… As PFN, Covenant University, SMEDAN empower detainees
By Perpetua Egesimba
Over the years, post-conviction stigmatisation, as well as the inability of the Nigerian prisons to fully reform prisoners, has made it difficult for prisoners to be equipped with the means for self-dependence upon reintroduction to the society.
In line with the above, Life Recovery Pre-Release Empowerment Programme, also known as The Onesimus Project for prisoners, was introduced by the Prison Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), in partnership with Covenant University, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) and The Nigerian Prisons Service to promote and execute.
Over 36 students graduated from the 2017 Onesimus Project at the Medium Security Prison, Kirikiri, Lagos recently.
Addressing the inmates at the event, which was graced by top government functionaries and industry players, the Vice Chancellor of Covenant University, Professor Aderemi Atayero explained that the Onesimus project was all about empowering lives. He said it was the belief of the promoters of the programme that God sees everybody as the same, noting that the fact that some people were inmates made no difference.
According to him, what was most important was what the prisoners would do with their lives after their experience. That, he said, was why the PFN and its partners were doing their best to help the prisoners prepare for life outside the prison so that they would not go back to whatever that brought them to the prison.
“This is my first time in any prison and just coming here today, I saw the board out there, the capacity is 1,200 and resident inmates are over 3000. That speaks volumes. That means things are not being done properly. The government will have to do a better job.”
Atayero said the next level of the project was to make sure that it was replicated around the country, adding that Kirikiri was the only prison where such programme was happening for now.
“It should be something that other prisons can benefit from and a way of doing it is leveraging on the ICTs so that you don’t have to physically use the same manpower and multiply the factors. No, you can use the same manpower to reach people maximally.
“You have open courses, online courses and massive open online courses. So we can just set up centre here that give them the ICT facilities to use, where we will be transmitting from Covenant University or any other university, as the case maybe. And we can replicate it all over the country, provided we can get some kind of support. Even moral support will be something because we see it in Covenant University as a core responsibility and community development.”
He said the University was currently working on the Covenant University Free Online Courses, (CUFOC), stressing that such courses would be available free on the Internet. All that is required he said, was Internet access and a good computer.
According to the VC, the University is starting with five principal courses as test and on the success of that, it would be scaled up.
“It’s a new project we are working on. We are considering the Kirikiri Prison but we will let our partners; the Prison Fellowship of Nigeria, SMEDAN and of course the Controller General of Prisons know. They will advise us on that. But we don’t see any prison more special than the other because we don’t count one soul more precious than another.”
Director-General of SMEDAN, Dr Dikko Umaru Radda who was represented by the Lagos State District Coordinator of SMEDAN, Yinka Fisher, also spoke to the inmates. Fisher said: “For your tomorrow to be good, you have to keep on challenging yourself. Have determination, dream big and start small. Do not procrastinate; make yourself relevant to the system. It is not impossible to succeed. Start doing the right thing.”
He said one thing they keep telling their clients or students is to prepare themselves that there is no one that God has not given gifts.
Also speaking, the Controller-General of Prisons, Ja’Afaru Ahmed, who was represented by the Acting Controller General of Prisons and Zonal Coordinator, Zone A, Ogundana Jerome appreciated the university and SMEDAN for their assistance in helping the prisons management to achieve one of the major objectives of reforming, rehabilitating and reintegrating of the inmates.
“With what they learnt from this project, they can stand on their own and never go back to crime. So, this is why we value their contribution a lot to this kind of institution. We implore other higher institutions in Nigeria to emulate them because what they have done really helps a lot to improve the society.
“We are confident that these ones will return better than they came to the society. Most of them are here on frivolous issues, maybe due to parental background or that they have no jobs or other issues. But now, with what they learn, they can now stand on their own.
“There is a programme that goes on in the service where we monitor them after discharge and this is after the care service that we give to them. This is to ensure that all that they have acquired here, that they were empowered to do on discharge were closely monitored to see that they are properly handled. Some of them that have done it have become industrial officers and people who are established on their own in business that they can do.”
He said the prison service could be improved by improving funding, which he said was a major constraint. He also said the facilities there had become obsolete and over stretched because of the population.
“If there is improved funding, all the facilities that are supposed to be in place will be in place. We have a lot of officers that are psychologically literate and they impact a lot in the lives of these people that they keep with us but because of finance, how many are we able to employ?
“We are not able to employ as many as we can. Presently, we don’t have enough staff to cope with the population that we have. That is why we have extended our service and you know when facilities are overstretched, and the population is over-bloated, then the efficiency of the services that we are rendering will not reflect as expected.”
He said the prison was still being congested because people in Lagos were being brought to the prison because of minor offences.
Deputy Controller of Prisons (DCP), Kirikiri Female Prisons, Mrs. Lizzy Ekpendu, advised the inmates to stay focused and consider themselves special.
“Each day that you wake up, as you are behind these walls, note it as a blessing. God has a reason for bringing you here or any other prison that you might be. Just know that you are not a prisoner but God’s children. You are here for a while and then you will go.
“Every time that you wake up in the morning, say to yourself, I am special, I am created by the Almighty God. You are not different from others on the other side. We are aside pursuing other things but you are free and have time to pray to God. Thank God for everything.”
She said the prison service had become a ministry for the officials, since they were there to look after the inmates. She encouraged other officers to work with conscience.
Responding on behalf of the other students, a student of the Onesimus project, who pleaded anonymity, said the prisoners were very happy and grateful for the skills they had acquired.
“This Onesimus project has brought a better thing in our lives. We have got a greater opportunity to make a U-turn and become better persons in future.
“There is a saying that it is not how far but how well. So, it is not how far that we begin but how well we end. One of our lecturers used to tell us that it is not bad to start little but it is bad to end little. We pray that we never depict that statement because as we are starting little, we believe that our end will be greater.
“We are promising that we are not going to disgrace you in future as this opportunity has been given to us for our lives to be better.”
He further stated that many of the prisoners have acquired knowledge in a number of vocations that they would start working on as soon as they were released from the prisons.
“We are promising you that we are not going back to a life of crime. We are going back to exploit our skills and we say a very big thank you.”