The Committee for the Disabled (CODISA), a caring and charitable organisation in The Chapel of the Healing Cross, Idi-Araba, has been on a course for over four decades. The humanitarian organisation has been helping to integrate disabled and prison inmates in the society through several programmes. In this interview with Mary Ekah, Coordinator of Prison Ministry/Leader emeritus of CODISA, Mrs. Bamidele Awere, says government can help inmates in Nigerian prisons by improving the facilities
What is CODISA and how does it operate?
CODISA is an acronym for the Committee for the Disabled Chapel of the Healing Cross. We stand for the interest of the disabled. From the bible Jesus said: “When I was hungry, you gave me food; when I was thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was depressed, what did you do? When I was in prison, what did you do? So CODISA’s terms of reference are in that regard. The scope of CODISA is that we support the disabled persons through assisting them to develop their skills, empower and inspire them and as well as give them purpose in their daily living. We enhance the purpose to their lives. So, the bottom line is that we assist in strengthening them with some level of capacity to become more independent and useful to themselves and the society. Consequently, CODISA operates in 16 schools for the disabled and 15 homes for the disabled. We have all these in Lagos State alone. In terms of reference, we assist homes and units in public schools in their needs to enable them cater more efficiently to training the disabled. We identify their therapy and skills that meet individual growth of assisted persons to absorptive capacity and competences. We sometimes provide therapies or intervene in their training and also invite people to come and meet them in groups and then increase their capacity to function. We host an annual workshop to discuss an aspect of disability every year. We also host an annual ability day with the theme: “There is Ability in Disability”. At the event, they come outside their schools and homes to showcase their individual talent. We also hold thanks giving service at the Chapel of the Living Cross in October every year.
Can you throw more light on the relationship between church and humanitarian groups?
Actually, the church is a refuge for those who are able and also those who are disabled. Disability comes in many forms, but we pay more attention particularly to the mental and physically challenged. How did we come about this in the Chapel of the Living Cross? We believe that anybody who is disabled could be attended to in this chapel; that was the premise on which CODISA was founded. CODISA started in this church in 1984 and was made for disabled people. We get donations from chapel’s members to assist in our course so that we can meet the needs of the disabled. When you think of intervention in 15 homes and 16 schools, it is a big responsibility. But we are able to do that because we have the support of a lot of people, both in the chapel and outside the chapel.
What is the impact of your initiatives in these homes?
To God be the glory. Some of them have gone to school, some have graduated, some have masters and some have their trades. The whole essence is to enable them to live their life virtually like normal people. We help them to set up businesses and we rent homes for them. Sken Centre at Amowo Odofin was started by CODISA when Igbobi said those people should leave. CODISA rented a building at Maryland, where they started. But when the owner wanted the building back, the government gave Sken Center a piece of land at Amuwo Odofin, on which a disability-friendly building was erected by other donors. In so many ways, we have helped them and we keep helping them.
Do you have plans of taking CODISA to other parts of the country?
We have not taken it out of Lagos and as at this moment I don’t thing we are taking it out of Lagos. We don’t know what tomorrow may bring; God may inspire us to take it to other places. That is what I can say for now.
How are these projects funded?
We have categories of support. We have our members contributing and we have what we call the friends of CODISA also helping. The friends of CODISA are not members of this chapel, but they identify with our cause. There was one particular sponsor, who is a Catholic that we invited. He told us that he hasn’t seen this kind of help we are giving to disabled persons before and that it is something rare. He supports us very year. There are so many philanthropists and organizations that support us. This year, we must have spent above N20 million, which we generated from the group we call friends of CODISA only.
Do you have any international affiliation?
Presently, we don’t have.
What are the moves by CODISA to secure international donors?
Remember that we are a part of Chapel of the Living Cross with its own constitution and all that. We are currently working on how we can veer out from the confines of the Chapel of the Living Cross to other places. Once we are able to do that, we can get international donors. Another issue we are trying to look at is to get registered with the Lagos State Office of Disability Affairs. This we have already started and we have met with the director. We need to launch out to get this international support and we are working toward that.
What is the level of involvement in prison ministry?
Prison ministry is an arm of CODISA. But we started with the Anglican Communion, which has prison ministry. Every year, we hold prison ministry seminar to educate people working for the prisons. We visit them, we fellowship with them and we as well supply part of their needs. Now, we have advanced to sitting with the prisons’ heads. We obtain list of the prisoners from them and then the members of CODISA who are lawyers take up their cases. We have freed a number of suspects, who have been in prison for a very long time. We also help in paying the fines for bail of those who are arrested for wandering.
How many convicted persons have CODISA released?
We have spent a substantial amount of money and we have been assisted to secure releases. Ones we resolve the case of these inmates, we don’t take account of them. The people that we take account of are those people that are arrested for murder. Presently, there are about three people. The ministries’ intervention in terms of taking cases to court is just about ten years now.
What are the other things CODISA has done in prisons?
Every other thing that we have done is stated in our terms of reference. Apart from those ones, we rehabilitate prisoners, too, when they are released. We rent shops and places of residence for them. We send some of them back to their states of origin, so that they can meet their people. We help them to re-establish themselves. Some have come back to give thanks to God.
What are the challenges that you have faced, especially in the prison ministry?
One of the challenges that we face in the prisons is our inability to do more because we are hampered by the policies in the prisons. Another thing is that it takes a long time to get a release; some cases go on for years. Because we are committed, our lawyers keep going to court for such cases until they secure releases. Another problem is rehabilitation. If you release a prisoner, where do you release him or her to go? That is really a major problem because their families don’t come. There is stigmatization when you come out of prison and that is something we can’t help. There is congestion in all Nigerian prisons. If you have cause to go to Badagry Prisons you will weep for Nigeria; you will find more than 35 people in one room with two bunk beds. There are drugs problems too. We also have the problem of under age children in prisons. There is a case of a woman who gave birth in the prison; both the mother and child are in prison.
What do you think the judiciary system can do to resolve these problems?
One of our members said that there is no way we can withdraw these children. That is also one thing we are looking into. If they could be released to correctional homes while their mothers are in prison, that would be acceptable. But that is not an area of our core focus; so I don’t know how help will come. What would you expect from a child that started his life in the prison?
What can government do in this regard?
Government can take all those children out of prisons and government can improve the living conditions in the prisons. Government should give the courts specific time, maybe two to three months, to conclude the cases of all those awaiting trials. For example, at the female unit of Kirikiri prisons, we counted 217 awaiting trial inmates, the last time we visited. The judicial system in this country is too slow.
What are the preparations and activities lined up to celebrate this year?
In 2017, we aim to achieve greater height. The events for this year include seminar, ability day and the CODISA anniversary. The seminar will highlight the perspective of cheerful givers because we want to see what the care givers do experience and how we can help them. Thereafter, we will have the ability day, which will be held at the National Stadium on October 22. During the events, what we will showcase is the “Ability in Disability”.
How can donors reach you?
The donors can help the project by donating to the chapel account and by coming to the church and make pledges.