Director General of UNESCO Ms Audrey Azoulay noted the uniqueness in enhancing the capacity of prisoners to access knowledge and skills for self-development
Magnus Eze, Enugu
Chukwunonso Nomeh, 38, from Oruku in Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State whos is awaiting the hangman’s noose in the Enugu Maximum Prison, recently made history as the first prisoner in West Africa to bag a master’s degree. He was also the best graduating inmate in the country in 2017.
Condemned to death by hanging on January 28, 2016, the 2007 graduate of Metallurgical and Material Engineering from the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) is a study in courage and hope.
With Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) in his kitty, Nomeh has also enrolled for another master’s programme, this time around, in Information Technology (IT).
He told Daily Sun during the matriculation ceremony of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Enugu Maximum Prison Study Centre for the 2017/2018 academic year, on June 28 that he would have loved to pursue his doctorate but that was not permissible at the moment for condemned inmates as they needed to freely attend lectures and all that.
In the South East, many inmates have literally taken to education, one of the reformative packages provided by the Nigeria Prison Service.
No fewer than 465 inmates are currently undergoing various undergraduate programmes, 23 master’s degree students while two are studying for their PhD in 10 special study centres across the country.
Just like Nomeh, an inmate at Awka Prisons in Anambra State, Jude Onwuzulike, recently enrolled for a Master’s degree programme in Information Technology at the NOUN.
The 39-year-old man father of four, who is serving a life jail term, matriculated during the seventh matriculation ceremony of the institution held at the Awka Prisons.
Onwuzulike said he believed that one day, his education and knowledge would be of help to him. He had before his ordeal, obtained a first degree and postgraduate diploma from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, respectively.
“My first degree was in Accounting in 2005, while the second was in Mathematics. When I came here, I did a postgraduate diploma in Information Technology and now, I’m doing a Master’s degree in the same discipline,” he stated.
Onwuzulike said he enrolled for Information Technology due to the unsatisfactory manner the case that led to his imprisonment was investigated.
“I noticed some lapses in the way the case that brought me here was investigated, which someone needs to correct. So, this course I’m studying will assist me to carry out forensic investigations in similar circumstances,” he added.
Nomeh and Onwuzulike described the prison as not an ideal place for learning, stressing that it would only take someone who remained focused in life to maximise the opportunity.
“Here, you see all kinds of people; the uneducated, those who lack parental upbringing and those who were brought up in the motor park. They will be distracting you, including asking you to switch off the lights for them to sleep and stuffs like that,” Onwuzulike said.
For one who got first degree in a conventional university, Nomeh likened studying in a prison cell to hell.
“We don’t sleep. Since we are eight, we usually do it four by four; meaning that first set will sleep from 9pm to 1am; while the second set starts 1:05am to 6am. I normally join the first set so that I can read from 1am; and as a condemned inmate, you don’t have time coming outside,” he lamented.
Remodelling character through learning
Vice Chancellor of NOUN, Prof. Abdalla Adamu, who was represented by Dr Scholastica Ezeribe, at Onwuzulike’s matriculation ceremony, laud his zeal.
Adamu said though the university’s matriculation took place on June 23, the management had to fix a special date for the inmate in view of the peculiarity of his case, while urging other inmates to take advantage of the free education provided by NOUN to better their lots.
Prior to this period, 37 inmates of the Enugu Maximum Prison had matriculated to study various courses in the NOUN.
Director, Enugu zonal Study Centre, Prof. Uche Onyia who represented Adamu at the programme which was also used to honour graduating inmates from the centre that came out in flying colours, charged the inmate to pursue their programmes with dedication.
He warned that award of NOUN degree was based on display of good character and excellence in studies, while assuring them that all the programmes offered by the university have been accredited by the National Universities Commission (NUC).
“At the end of your studies in the next four years, we are going to certify you qualified in character and learning. To be qualified as such, you must be seen by your peers and the officials of the university to have lived above board,” he charged.
Onyia was optimistic that the centre would with time surpass the Kirikiri Lagos Centre, which has remained on top. He thanked the religious groups and non-governmental organisations for their commitment to the life-changing human capital development programme.
Also, Enugu State Controller of Prisons, Ndubuisi Ogbodo disclosed that the Enugu prison study centre had continued to make the service proud, having produced the best graduating students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels in 2015 and 2017, respectively.
NOUN Desk Officer, CSP Kelvin Iloafonsi thanked NOUN for making the programme tuition free for inmates, while applauding Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu for paying the fees of the inmates for the first two years.
Officer in-charge of female prison, Kirikiri, Lagos, Deputy Controller of Prisons, Lizzy Ekpendu, who said she would want to die as mother of prison admonished that being behind the bar is not the end of life.
Executive Director of one of the NGOs intervening in the sector, Blessing Isaac explained that they had started with spiritual outreach programme, before eventually adding the education component. “It was God who directed me to do this thing. We started with NECO and later added NOUN,” she said.
Meanwhile, no fewer than 129 inmates of the Enugu Maximum Security Prison will sit for the National Examination Council (NECO) November/December examination.
The Public Relations Officer, Mr. Chukwuemeka recently disclosed that the number was the highest since the inception of the prison centre for the examination.
He noted that inmates had been well tutored and prepared by best hands to put up good performance and surpass the 2017 performance.
Daily Sun gathered that 81 inmates in the centre performed excellently in the 2017 NECO having passed all their subjects with credit including English and Mathematics.
In Ebonyi, the State Controller of Prisons, Emilia Oputa, disclosed that no fewer than 40 inmates sat for last year’s senior secondary school certificate examination organised by NECO. “A primary and secondary school established by the state government with the teachers paid by the government which more than 40 inmates sat for NECO examination last year were graciously sponsored by the state government,” Oputa said.
Meanwhile, nation’s prison service recently won the 2018 United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Confucius Award for Literacy and Skills Development.
Director General of UNESCO, Ms Audrey Azoulay, who made the presentation in Paris, noted with satisfaction the uniqueness in enhancing the capacity of prisoners to access knowledge and skills for self-development.
A statement by the NPS spokesman, Francis Enobore, said the Controller General of Prisons, Ja’afaru Ahmed has promised to extend the opportunity to more prisoners across the country even as he appealed to well-meaning Nigerians and corporate bodies to assist ex-offenders who might not have completed their free studies before discharge and would be required to pay for continuation once out of the prison. Many indigent prisoners, he said, may be lost in the process and may return to crime.