Nigeria ranks 27th among countries with highest number of prisoners


NIGERIA, with 74,059 inmates, is currently the 27th country with the highest number of prisoners globally.

According to World Prison Brief (WPB), an institution collating data on prisons worldwide, the nation has fewer prisoners than many populous countries across the globe.

However, the population of prisoners each country keeps does not commensurate with the inmates’ welfare, rights and prison infrastructures. 

The WPB’s data tally with those on Statista, another credible data hub.

“The World Prison Brief (WPB) is a unique database that provides free access to information about prison systems throughout the world. Country information is updated on a monthly basis, using data largely derived from governmental or other official sources,” the organisation said on its website.

In Nigeria, there were 74,059 inmates as of January 31. The country has the highest number of inmates in West Africa but ranks seventh on the continent, coming behind South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Algeria, Morocco and Rwanda. 

South Africa – the 12th on the log – has 144,938 prisoners. China has the highest number with 1,690,000 prisoners, followed by the United States of America, 1,675,400; Brazil, 835,643; India, 554 034; Russian Federation, 439 453; Turkey, 314 502; Thailand, 285 572; and Indonesia 275 518.

Others before South Africa are Mexico, 230 000; Iran, 189 000; and the Philippines, 166 912.

Before Nigeria are Vietnam, 125 697; Egypt, 119 000; Argentina, 114 074; Ethiopia, 110 000; Myanmar, 100 324; Columbia, 98 242; Algeria, 94 749; and Peru, 90 293.

There are also Morocco, 88 941; Pakistan, 85 670; United Kingdom, 82 176; Bangladesh, 81 156; Malaysia, 76 336; and Rwanda, 76 099.

The ICIR reports that with South Africa’s present 61.2 million (61,232,451) population (on Wordometer), dividing the country’s population by its number of prisoners shows that one out of its 422 population lives in prison.

In Nigeria, the most populous country on the continent at 219.3 million (219,305,878), there is a prisoner among every 2,961 persons. The nation has 74,059 prisoners.

China has a population of 1.4 billion (1,453,629,085), with one out of every 860 people jailed, given its 1,690,000 inmates.

The United States of America, currently with 335.9 million (335,999,183) people, has 1.6 million (1,675,400) of its population in prison, making one out of every 200 persons in the country serve a jail term.

The pattern of Nigeria’s prisoners population since 1982

There were 41,034 inmates in Nigeria in 1982. The figure jumped to 54,079 in 1990 but reduced to 41,482 in 1993.

It rose again to 52,000 in 1996 but shrank to 44,450 in 2000. In 2004, there was a further decline in the population from 40,048 in 2002 to 38,999 in 2004. 

Meanwhile, since former President Goodluck Jonathan took over power in 2010, till 2023 when President Muhammadu Buhari is rounding off his eight-year maximum terms of four-year apiece, there has been continuous growth in the number of inmates kept across the nation’s 253 custodial centres, from 46,586 in 2010 to 74,059 in January 2023. 

Females versus male inmates

Data from countries show that more men get sentenced for crimes. In July 2022, The ICIR reported that only two per cent of inmates in Nigerian prisons were women.

In China, females constitute 8.6 per cent (2018), US, 10.2 per cent (2019); Brazil, 5.1 per cent (2021); India, 4.1 per cent (2021); Russia, 8.9 per cent (2022); Turkey, 3.9 per cent (2022); Thailand, 11.5 per cent (2021); Indonesia, 4.9 per cent (2022); and Mexico, 5.6 per cent (2022).

Rising inmates versus growing crimes in Nigeria

Nigeria has witnessed unprecedented crimes, namely terrorism, banditry involving abduction and kidnapping for ransom, intercommunal attacks and killings, money ritual, armed robbery, looting of public funds and other crimes in the past decade more than any other years in the nation’s history.

These may have led to the rising inmate population in the country. However, many Nigerians believe the government is not thorough in getting criminals punished by the law courts. They also frown at the government for illegally keeping people in prison without trial. 

Citizens have variously accused the government of shielding public officials who loot the treasury from the law courts or making them get punishment much too low for the offence(s) they committed. Citizens have also expressed worry over the government’s handling of leading terrorists and criminal gangs in prisons. 

Generally, the conditions of Nigerian prisons are largely believed to be very poor.

Gale of prison attacks under President Buhari

Between 2020 and 2022, there were about a dozen attacks on prisons in Nigeria, leading to the escape of thousands of inmates. While some of the escapees were rearrested, others remain at large to date.

Many escaped prisoners are terrorists and other inmates who committed heinous crimes.

The most recent jailbreak was at Kuje Correctional Facility in Abuja, the nation’s capital. The attackers freed about 69 suspected Boko Haram terrorists held at the facility, as well as some other inmates.

The government said 879 inmates, including all the Boko Haram suspects, escaped.

A kidnap kingpin, Hamisu Bala, popularly known as Wadume, was among the suspect who escaped.

The onslaught led to the death of five persons, including an officer of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence (NSCDC) and four inmates.


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