…When rehabilitation centre needs rehabilitation
By Saheed Ibrahim
Have you ever wondered why ex-inmates return to crime despite passing through correctional homes? I decided to investigate if the correctional facilities are also ‘correct’ for them to correct offenders effectively: it took eight months.
THE DRY WORKSHOP
For Security reason, let me not be too descriptive. Going through the two gates and the corridor that passes through the keeper’s office to the pillar before one turns to the side where the workshop is, the medium-sized workshop, built with bricks and net to allow ventilation, is there. The ‘off-white’ and the green colours give it a little bit of life to show that humans use it.
The shoemaking section is closer to an exit straight ahead, with the tailoring section down. The barbing section, with a stool, is just three steps away. The carpentry section has a table and a tool to hold planks when sawing. The electrical section is at a side with a table to put tools and items for repair.
One needs no prophet to declare that the workshop cannot cater for the vocational training of about 160 convicted inmates in there, let alone additional (about) 700 persons awaiting trial. It is not only ‘dry’; it is the direct opposite of what the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019 entails.
On July 31, 2019, the Nigerian Prisons Service changed its name to the Nigerian Correctional Service. The paradigm shift is purely nomenclatural as implementation cannot stimulate corrections in the Nigerian criminal justice system. One wonders where the billions of naira appropriated for the Correctional Service in the 2023 and past years went into.
OUR EXPERIENCES: FORMER INMATES
I tracked some former inmates who recently left the Olokuta Custodial Centre. Tunde Ayelabowo (not his real name) was sentenced for stealing and conspiracy. ‘It was a heist due to frustration,’ he claimed. Before his arrest, he was into tiling. He spent some years at ‘Olokuta’ before his release. He shared his experience at ‘Ile Nla’ (Big house) with The Hope.
“The workshop was dry when I was there. I could have learnt more about repairing and wiring if they had the tools and someone to teach, but there were none.
‘They train in carpentry, barbing, and I think shoemaking, but these are not the skills I want, and not all the needed equipment are available. But sometimes, churches or these NGOs can come to talk and train us,” Ayelabowo revealed.
His story was corroborated by another former inmate at the centre, who simply identified himself as Deji. A terrible fight got him to the big house.
“Workshop is free and not mandatory. Only a few people interested in any of the trainings would go. But when people like philanthropists came around to talk to us, they usually come with several items and gifts,” he explained.
The commercial driver said he was not interested in vocational training because the workshop was ‘dry’. “I was a driver before going there. Is it barbing, tailoring, or carpentry I want to learn? Even if I want to, it’s not the way they train there. Nothing is there, my brother. The best prayer is not to be sent there
“We do not have any warder to train us. Inmates usually train others, especially those who have the skills before coming to the centre. Sometimes, some ‘guys’ awaiting trial would come around.”
WHY REHABILITATION OF INMATES FAILS – WARDERS
Two servicemen at Olokuta Correctional Centre, with a plea to remain anonymous, also confirmed what Ayelabowo and Deji said. One of the officers (Let’s call him Dayo) has spent over a decade in the service, while the other (let’s call him Kunle) is nearing a decade.
Officer Dayo stressed that correctional centres are “not correct because right from the top (Headquarters), things are not correct.”
He bemoaned that the service has not recruited into specialised departments, such as those that will handle vocational training for inmates, in a very long time, lamenting that service officers who handle rehabilitation and reintegration of the inmates also need ‘rehabilitation’ as they are denied motivational incentives.
Officer Dayo complained bitterly about how staff members are treated. “There is someone in my department that has done promotional exams 5 times but no promotion yet. Imagine officers earning N38,000 monthly when a bag of rice is about N50,000.
“We must carry gun from morning till night but what do we have to show for it? We that are to rehabilitate the prisoners are not motivated in anyway. Imagine officers in level 10-13 cannot afford a car.”
He added, “We are supposed to get new uniforms and other resources every six months, but I have only received that twice in my over 10 years in service. All these are in the yearly budget but will not be given to officers.
He confirmed that most times, skilled inmates (and those awaiting trials) train others and there are no adequate skilled officers to supervise or manage the training process., “they recruit more people with ‘SABUKE’ (degree certificates) without considering those with vocational skills to enhance the effectiveness of the correctional centres.”
He added that funds sent from the headquarters to feed and cater for the inmates in each state are usually misappropriated before they get to the centres, stating that even drugs procured at the correctional centre cannot cater for the inmates’ drug needs.
Officer Dayo stressed that Olokuta correctional centre only relies on interventions from NGOs and other interventionists such as churches, mosques, schools, and groups for help. He revealed that the machine used to teach shoemaking has been taken away because the officer that brought it has removed it.
In his rating of the workshop, Officer Kunle declared, “it is zero. There are no tools. It is an open place with different sections. There are no equipment there. What functions a little bit there are tailoring, shoemaking, barbing, and carpentry.”
Kunle said while corrections officers handle tailoring and carpentry, two inmates, who had their personal workshops before their sentence, handle barbing and shoemaking as ‘Headmen’. A headman is the leader of a team of inmates working on a project or in a section.
The officer said vocational training is for any interested inmates. “Anyone not interested in the four vocations has none to do. He will just be there, except some NGOs or other philanthropists come around to teach them certain skills.”
RELIANCE ON NGOS, CHURCHES, OTHERS
The two officers revealed that NGOs, churches, schools, and philanthropists have been at the mercy of the inmates, procuring most of the tools used for training and providing items needed for ‘freedom’.
“If we have two people graduating from the tailoring department and an NGO comes around, the NGO can procure sewing machines for them, but if there is no NGO to sponsor the machines, nothing can be done,” Kunle revealed that one of the organisations, Anchor Heritage recently trained the inmates on paint making and also painted the centre. The training was published by some media outlets.
Officer Dayo corroborated that without external intervention, the rehabilitation of inmates will amount to almost zero within the facility.
When asked about the effectiveness of the correctional centres in Ondo State in rehabilitating inmates, the Controller of Corrections, Ondo State Command, Jude Agboje, said, “the government has been trying and I know they are still doing a lot to improve the situation through the service.”
“The Federal Government is trying on their own, but if we can get further assistance from other NGOs, religious bodies, and individuals, I know it will help.” the Controller’s appeal confirmed the status quo at the centre.
CONGESTION, STENCH AND INHUMANE LIVING CONDITION
The custodial home was built in mid eighties to accommodate 160 inmates but was expanded to accommodate 272 inmates after a jailbreak in 2013. There are currently over 840 inmates at the facility.
Aside from the fact that there are about 700 inmates awaiting trial, which amount to congestion as a result of terrible judicial system, further probe showed that the correctional centre is most times like a pen. As Officer Dayo explained, the centre is usually fumigated and cleaned of stench and dirt when there will be an inspection of the custodial home. ‘This is supposed to be done every three months,’ he noted.
When asked why the living condition of the inmates is terrible, Dayo said, “they must feel they are in prison. That is the essence and that is their punishment for breaking the law. “Correctional centres cannot correct you unless you choose to correct yourself.”
On hygiene, the centre stinks. “Cells and the yard are usually fumigated and made clean when any senior-ranking officer is coming for an inspection, and afterwards, it ends,” he said.
With her experience at the facility, juvenile home and Ondo correctional centre, Oluwatoyin Ajala, a Fellow of Female and More Social Impact Fellowship, doubted if the living conditions and facilities available will contribute to the rehabilitation of the inmates.
Ayelabowo and Deji described living condition while at the centre as nothing short of hell. Officers Dayo and Kunle did not have any counter information to this. Officer Kunle stressed, ‘the money for food, welfare and other things for both inmates and the staff is usually shared by the ‘ogas at the top’ before it gets down here.
Recall, a year after the 2019 Act to change prison Service to Correctional Centre, the House of Representatives mandated its Committee on Reformatory Institutions to investigate the Nigerian Correctional Service for spending N613.5 billion in 10 years without commensurate welfare of inmates. The Senate increased the daily feeding allowance for inmates from N450 per head to N1,000 daily and then-Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola said government spend over N1million annually to feed each inmate. In 2023, over N22 billion was earmarked to only feed inmates and several billions for the entire service.
The Hope consulted lawyers in the state for more insights. A legal practitioner within the jurisdiction, Ibukun Fasanmi, said he could not authoritatively say correctional centres are as vibrant as they used to be, and those who served at the centres confirmed that the percentage of those exposed to training is very low compared to the number of people at the facility.
Barrister A.V Ajayi said not all prisons have effective vocational training for inmates. According to him, “At Olokuta, I have not seen anything since I have been visiting there I have not seen them doing any vocational job.” He attributes the lack of vocational training to why inmates go back to crime after leaving the correctional homes because they were not properly rehabilitated.
Barrister Toun Mary Yinusa added, “the last time I went to the prison (Olokuta), I would say the environment is not good enough for prisoners, and I have realised over time that the prison is not well equipped for them to be properly rehabilitated”.
ONLY NDLEA HAS MORE DRUGS THAN PRISON
Just like the notorious drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar was trading drugs while in prison, drug use thrive within the centre. “Officers buy ‘weed’ cigarette and other items for inmates, especially those with money,” Ayelabowo revealed. When asked, Officer Dayo said, “the only place that has more drugs than prison is NDLEA office.” While he claimed he didn’t know how the drugs got to the centre, he went into chronicles of how officers have to survive the terrible working conditions they are subjected to.
“Are you saying drug-dealing in the prison is a like a means to survive for officers?” I asked. “Now you are getting my point,” he replied.
NOT ONLY AT OLOKUTA
The situation at Olokuta is a reflection of the realities at many correctional homes in Nigeria. Information from several centres across Nigeria also confirmed that many custodial homes across the country wear the Olokuta look. A renowned lawyer and founder of Hope Behind Bars Africa, Oluwafunke Adeoye, said, “although they are theoretically designed to be correctional in nature given the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act/Laws and the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019, however, in reality, correctional centres in Nigeria have a long way to go in being correctional.”
For example, Ayo Taiwo (not his real name) spent a month and two weeks Keffi Correctional Centre for negligence of duty. He described the place as “hell”.
The consultant for Cornell University Centre on Death Penalty Worldwide said only a few custodial centres in Nigeria have functional in-house vocational and educational support for inmates, adding that congestion and the awaiting trial menace at the centres make rehabilitation a herculean task.
She also identified inadequate funding, lack of an enabling environment, poor management, inadequate facilities, feeding and healthcare services, exposure of inmates to crime within the centres, lack of proper implementation of non-custodial measures, corruption and mismanagement of funds, stigmatisation and lack of post-release support for ex-inmates as factors affecting the effectiveness of correctional centres in Nigeria.
Also, the Executive Director of Inmates Educational Foundation, Mahfuz Alabidun, confirmed that his experience at correctional facilities in several states underscores the need for facility upgrades and more educational opportunities for the inmates.
While saying many of the inmates are either uneducated or school dropouts, Alabidun said more educational opportunities will aid inmates’ rehabilitation.
Stressing the need to decongest correctional homes, the education specialist said that the correctional service system in Nigeria has failed to properly rehabilitate inmates, attributing such failure to a lack of proper coordination and utilisation of resources.
“Government always claimed much money has been spent on correctional centres but realities at the centres show otherwise,” the Mandela Washington Fellow said.
THERE ARE SILVER LININGS
There are some good news. Officer Kunle revealed that The National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) visited the correctional centre to expand study opportunities to the inmates. He claimed the Redeemed Church is facilitating education opportunities for the inmates. A look at the website of NOUN, shows a story titled, ‘Akure centre takes advocacy to Olokuta Correctional Centre”, published on September 4 2023.
Some of the inmates did ‘freedom’ (graduation ceremony for trainees) and some also write external examinations, although most of these are sponsored by interventionists. The officers said the Welfare department does visit former inmates to check how they are faring with their respective businesses. Lawyers also confirmed that some inmates now write exams and are exposed to seminars and training programs a few months before their departure from the ‘Big House’.
Beyond Olokuta, Taiwo started a degree program with the National Open University at Keffi Correctional Centre, and now has a degree in Criminology and Security Studies.
“Though I was there for just a short period, it was hell. Thank God for the opportunity to study. The study also gave me an opportunity to also enjoy a bit of freedom such as movement. Yet I wonder what others who have been there and are still there are going through,” Taiwo told The Hope.
Maybe the Correctional Service and the various custodial centres will be rehabilitated under the new Minister of Interior, Bunmi-Tunji Ojo, who has promised to revamp the system.
FOR BETTER REHABILITATION PROCESS
The Founder of Hope Behind Bars Africa said, “although they are theoretically designed to be correctional in nature given the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act/Laws and the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019, however, in reality, correctional centres in Nigeria have a long way to go in being correctional.”
Adeoye believed that adequate funding, Integration of vocational training and qualitative educational programs within correctional centres, support services for ex-offenders and increased public sensitisation against stigmatisation of inmates would aid in easy rehabilitation.
The Waislitz Global Citizens’ Choice award winner added the activation of a non-custodial fund established under section 44 of the NCSA 2019 that will allow NGOs, organisations and private individuals to contribute to the efforts of the government towards the rehabilitation of inmates and also expand the use of non-custodial measures outlined under the ACJA/ACJL and NCSA 2019, which are effective alternatives to incarceration for the rehabilitation of inmates.
The Acumen West Africa Fellow noted that it has become the duty of both federal and state Governments to ensure correctional centres are effectively managed for the effective discharge of their responsibilities.
The Executive Director of Inmates Education Foundation, Alabidun, recommended the provision of educational, vocational, and recreational opportunities for inmates, stressing that educational opportunities for inmates are key to their rehabilitation.
While saying Nigeria has one of the best correctional service policies in the world but very poor in terms of implementation, the Mandela Washington Fellow suggested that the government needs to collaborate with organisations or have a committee that monitors the implementation of policy setting up correctional service in the country, ensuring resource allocations are properly utilised.
He added that organisations, companies, NGOs, and CSOs should support correctional centres and inmates’ rehabilitation rather than sponsoring events that are of no tangible benefit to society.
Legal practitioners also suggested that the government should properly fund and equip all the correctional homes with vocational training facilities, upgrade the facilities, introduce farming, provide recreational activities, and invest in the education of the inmates, especially with the National Open University, to provide study opportunities to those interested. They added that officers at each facility should be engaged to make recommendations on best practices within each facility.
Renowned human rights lawyer Femi Falana, a few days ago, urged the Minister of Interior, Tunji-Ojo, to spend the N500 million earmarked for the payment of fines for those awaiting trial across the country’s correctional centres on their welfare of inmates while alternative de-congestion policies should be considered.
He suggested that President Bola Tinubu and the various state Governors can exercise their prerogative of mercy by granting pardon to the 4,000 convicts on the grounds of impecuniosity to facilitate their immediate release from the custodial centres, as done during the VOCID-19 outbreak.
As at the time this report was filed, Olokuta exists as a prison and the rehabilitation centre needs rehabilitation.