Students reading at the Library section of the Ikoyi Prisons Knowledge Centre
To help them learn within the walls of the prison yard, a charity recently donated a knowledge centre to the inmates at Ikoyi prison, writes Funmi Ogundare
With each computer equipped with more than 500 e-books, the Bible and Quran, Microsoft Office suite, games like chess and scrabble, dictionaries and encyclopaedias, the new knowledge centre at Ikoyi prison will surely help inmates have unhindered access to information.
Zaccheus Onumba Dibiaezue Memorial Libraries (ZODML), a not-for- profit organisation with the objective of providing free access to information through learning, is consolidating on the foundation laid by the Muharam Sisters Foundation Education centre by donating a well equipped e-library to Ikoyi Prison.
Speaking at the inauguration of the centre, the Project Facilitator, Mrs. Lilian Esiri said her NGO aligns itself with the philosophy of Nigerian Prisons and Correctional Service (NPCS) which believes that ‘treatment and rehabilitation of offenders can be achieved through carefully designed and well articulated administrative, reformative and rehabilitative programs aimed at inculcating discipline respect for law and order and regard for the dignity of honest labour’, adding that it is also committed to channelling some of its resources to help with this realisation.
According to her, “The motto of the Nigerian Prisons and Correctional Service (NPCS) is to ‘protect society, reform the prisoner.’ This motto points to two important reasons why prisons exist; society has to be kept safe from those that would cause harm, and prisoners must leave the confines of prisons rehabilitated so that they can contribute meaningfully to their communities.”
She expressed regret about the devastating impact of imprisonment, while citing a paper titled ‘Nigerian Prisons Reform: Matters Arising written by Professor Nnamdi Aduba of the University of Jos, that less than four per cent of prisoners are females, 80 per cent of those convicted serve short-term sentences of less than two years, 33 per cent of convicted prisoners are sentenced for stealing without violence and 60 percent of all prisoners are awaiting trial.
“If these statistics are correct it means the vast majority of prisoners are men and very likely in a good number of cases to be the family breadwinner. The loss to the family of the income of that breadwinner is aggravated by the additional expenses that arise from legal fees and having to provide food and medicines for the prisoner. Also in a judicial system that presumes all to be innocent in the first instant to have 60 percent of prisoners awaiting trial is little short of a catastrophe,” she said.
On the cost of the project, Esiri said the organisation spent about N4 million, adding that it had to reach out to members of the public to donate the books and computers.
“We intend to collaborate with stakeholders in the public so that we can have it in other prisons too. We would also be coming every quarter to check whether the centre is put to good use,” he stated.
The Chief Registrar of Lagos State High Court, Mr. Ganiyu Safari enjoined the inmates to utilise the computers fully and develop their minds by reading, so that they can have opportunity to sit for public examinations such as Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSSCE) and Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and become better citizens in the society.
The Principal of Muharam Sisters Foundation Education Centre, Mr. Ayodele Obarewo, while fielding questions from journalist said the centre is opened to interested inmates who are ready to study, adding that there are teachers with the knowledge of the subject areas who can teach them.
“We have 20 students and they come in to study batch by batch.”
He however disclosed that 43 inmates whose cases will soon be determined by the court would be allowed to sit for this year’s UTME by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Examination (JAMB).
“If they pass the exams, they would be allowed to go to National Open University (NOUN), also situated in the Ikoyi prison,” he said.
To complement the efforts aimed at reforming the prisoners, Since 2005, JAMB has been conducting its examination in Ikoyi and Kaduna prisons and for those who do very well in their examinations many non-governmental organisations have paid their fees in the past.
While thanking the foundation for the gesture, he noted that inmates of the centre has recorded success in past examinations, but expressed regret about the slow justice system in the country, which had kept some of them in the prison for more than 10 years.
To this Obarewo said,“We will continue to support. We are genuinely rehabilitating them but accepting them in the society is the challenge. Government has made a lot of effort, but ex-convicts are not given a place for white collar jobs or even in politics.”