Transforming Lives through Reading

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Ogundele (L), Esirim (R) and officers of Nigerian Prisons Service, during the commissioning of the library at Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison in Lagos…recently

Peace Obi writes that prison inmates are being transformed through reading books donated by the Zaccheus Onumba Dibiaezue Memorial Library to prisons in Lagos

The mention of prison to anyone will always pop up such notions like being a place of incarceration, a place where valuable time is lost by inmates, and where if it ever exists, the scope of inmates’ dreams and visions are either narrowed and loss of focus easily is possibly experienced. However, with the recent inauguration of three libraries in one single event by Zaccheus Onumba Dibiaezue Memorial Libraries, a non-governmental organization, the true meaning of prison being a reformation centre was reiterated. The testimonies of some prison inmates who use the library facility at Ikoyi Prisons, where the NGO had in 2013 commissioned a similar project for the use of the prison inmates as well as the staffers say it all.

And more fascinating, was the reactions from some of the inmates during the inauguration of the three libraries for the Lagos Prisons – Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison, Medium Security and Badagry Prisons. Their response to the NGO’s gesture to improve their intellectual capacity, gives one a picture of some prisoners who, though in incarceration, have a clear understanding of their vision in life. And for those ones, neither is their present circumstance enough to make them derail in their pursuit nor their place of abode or status big enough to becloud their mind towards achieving same.

In their reactions, one finds some common feature like tenacity, resilience of prisoners who will unconsciously read their minds out the bondage of thought, expanding their horizon, thus working out the freedom for their soul and mind while in incarceration. To them, though opportunity presents itself in different ways – their being in prison is simply an opportunity. And that the provision and equipment of a library by ZODML at the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison, presents to them an opportunity that must be grabbed with both hands.

In a speech delivered by the Chief Executive Officer, ZODML, Mrs. Ifeoma Esirim, during the recent inauguration of the libraries at the Kirikiri Maximum Prison, Lagos, she stressed the irreplaceable role of education in the lives of prison inmates. Esirim who noted that statistics have shown that for former prison inmates to be fully reintegrated into society, educational intervention plays a key role, said that the NGO’s Prison Libraries are meant to complement Nigerian Prisons Service’s effort at reforming the lives of the inmates.

Speaking on some of the important roles education play in the lives of prison inmates, Esirim said, “education helps to increase employability, reduce recidivism, and ensures a better quality of life. Our prison libraries are a space for reading and personal development. They provide prison inmates studying for external exams and on Open University courses with learning tools and resources from textbooks to make reference to. For those not studying, it has magazines and non-academic books to keep their minds active.”

Disclosing that the NGO was further inspired by the recorded impact of usage and testimonies by users, Esirim hinted, “we opened our first Prison Library at Ikoyi Correctional Centre in March 2013 and we are greatly encouraged by the impact it immediately had on its inmates. We went on to establish the three libraries we are commissioning today and our hope is that they will provide access to positive and constructive activities and support the inmates through their rehabilitation and on the road to a better future.”

Speaking further, Esirim noted that several reports had confirmed that half of the prison inmates were Awaiting Trial Inmates (ATI) who could spend more than four years before either being acquitted or otherwise. According to her, this period of time is enough for interested inmates to acquire some educational qualifications like West African Senior Certificate Examination or even a degree.

“When we visited this prison in the March 3, 2013, we noted that out of a total prison inmates of 1,250, that 777 were awaiting trial inmates. For those among them that may be acquitted, library will help them a lot so that their sojourn would not be a complete waste of time. For those convicted, a library provides an opportunity and resources to occupy their minds positively which will aid rehabilitation.”

Reading out some of the reactions from its Ikoyi library project along with the Kirikiri Medium Security Prison inmates, Esirim noted that the Ikoyi library has recorded a steady growth in interest and usage. Citing 2015 as an example, Esirim said, “the average number of library visits by inmates per month was 20 per cent and 312 materials including magazines, bestsellers, subject books were borrowed with a 10 per cent increase per month.”

Sieving through the recorded impact of the libraries on the inmates, presents what seemed like a meeting point between the NGO’s slogan ‘Turning the pages and changing lives’ with the Nigerian Prisons Service Motto: ‘Protect Society, Reform the Prisoner”, as Esirim read to the hearing of some inmates seated at the occasion. Reading the testimonies, the Esirim said, “May I request your indulgence to recount some testimonies from users. “From Joseph Akpan, Kirikiri Medium Security, “Thanks for putting a smile on the faces of inmates in Kirikiri Medium Security Prison by bringing in this wonderful library. I have always wanted to meet Nelson Mandela and though I could not, but reading about him from a book I got from the library has really inspired me.

“I hope to write here in prison and publish in the nearest future, books that will someday ‘minister’ to people around the world who haven’t met me before just like Mandela.”

Emmanuel Adekunle’s testimony reads, “The library is stocked with great inspirational books which have so much affected me positively within two weeks of registration. I have benefited from the books and magazines that I have read, such as ‘Reposition Yourself’ by T.D Jakes. I also learnt the principles of life which I believe would help me more when I am out, so also the book titled, “How Laziness Saved My Life” by Ofili Okechukwu.

Following the routine of appreciating the gesture, Emmanuel Adedoyin’s testimony reads, “I want to use this medium to appreciate the originator and those who have donated to the prison libraries, most especially the library in Kirikiri Medium Security Prison where I am. The books are so good that they made me to have a rethink about life and how to live upright to meet the standard of society.

“The books have opened my eyes to things I didn’t know or that I never believed I would know. It revealed some discoveries that were known to me. In fact, the library has been very helpful to me and many others.”
For Adewale Adeyemi, he said “Wow, it is amazing, right in this awful situation, I finally got a chance to talk less and occupy my mind with more books.

“The introduction of the library to me is wonderful, I feel so great that I have no other destination than the library now. The library has really impacted me with wisdom, and now I know more than I had known before. Check out ‘Ile Ife in the Hierarchy of Yoruba Race’, I never knew this much about my state of origin, until I read this book and I even at my leisure times read the books like “All alone in the world”, “A Little Bit Dead” and “Paralysed”. The bestsellers are amazing, each time I go through the shelves of books, I really wish I could take more than one. And at the moment, this book “Billion Dollar Bargain” is still keeping me busy and I am coming for more knowledge. Thanks for the library.”

Appreciating the library donations by the ZODML, the Controller General of Prisons, Dr. Peter Ezenwa Ekpendu, who was represented by the Deputy Controller General of Prisons, Mr. Emmanuel Ogundele in his welcome address noted that a library is the heart and lifeline of any citadel of acquiring knowledge. Stressing that the NPS engages inmates in educational and vocational trainings as part of its reformation processes, noting that the inmates have often excelled with good grades.

According to the Controller General, “It is on record that inmates through the various programmes of the service have availed themselves this great opportunity to develop.

Inmates have passed the WASCE and NECO exams while in prison, they have also attended the Prison Centre of the Open University of Nigeria and excelled with good grades. The provision of these libraries will therefore go a long way in enhancing inmates’ academic pursuits.”

Encouraging the NPS officers, men and inmates to make maximum use of the provision, he said, “You will be able to broaden your knowledge as knowledge gained through self-discovery tends to endure longer. I therefore implore you officers, men and inmates of the affected prisons to make maximum use of these libraries since there is no limit to education.

Ekpendu who commended the ZODML’s sustained effort in keeping the memory of Zaacheus Onumba Dibiaezue alive, said, “I want to commend the CEO and the Board of Trustee of ZODML for keeping Zaacheus Onumba Dibiaezue alive and for giving hope to the hopeless.

“Your choice of prisons as part of your projects is a demonstration of your commitment to the betterment of the less privileged. It is on record that similar project was commissioned in Ikoyi prison as far back as 2013. The Digital Learning Centre (DLC) established by you which focuses on raising awareness on the seminal role Information and Communication Technology (ICT) plays in our daily lives is also highly commendable. “May you continue to wax stronger in your service to humanity. The Nigerian Prisons Service will forever remain grateful, while we will look forward to more interventions from you and other NGOs, Ekpendu prayed.