A historical study on penal confinement and institutional life in southern Nigeria, 1860-1956

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2013-12

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Abiodun, Tosin Funmi

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Abstract

This dissertation fills an existing gap in Nigerian historiography by exploring the history of penal confinement and prisons in Southern Nigeria. Using archival materials and other historical sources including autobiographies, newspapers and prison writings, this study shows that colonial prisons that were established in Nigeria differed significantly from those that existed in Britain. The idea of using the prison as a reformative tool did not manifest in the colonial context. Ultimately, the colonial prison system established in Southern Nigeria served as a tool used by Europeans for silencing opposition, subduing nationalist forces, harnessing cheap labor and warehousing problem populations including criminals, lepers and lunatics. Penal administration in Southern Nigeria went through many transformative stages. This dissertation contextualizes these changes within the broad context of significant historical events such as the Atlantic Slave Trade, colonial rule, the First World War, the Second World War and the decolonization era. It shows that administrative problems that hamper the development of Nigeria’s penal system in the post-colonial era such as overcrowding, inefficient work force, health problems and inadequate infrastructure began during the colonial era. The penal crisis experienced in Nigeria is indeed a colonial legacy. The first five chapters of the study follow a chronological sequence that covers much ground in the colonial history of Southern Nigeria from 1860 to 1956. In addition, this dissertation explores the history of the prison in Southern Nigeria not only from the official perspective, but also from the perspective of incarcerated colonial subjects. It details the penal experience of nationalists. More importantly, it moves beyond the elitist view by providing information on the penal experience of ordinary criminals whose existence and agency is often ignored or mentioned in passing in mainstream Nigerian history. The last chapter of this study approaches the history of prison in Southern Nigeria from the subaltern perspective. Using official prison documents, prison memoirs, and prisoners’ letters, it explores prison sub-cultures and highlights the different ways in which ordinary prisoners reacted to, coped with, and challenged the carceral element of colonial rule.

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