By Christopher Ambe
Constructed around 1933, the Buea Central Prison(in Cameroon), according to official sources, was meant to accommodate just 200 inmates.
|Fako lawyers inspect Buea Central Prison|
But today, some 80 years after, the situation of the prison- in terms of infrastructure and general living conditions of inmates -remains deplorable.
Today, the facility is over- congested with some 600 inmates, out of which about 250 of them are still awaiting trial. Some of them have been awaiting trial well above the maximum period required and have never been brought to court. It is understood they are unable to afford for the services of lawyers. The majority of the inmates are between 25-30 years.
Of the about 600 inmates in the Prison there are seven (7) female inmates, said to be always complaining of ill-health and sleeping. Although in their own section, imagine seven women in a in a “world of men’
The inmates eat just once a day-and it is unclear whether the insufficient quantity of food served each inmate by the State of Cameroon can really be described as a balanced diet. Lucky ones have extra food,brought to them –from time to time -by relations and friends .
Many of the inmates look haggard and at the sight of any visitor, they start begging for money to get food for themselves.
A visit there is a sorry sight .Conscious of the deplorable conditions there, Fako Lawyers’ Association(FAKLA) led by its president, Barrister Ajong Stanislaus , last April 24, visited the Prison for needs assessment ,in order to see how they-as Human Rights promoters- can use their power and connections to bring some relief to Prison.
In deed, the prison is begging for quick attention in all respects; attention from the Sate of Cameroon, the civil society, professional associations and even international organizations.
When the team of Fako Lawyers, accompanied by journalists, visited what is fondly called colonial Buea Central Prison, it was warmly received into the prison chapel by the Superintendent Incharge, Banaho Mbime Lazare
|FAKLA Executives,Superintendent talking to reporters(not seen here)|
“Many cases are being adjourned because inmates don’t have lawyers to defend them”, the Superintendent told the visiting and inquisitive lawyers, pleading with them to volunteer their services.
Mr. Banaho then briefed them on feeding, accommodation, the legality of inmates, security, training facilities, staff situation and so forth.
“The living conditions here are very poor,” the Superintendent admitted, but added that the Government was doing its best to improve on them. “Inmates eat once a day.We doesn’t have enough means to feed them well” This disclosure made some lawyers such Barrister John Kameni, murmur in dissatisfaction
After listening to the host, FAKLA president gave assurance.
“FAKLA shall file actions for any inmate who has been in detention, awaiting trail beyond six months and has never been taken to court
“We the lawyers of Fako are very ready to help only detainees who don’t have lawyers,” Barrister Ajong said, emphatically
Barrister Charles Njualem, Chair of FAKLA Human Rights Commission, noted that their coming was not in any way to encourage criminality. He stressed that, all accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. “We are here to ensure that justice is done”, Barrister Njualem added.
When Barristers Ntoko Justice and Ashutantang Tanjong asked to know what was being done to reform inmates, the Superintendent regretted that they could not do much since workshop machines were bad and there was acute lack of training materials.
After the working session with the Prison Personnel, the lawyers toured the Prison cells and workshop facilities for an on- the- spot- assessment.
The lawyers then resolved there to begin their assistance to the Prison by filing for habeas corpus.
Barrister Ajong told The Recorder yesterday that they already have the first list of 53 inmates on whose behalf they would file actions this week.
Barrister Henry Sumelong,FAKLA secretary-General ,who was instrumental in the success of the prison visit, told The Recorder that the Association“ is really bent on promoting human rights”.