The prisoners at Maiduguri Maximum Security Custodial Centre (MMSCC), in Borno State, North-East Nigeria, were given a peculiar duty to do on the evening of Thursday, August 17, 2023, SaharaReporters reports.
They were asked by the newly appointed Chief Warder, Deputy Superintendent Usman Bokko to henceforth catch, slaughter and eat any cats and kittens that they come across inside the yard of the custodial centre as a substitute for government-provided beef.
According to sources, Bokko, who claimed that he was acting on “orders from above” hinted that the provision of beef once a month by the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) was no longer sustainable due to the dire economic realities.
On that day, many cats and kittens were cruelly slaughtered and eaten by hungry inmates who had no qualms about eating cat meat, sources said.
In 2020, cats were re-introduced into the MMSCC yard to combat the large population of disease-carrying rats, which explains the large presence of cats and kittens in the facility.
However, it was learnt that when the officer in charge of the Maiduguri Maximum Security Custodial Centre (MMSCC), Deputy Controller Aminu Abubakar Bappa, was confronted over the egregious directive by an inmate, Charles Okah, he was quick to dissociate himself from the action of his Chief Warder.
Bappa reportedly denied that he authorised the mass slaughter of cats and kittens as a substitute for beef, even though it was carried out right under his nose by which time only one female cat and her two kittens were still alive – the others had been slaughtered with improvised knives inside the prison facility turned into abattoir.
SaharaReporters learnt that in the past when Boko Haram suspects were held in MMSCC, the Nigerian Army and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) provided beef to all the inmates in the facility once a week even though the warders carved out the lion’s share of the meat for themselves.
The immediate past officer in charge, Deputy Controller Mohammad Jibia (retd.) had insisted during his short tenure in office for the contractor to meet his contractual agreement by providing beef at least once a month.
But after his departure, the provision of beef ceased completely along with the quality and quantity of the food given to inmates, which is blamed on the fuel subsidy removal.
Reliable sources inside the NCoS told SaharaReporters that the agency had been struggling to feed thousands of inmates in its various custodial centres nationwide even though provision was made for their food in the budget. Sadly, it appears that the grossly over-inflated food budget is already contaminated with the virus of corruption and greed.
In October 2021, the Senate Committee on Interior increased the daily feeding allowance of the correctional service from its current N450 per person to a minimum of N1,000 per day.
Officials of the NCoS had proposed an increment of the daily feeding allowance to N750 but the panel described the amount as grossly inadequate. It subsequently jacked it up to N1,000, in line with the current economic realities.
The Nigerian government proposed to spend over N22.5 billion on the supply of catering materials and foodstuffs for the correctional service in 2023, though SaharaReporters could not confirm how much of the fund had been released so far.
A junior staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “Considering that a generous amount earmarked for each meal per inmate is never adhered to, and considering also that provisions are factored into food budgets to anticipate inflation, contingencies, unexpected increase in custodial facilities and kickbacks to senior officers that trickle down to those in charge of custodial centres, there isn’t a cogent reason why the inmates should feel the pinch.”
But they do feel the pinch! Except for a very few inmates buoyant enough to feed themselves and some others who can afford to supplement the bad food provided for them, the rest of the inmates do not find it easy.
One of the inmates, Charles Okah, after finding out in 2018 the psychological therapeutic benefits that a pet cat had on a depressed inmate on death row, which was mentioned briefly in his 2019 article, “Sodomy of Children in Maiduguri Prison: Nigeria and the ICRC Conspiracy of Silence,” introduced a pet adoption programme unofficially, especially for inmates serving life sentences like himself, and those on death row who hardly received visits from anyone.
It was also learnt that Okah’s initiative had the tacit support of the MMSCC authority who marveled at the novel concept and outcome but wouldn’t acknowledge it openly.
Those interested in the program were encouraged to keep a pet; either a kitten or a bird as a companion inside their cells.
The results and benefits became evident, a source told SaharaReporters. The pets, especially cats, not only became reliable companions offering unconditional love but gave their owners a sense of responsibility.
Okah also found out that depressed and suicidal inmates became cheerful and better, while hardened criminals with pets became more empathic. Those inmates with pets had lower stress levels and blood pressure!
Indeed, Allen McConnell, a professor of psychology at Miami University, writes in Psychology Today that “it’s well known that our social network is important for our emotional well-being. But that network is not only limited to people.”
According to research from McConnell’s lab, “pet owners have higher self-esteem, fewer feelings of loneliness, and are more physically fit and socially outgoing than people without pets.”
The therapeutic benefits of pets to incarcerated persons has been recognized in the United States of America where certain Correctional facilities have introduced programs where dogs can be attached to inmates.
A 2011 journal of personality and social psychology titled ‘Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership, and prepared by Allen R. McConnell (Miami University); Christina M. Brown (Saint Louis University); and Tonya M. Shoda, Laura E. Stayton, and Colleen E. Martin, all of Miami University “observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than nonowners on several dimensions”.
“Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful, and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.
“For instance, research shows that pet owners are less likely to die within 1 year of having a heart attack than those who do not own pets (1% vs. 7%, respectively; Friedmann & Thomas, 1995),” the study noted.
On that dark Thursday, August 17, when the mass slaughter of cats and kittens as food took place in the facility, the inmates who had cats and kittens as pets were traumatised by the brutal killing of animals that had become their only friends and family.
The pets already had names and were emotionally bonded.
Titi and Asina, Tom and Jerry, Baby, Fatima, Mustafa, Black and numerous others were separated from their owners and brutally killed.
Okah’s five-month-old kittens, Lucky and Leo, born at 10 a.m. on Sunday, March 26, under his bed along with their mother, Ashley, were also killed and eaten.
Okah couldn’t sleep well for three nights.
Of particular poignancy, which still gives him goose pimples whenever he remembers, is the human infant-like cries of the kittens as they were being slaughtered.
A week later, the officer in charge, in a meeting in his office said that he had met with the Controller of the Borno State Command of the NCoS and the contractor who promised to resume the supply of beef to the facility.
He promised that the surviving cat and her kittens would be spared but dumped in a faraway bush to fend for themselves.