The prisoners in Borno State have found a friend that is hard to come by in the governor of the state, Alhaji Kashim Shettima who is regularly concerned about their welfare and pays them a visit, writes Michael Olugbode
They have been separated from the society they used to know. They are far away from their family and friends. They are living in bondage. They are locked behind the walls and given a new name and known by numbers; though they used to have separate names but now they are commonly addressed prisoners or convicts and allocated individual number and uniform. They are paying a prize. It is a prize for crime.
Prisoners across the globe are known for lonely life style. They are confined to keep them under perpetual watch. It is no different in Nigeria. They are believed to be an eye sore or better still an epidemic that should be avoided by many in the society. Many of their relatives do not want anything to do with them any more believing that they have soiled the name they have taken ages and generations to build.
Though the society believes they are segregating them for correction but the feelings they have shown towards them have only added to make them felt unloved and whenever they have the chance they unleash the hatred built inside on the society that have often time segregated them not to be “corrected” or disciplined, but rather punished physically and emotionally.
Prisoners do not see most people in the larger society as friends for they have been conditioned by the prison to feel hated and to make matters worse, they have socialized with one another and taken notes on what mistakes they made, for which they are caught and kept in shackles. In their little mind, they believe that they are better equipped to evade any future arrest that they often care little about as they mostly have no home or opportunities to return to and believe the prison is a home worth coming to at any given time.
Some of them have no visitors while they are in prison and they have lost hope on the society, but suddenly there is friend in sight. The prisoners in Borno State have someone who they can call a friend who does not enjoy any festival or big occasion without a visit to the prison, he is lucky enough to have a wife who has the same feeling for those kept behind bars. He is Kashim Shettima, the governor of the state.
When Shettima paid his usual visit during the last Eid-el-Fitri celebration he was greeted with a cacophony of voices that would be music to any great and humble mind, it was the type of music and praise singing that was not sang for him in the free society , but those in chains. They were proud of his friendship and the sound was as if it was conducted by a great conductor in a royal orchestra. They all yelled in unison: “Kashim Shettima the best Borno governor”, others re-echoed “Kashim Shettima the best governor in Nigeria”, some other chorused “Kashim Shettima the best governor in Africa.” The shouting were aided with the beating of their steel beds which acted as the drum and elevated the shouting from being a noise to pleasant sound or music and something that is pleasant to the soul of the Borno governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima and his aides on the entourage. The governor could not have been better appreciated especially as those shouting and beating the steel bed were holed up in a concrete wall of the Maiduguri Maximum Prison and were only close enough to the governor by measured distance but were peeping from the small windows.
But the satisfaction of the prisoners and their description of Governor Kashim Shettima is understood , because he has done a lot to keep them happy.
On May 29, 2012 he signed a warrant granting amnesty to over 40 inmates based on ill-health, extreme old age and those that have served substantial part of their prison sentence; he equally granted amnesty to two condemned criminals by commuting their death sentence to life imprisonment, one of the two beneficiary is Rebekah Alli. He released them based on the recommendation of the Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy.
Like Siamese twins that are inseparable, on May 29, 2012, the first lady, Hajia Nana Kashim Shettima visited the Maiduguri Maximum Prison and settled the fine of indigent inmates worth N400,000 thereby freeing over 40 inmates and in the same vein she distributed sewing machines, assorted food items, toiletries and undisclosed cash to female prisoners. She promised to convey their request for the renovation of their hostel that was seriously leaking along with some other dilapidated structures including the blocked borehole, to the governor for intervention.
It was after the visit of the First Lady that the governor directed his Special Adviser on Legal Matters to immediately liaise with the Prison authority and submit a quotation to government with the view to carrying out the repairs; the repairs even with the rainy season in session was completed within two weeks.
Shortly before the last Ramadan period, the governor gave 100 bags of rice and sugar to the inmates in preparation for the fasting. Those that were granted amnesty by the governor, he equally empowered with tools and money in order to be able to take up the trade they learnt while in prison so as to rehabilitate them easily back into the larger society.
The governor during last year Eid-el-Kabir festival, visited the prisoners at the Maiduguri Maximum Prison and slaughtered some rams for their festivities after he had donated cows, this was all in order to give them a sense of belonging on the festive day, also on this day he gave them an undisclosed amount of money. A little wonder the prisoners were glad to receive him during the last Eid-el-Fitri celebration in July, when he visited them to commiserate with them and celebrate the occasion with them. He gave the inmates two cows, 50 bags of rice, 100 cartons of spaghetti, 100 bags of Semivita, 25 jerrycans of cooking groundnut oils.
He urged them to pray for the peace of the state and the country, cautioning them to be of good behavior while in prison. He also encouraged them to learn skills, promising that his administration is ready to empower them after their prison terms so that they can be useful members of the society.
The governor was confronted with some problems from the Prison authority, which include that of those awaiting trial for long without knowing their faith, female convicts with kids in the prison and the review of the sentence of lifers to term of imprisonment.
This he responded to by stating that his administration recently appointed eight High Court judges and 10 magistrates with the view to expedite action on cases and decongest the prisons. He directed the S.A. Legal Matters to compile the list of the various complaints raised in the Prison, study and advise government with immediate effect on what could be done to alleviate the suffering of the inmates.
The prisoners could not ask for a better friend other than Governor Kashim Shettima, who does not only offer an heart and friendship but his powerful enough to initiate change, but what informed the governor action and good health towards these people that many in the society have given up hope on, Shettima’s Special Adviser on Legal Matters, Barrister Kaka Shehu Lawan answers: “He has sympathy for the less privileged members of the society, particularly those that were robbed of their freedom and are currently on awaiting trial and/or convicted but without the means to regain their freedom back to the society. He said this fit in into the policy trust of Shettima’s administration on youth empowerment and eradication of poverty.”