By Olasunkanmi Akoni
A CHINESE proverb says, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” This adage led credence to the general principle of alleviating poverty by facilitating self-sufficiency.
In a practical demonstration of this, Covenant University, in partnership with Nigerian Prisons Service, Prison Fellowship Nigeria, and Small And medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria, SMEDAN, last Tuesday, organized an empowerment programme, a maiden Life recovery Pre-Release Empowerment Programme with acronym, (ONESIMUS Project), at Female Maximum and Medium Security Prisons, Kirikiri, Apapa, Lagos.
Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau, had said that more than 70 per cent of Nigerian prison inmates were on the awaiting trial list.
“The high number of awaiting trial inmates is worrisome because the prisons are meant for convicts, but you find out at the end of the day that more than 70 per cent of the people there are awaiting trial inmates,” Dambazau stated.
Most of these inmates are later released into the society without visible means of livelihood which, in most cases ultimately leads such individual to commit crime again.
The Comptroller General Nigerian Prisons Service, Mr. Jafaru Ahmed who also expressed concern over welfare of inmates stressed the need for proper funding of prisons across the country in order to properly achieve major objectives of prisons service as well as ensure greater efficiency.
Ahmed made the remarks during the visit of the Vice Chancellor, Covenant University, Otta, Prof. Aderemi Atayero and entourage to Female Maximum and Medium Security Prisons, Kirikiri, Apapa.
About 36 resident inmates of the female prisons graduated with various vocational skills, such as: Tie and dye, fashion designing, soap making, among others at the pre-release ceremony in the Kirikiri Prisons’ premises.
The Prisons boss, who was represented by Assistant Comptroller General of Nigeria Prisons Service, Ogundana Jerome, Zonal Coordinator, Zone A, said the measure became necessary as facilities in prisons across the country were grossly inadequate compared to global standards.
He lamented that the situation of inadequate funding was made worse by the problem of congestion due to high number of inmates awaiting trial in prisons.
According to him, “We can improve the prisons service by improved funding that is one of our major constraints. We have gone to developed countries to see how prisons are efficiently run.
The facilities that we have in Nigeria, most of them are obsolete and overstretched because of the high population. If there is improved funding all the facilities that are supposed to be in place will be in place.
“For instance, we are supposed to have many officers that are psychological literate that can impact positively on the lives of inmates but because of inadequate funding, we are not able to employ enough hands. Presently, we do not have enough staff to cope with the population that we have; we are just managing to strive, that is why we are urging corporate organizations, and well to do individuals to assist us because when facilities are overstretched and population over bloated then the services and efficiency of the services will not be felt as expected.”
High number of inmates awaiting trial
“Really, I can’t give exact figure right now because we only render accounts daily on the number of inmates to the National headquarters in Abuja. But I am sure Kirikiri Prisons has 3,526 inmates presently, and the normal number it can accommodate is 1,200 resident inmates, while the number of graduating inmates is 36.
“The number of awaiting trials constitutes more than three quarter of population, that is why we are having problem of congestion every day.
“There are a lot of factors responsible for this congestion, for example there is a present programme of LASG where people are raided on daily basis and dumped in prisons with minor offences. In developed countries those offences are not supposed to be brought to prisons, so when you bring every Tom Dick, and Harry it causes congestion.”
On the vocational skills, he said, “There are other things that we can’t easily afford as an institution, we thank them for helping us to achieve some of our major objectives of reforming, rehabilitating and reintegrating inmates back into the society.
“With what they learnt from this project, they can jolly well start something on their own and never go back to crime. That is why we value their contribution to this institution.
“Most of them are here on frivolous issues maybe due to different problems, parental background or they have no job among others.
“There is a programme we run in the service where we monitor them after discharge and this is the after care service that we give to them, this is to ensure that all they have acquired and empowered to do on discharge are closely monitored to see they are probably handled. Some of them it in the past and become industrial officers all of these we are achieving with the programme.
Prof. Ateyero, in his address, explained that the essence of the programme, the ONESIMUS is all about empowering life.
“We believe God sees all of us the same. The fact that some people are inmates is not important to us, what is paramount to us is what they make out of their life after this experience.
“When I was coming into this place, I saw on the board, capacity 1,200 and resident inmates 3,600 that speak volume, which means things, are not being properly done, the government will have to do a better job.
“The next level of his programme is to make sure we replicate it across other prisons in the country, a way of doing that is leveraging on Information, Communication Technologies, ICT to physically use same manpower to maximally achieve the aim, provided we get moral support because we see it as a core responsibility, community service one of our three major responsibilities of the university.”
“We have open courses online courses we can just set up a centre here that give them the facility to use while we are transmitting from Covenant University or any University as the case may be and can be replicated all over the country provided we get moral support because we see it as a core responsibility, community service one of our three major responsibilities of the university.”
Deputy Controller of Prisons, DCP, Mrs. Lizzy Ekpendu, officer in charge of Kirikiri Female Prisons, gave a word of encouragement to the out-going inmates, saying, contrary to popular view of seeing prison as a place of the condemned, rather, “Prison is a place of knowledge, the good news is that you have liberty in Jesus Christ and you are Eagles.”
One of the pre-release inmates, (names-withheld) on-behalf of others, commended Covenant University and its associate for the gesture and called on other universities and individuals to emulate the gesture by coming to the aid of government in raising standard of prisons.
“As this opportunity is given to us, we will not disappoint you, we are going to be shining examples and show the world that we have left the prisons to be better persons,” the participants promised.”