Medical Center, Asaba for much needed, but long-delayed, intensive care.

However, Mr. Onyema died two days after doctors had commenced treatment. One of the doctors treating the deceased inmate confirmed to SaharaReporters that Mr. Onyema died in the early hours of Wednesday. The doctor, who sought anonymity, blamed the inmate’s death on the negligence of the prison management. “They should not have waited as long as they did before bringing him [Mr. Onyema] to a hospital,” said the doctor.

Meanwhile, Harrison Gwamnishu, a whistle-blower who serves as the Delta State chief coordinator of Stephen and Solomon Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that advocates for detainees and prisoners, has accused a top prison official of threatening his life. Mr. Gwamnishu, who arranged for a team of undercover reporters and lawyers to visit the Ogwashi-Uku, is a former victim of prolonged prison detention while awaiting trial for a crime he never committed. He secured his freedom when a Delta State High Court discharged and acquitted him in November 2015. 

He disclosed that he had been receiving a series of threatening calls since SaharaReporters published a report that detailed the harrowing condition in the prison where inmates receive no medical attention and are fed only once a day.

“This is to draw the attention of the general public on the latest development on the issue of the seriously sick, unkempt and malnourished awaiting trial inmates at Ogwashi-Uku prison that my life is seriously being threatened,” said Mr. Gwamnishu. He added, “The Deputy Controller of Prisons [in] Ogwashi Uku (DCP), Francis Okonkwor, is after my life, boasting that should he lose his job following my photos and publication, he will kill me. 

“I want to draw the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari, Senate President Bukola Saraki, Minister of Interior, Controller General of Prisons and Inspector General of Police and National Human Rights Commission over this development as I have also copied the Board members of Stephen & Solomon Foundation and Joint Legal Action Aids.” 

During a visit to the prison last Wednesday, a correspondent of SaharaReporters spoke to a prison staff who admitted that conditions at the facility were “dehumanizing and pathetic.” He alleged that some prison officials were enriching themselves at the expense of inmates who languish in negligence and harrowing conditions.

“Our prison authorities here have been running helter-skelter since the news broke out. They have been trying to appease inmates to keep mute just in case groups or higher authorities come on a fact-finding mission. Between 180-200 awaiting trials are dumped in a cell with little ventilation, causing the spread of tuberculosis. Inmates get sick and die and nothing happens. Because of water, 15 to 20 inmates have to use the toilet before flushing. Inmates are warned not to complain to any visitor. If they do, they are punished severely,” the source said.

He urged Nigerians to “ignore all the nonsense written by the Delta State Prison public relations officer, Mgbakor Uche. What she writes is laced with lies. She lied that inmates attend various trainings and workshops. She forgot that the prison’s tailoring workshop is now being used by the management for personal business. The staff in charge gives returns to the deputy controller of prison in Ogwashi-Uku. Inmates are not allowed to learn. Churches provide the barbing salon and the clippers.

“The prison authorities use [the salon] as a venture for making money. Inmates are not engaged in learning. They use the services of awaiting trial inmates who are good in barbing to make money. Inmates are not given access to skills’ acquisition. Ogwashi-Uku prison has no vocational centers, as the only one has been turned to a business center where inmates are used to make money without giving them any meaningful knowledge,” the source added. 

Contacted by our correspondent, the Deputy Controller of Prison at Ogwashi Uku, Mr. Okonkwor, denied that he threatened Mr. Gwamnishu’s life. He declined to make any further comment, declaring that only the state Controller of Prisons (CP) has the powers to speak on the issues.

The CP, Sam Iyakoregha, was not available to offer a comment. One Nwagu, who identified himself as the second-in-command to the Controller of Prisons, said that the state prison boss was on a quarterly tour.

Ogwashi-Uku prison inmate Peter Onyema died from medical negligence

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