The Prisons Service deserves a pat for winning the Confucius Award

After a barrage of negative reports, Nigeria recorded a milestone on 7th September, when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) named the Nigerian Prisons Service the winner of the Confucius Award for Literary and Skills’ Development. The award came in recognition of the education programme for prisoners through the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). In a season when there seems to be nothing to celebrate in and about our country, we must commend the Nigerian Prisons Service for making us proud as a people.

If there is anything that the award has shown, it is that Nigeria actually has the capacity to excel if only the institutions would live up to their responsibilities. While presenting the award to the Prisons Service at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, Director-General of the UN organ, Ms Audrey Azoulay, expressed satisfaction with the uniqueness of Nigerian Prisons Service education programme, saying it has gone a long way in enhancing the capacity of prisoners for knowledge acquisition and development skills. According to its spokesman, Francis Enobore, the Service has dutifully raised 465 undergraduate inmates, 23 Masters degree students and two PhD students in 10 special study centres across the country. This is not a mean achievement.

We hope the award will also awaken the authorities to the crisis of the Nigerian prisons which lack the minimum facilities suitable for human habitation. Many of the prisons were built during the colonial era and since then no efforts have been made to renovate them. Consequently the worn-out facilities and infrastructure are unable to cater for the increasing population of prisoners. The result is outbreak of diseases in the prison environment. It is therefore no surprise that whereas the prison systems in most countries are meant to reform the prisoners, the Nigerian prisons system hardens them.

It is unfortunate that despite the high-level rhetoric on prison reforms by successive governments, no concrete actions have been taken to massively decongest our prisons and ameliorate the inhuman condition under which many prisoners live and even work. The main obstacle to the reforms is the gross over-population of the Nigerian prisons. According to many Amnesty International reports, about 70 per cent of the people in Nigerian prisons have never been convicted of any crime. What that suggests is that efforts to decongest our prisons or ameliorate the plight of inmates would come to naught without a complete overhaul of the country’s criminal justice system.

Therefore, the UNESCO award goes a long way in rekindling hopes that being sentenced to certain years of imprisonment does not necessarily mean the end of life for inmates. The idea of prison establishment was not to serve as a platform for the condemnation of deviants but rather for their rehabilitation and subsequent integration into the society for a more meaningful and productive living.

The Confucius Award for Literary and Skills Development prize was jointly initiated by both the UNESCO and Peoples Republic of China in 2007 with the aim of rewarding outstanding individuals, governments and non-governmental organisations that have been working for the promotion of adult literacy for rural dwellers and out-of-school young persons, notably women and girls. Proponents of the prize named it after Confucius, a Chinese educator, philosopher and one of the most famous historical and cultural figures. Components of the prize include a silver medal, a diploma, $20,000 monetary prize and a trip to the place of Confucius’ birth.

It is noteworthy that the Nigerian Prisons Service has promised to improve on their success in the areas of facilitating literary skills for inmates in the efforts to promote the reintegration of ex-convicts into the society. This is quite commendable.

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