After spending a day with inmates of the Ikoyi and Kirikiri prisons, Lagos, brings an account of what it is like to be serving life sentences and studying for university degrees behind the high walls of incarceration
He sat quietly at a corner of the study room. It was as if he didn’t care about every other thing that was happening around him. He held a text book close to his face and he was so engrossed in his reading as if his future depended on what was in the text. He devoted so much attention to the book that one would likely think he had an important exam the next day.
No, Tunwashe Kabiru didn’t have an exam to write the following day. He is first of all, an inmate of the Kirikiri Maximum Prison in Lagos sentenced to life imprisonment.
For many who may not have seen the inside of the high walls, it is likely to be a hellhole blazing with fire and fury. But for some of the inmates, this is where dreams begin to come true.But then, being a lifer doesn’t translate to hopelessness. To him, his hopes and aspiration is not worthless because he is expected to spend the rest of his life in jail. No. For Karibu, he would set out to achieve what he wants to achieve and no four walls of a prison would deter him!
Within the main prison yard, a stranger would immediately notice that very few of the inmates wear the accustomed blue uniforms. Our correspondent was quickly enlightened that this was because only few of them were actually convicted inmates. Most of them are awaiting trial.
On a wall inside the large, menacing main gate that seemed to warn outsiders to stay off, a board showed that out of the 1,100 inmates housed in the prison, more than 700 are awaiting trial, many of whom have no idea if their cases would ever go to trial or which decade their protracted trials would ever be concluded.
There are 57,121 inmates in 240 prison facilities across Nigeria. Out of this, 39,577 are awaiting trial inmates while 17,544 are convicted inmates.
But despite the uncertain circumstances in which these men have found themselves, some of them have continued to advance their education with a surprising doggedness. Karibu is one of them!
My degrees will never be useless– Lifer
While many of the awaiting trial inmates have simply refused to partake in the educational and vocational programmes within the prison (because they believe they have not been convicted and don’t see why they should take part in ‘convicts’ programmes’) inmates serving life sentences have simply immersed themselves in studies, gathering up as many university degrees as possible in the process.
For 11 years, 53-year-old Kabiru, was on death row, waiting to be hanged as ordered by the court. But in 2014, providence smiled upon him. While touring prisons in Lagos in 2013, a Lagos State Chief Judge commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.
Kabiru’s story is one that epitomises hope and faith in the face of hopelessness.
Even though any other person his position might be depressed, he held on to hope of freedom with doggedness and high spirits as if he already got a signed letter effecting his release.
“I have nothing to hide or be ashamed of. I am not the same person who entered this prison 13 years ago,” he told our correspondent.When our correspondent got to the prison, officials had mandated that inmates’ anonymity be ensured. But Kabiru had personally requested that his picture be taken along with his actual name.
Kabiru is almost six feet with no sign of wretchedness whatsoever. His blue shirt and blue trousers were especially clean. He wore a pair of white tennis shoes that had no single speck of dirt. One could have mistaken him for a millionaire, whom a wrong turn landed in prison. But 13 years ago, Kabiru was jobless with only a higher national diploma certificate, when he was convicted of murder.
“I am writing the final thesis for my Master’s Degree in Business Administration right now. I am writing on ‘Effect of Motivation on Employee Performance: A Case Study of LAWMA’,” he said.
Kabiru is one of the 68 prison inmates enrolled in the National Open University of Nigeria, in Lagos and one of the few who are lifers.
“By the next NOUN convocation, I would have an MSc at the end of my name,” he said with a glint of excitement in his eyes.
A NOUN education centre at the prison opened Kabiru to a world of possibility as education fuelled a new wave of hope in him.
He said, “I first started with a postgraduate study. I finished my PGD in Human Resource Management in 2014. I was still studying for the PGD when my death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
“I believe everything in life is about setting objectives. I believe one day I would leave this prison and I have decided that I don’t want to leave the way I came. I must be better.”“If I am lucky to be released from prison, I would continue with my PhD. If I am not released anytime soon, I would go ahead with my PhD here.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that Kabiru has come to be seen as a respected inmate, whom others within the prison yard look up to. He is also their general pastor, leading a church within the prison.
The encounter with him was warm as he spoke with a sage-like demeanour.
Nothing Kabiru said showed that he was concerned that getting a job might be a problem if he eventually leaves the prison considering his history.
Unfortunately, in the likelihood of being released, inmates like Kabiru would have to confront the spectre of the country’s frightening labour market.
A Federal Government’s most recent statistics puts Nigeria’s unemployment rate as 6.4 per cent, a figure many have dismissed as a mere political figure that does not reflect the grim reality. Outside sources like the International Monetary Fund, have put it at 23.9 per cent.
When our correspondent asked Kabiru how he felt about this, he said, “To approach people for jobs would be easy for me because I would tell everybody upfront that I have been to prison.
“I won’t bother about stigma because I don’t look down on myself. If I feel bad for myself, people will also feel bad for me.
“I would let people know why I am better than any other graduate out there with the same degree as mine. Prison experience has not only shaped my thinking and moral values but has taught me to appreciate everything in life.
“Those who study in the universities outside have the luxury of seeing their lecturers and sometimes even begging for favour. But we don’t have that luxury. We study our materials alone and pass with flying colours. Who do you think would be better?”
He prayed for parole for himself and other lifers, who have been duly reformed and rehabilitated, to ensure that acquiring university degree in prison is not a wasted effort. In addition to this, he believes that the efforts of the prison authorities who struggle daily to get them sponsorship and encourage them to study for the degrees should not be in vain.Kabiru explained that when he acquires his PhD, he would like to teach. He said he would prefer to teach at the basic level so that he could impart his knowledge in the younger generation. “If I get a job in a higher institution, I would be happy with that as well,” he said.
When our correspondent got to the prison and requested to see the education centre, it was with thoughts that the inmates might be sitting on the bare floor with crude infrastructure, sweating with voracious need to study hard.
But the kind of educational facility used by the inmates was one that would put many public universities in the country to shame.
Our correspondent chanced on a classroom full of inmates working on computers that still shone with the glint of newness. Even the furniture and the air-conditioners in the classrooms spoke of the magnanimity of the donors, whom the inmates and prison officials continue to thank.
Despite the odds stacked against any ex-convict with strings of degrees, who gets a release, education of inmates is as important to the society as law enforcement itself, experts have said.
According to the African Research Review, offenders released from prisons are confronted by different challenges that tend to be obstacles to a crime-free lifestyle, which is why the prison should serve as a centre of information rather than mere punishment.
“The primary task of prison education is to increase the chances of employment by ex-offenders and hence reduce recidivism (going back to the same crime),” former Nigerian Minister of Education, Iyorchia Ayu, once said.
Giving us parole will help other prisoners – 61-year-old lifer
For each inmate studying in the prison, one group or an individual is spending a lot of money that government cannot afford to take out of its treasury.
Sixty-one-year old Oladipupo Moshood is one of such inmates, who have benefitted from this magnanimity.
By September 1, 2015, Moshood would have spent 24 years in the Kirikiri Maximum Prison. Going by the court judgement handed him in 1991, he is likely to spend the rest of his life within those walls.
Moshood looked agile and could easily pass for someone in his early 40s. Garbed in his own version of the blue-blue, a Chelsea Football Club jersey, he smiled and nodded when our correspondent asked if he was indeed 61.
When he got into the prison, he was a secondary school certificate holder. Like Kabiru, he decided to enrol when a NOUN centre was established in the prison.
He also requested that his actual name be used along with his photograph, as he said he was thankful for the things he had learnt in prison and had no reason to hide.
The Oyo State-born inmate told our correspondent, “I already finished secondary school before I got to prison. I was processing my admission to the Lagos State University. But I had to put it on hold because I had so many dependants – my siblings who needed to go to school also.
“When I got to the prison, I had to start at the secondary school level again. Eight of us sat for General Certificate of Education at the time. I had six As and three Bs and enrolled in the open university immediately in 2008. Today, I am a Master’s student.”
Moshood is studying Peace and Conflict Resolution at NOUN.
Like Moshood, Kabiru also called on the state to grant them amnesty in order to encourage other inmates that good behaviour and getting education in prison is not all a waste.
“If we are granted parole it would really be a source of inspiration to other inmates to emulate good behaviour and enrol for studies too. It would be sad if others start making jest of us that all our certificates are useless since we are never getting out,” Kabiru said.
The Welfare Officer in charge of the Maximum Prison, Mr. Rasheed Ogundare, a Superintendent of Prison, explained that out of the 68 prison inmates enrolled for studies at the open university in Lagos, 46 are from the maximum prison.
“Each of these inmates is able to realise their educational aspiration as a result of the sponsorship by one individual or non-governmental organisation. Churches have been of tremendous help too. Most of the facilities you see in the classes were donated by NGOs, churches and individuals,” he said.
The Deputy Controller of Prisons in charge of the Kirikiri Maximum Prison, Mr. Oduntan Olukoya, explained that he had given himself a personal objective of increasing enrolment across the primary, secondary and university level of education which the prison has to offer as soon as possible.
Despite the challenges of inadequate facilities, instructional and writing materials, and blackout which limit the use of computers in the prison, Olukoya said education of the inmates is important to the society at large.
He said, “I believe that education can help eradicate evil in the society. This is also important for the smooth running of the yard. We want to encourage e-learning in the prison.
“But we cannot do this without the input of NGOs, churches and individuals, many of whom have been very helpful in sponsoring the education of these inmates.”
Data from other countries suggest that prisoner education is a vital part of their reformation, which society would gain from if invested in.
The US State of New York for instance, expends $5,000 (about N994,985 at N199 per dollar) per annum on inmates studying for university education. This is almost equal to the amount the Nigerian government spends on feeding each inmate in a year. According to the Legal Defence and Assistance Project, the Federal Government spends N3, 500 on feeding each prisoner daily.
‘Outside prison, I would be dead by now’
Each inmate our correspondent encountered in the prison yard in Lagos reiterated how much the education in prison had helped changed their mindset.
At the Kirikiri Medium Prison, one of Nigeria’s most congested prisons, our correspondent encountered inmates who came into the prison as stark illiterates and are currently studying for their Master’s degree.
In a prison of 2,590 out of which the awaiting trial inmates are 2,462 and despite the fact that the prison was supposed to house just 1,700; very few of the inmates have opted to educate themselves while in incarceration.
The few who have are very proud of their achievement.
One of such people, 31-year-old Joshua, is a 200 level student of Business Management at NOUN.
“I come from a place where going to primary school was just a formality. After primary school, most youths like me go into trading,” the inmate from eastern Nigeria said.
Joshua said before he ended up in prison for armed robbery in 2008, his business acumen was already sharpened.
“But it was when I got here that I realised that prison was a life saver for me. If I was not caught, I probably would have been killed in another armed robbery.He said, “I ended up with the wrong people. I had never been involved in armed robbery before. I was shot in the leg and caught the first time I participated with a gang of robbers and I found myself here.
“I became encouraged to study when I realised during church programmes here that I could not read the Bible like the others. A woman, who comes to minister to us in the church, encouraged me to learn.
“I realised I needed to improve myself if I did not want all my years here to be a waste. Before I got to prison, I could not even speak English. I was afraid of learning out there. When I got here, I realised that there was no one to make jest of me. There was no distraction or anything to make me feel ashamed.
“In 2011, I enrolled for GCE and we wrote the exam at the Ikoyi Prison. I got six credits at one sitting and got admission to NOUN. I have also got a certificate in Computer Education here.”
But studying in prison is never without its low points. Joshua told our correspondent he sometimes feels depressed whenever he goes to write exam outside the prison in handcuffs.
“But prison officials are doing their job. It is the price of committing a crime. I get it,” he said.
Joshua felt he needed to appreciate the prison officials who treated him like a good human being and not a criminal. He explained that he might not have been able to walk again because of the gunshot injury if not for the care he got in the prison.
In one of the classes in the Kirikiri Medium Prison, the shrill voice of an inmate with good English diction, rose above all others as he explained some Mathematical equations to some inmates on the blackboard.
Like others, the 29-year-old awaiting trial inmate, who pleaded anonymity, also has an inspiring story to tell even though he had only been in incarceration for just two months.
As he taught others, he sounded like a professional Mathematics teacher. But he said he studied Philosophy at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State.
“I knew nothing about Mathematics, but in the last two months, I have developed myself and now I can help others. I have not condemned myself. I console myself with the lives of those who leave prison to achieve something great in life. I believe I am headed in that direction,” he said.
“I pledge to Nigeria my country, to be faithful, loyal and honest…” the young men lined up in a column and recited. The assembly reciting this familiar Nigerian pledge could have passed for any other morning gathering in a public school in the country.
But one thing sets those on this assembly apart from any public school. They looked much older and they were not wearing uniforms. This is the Ikoyi Prisons, one of Nigeria’s most prominent prisons.
The time was 10am. A ringing hand bell seemed to let loose a group of inmates, who gradually streamed into a single block that served as classroom for inmates enrolled for educational studies in the prison.
The flurry and passion with which the inmates instantly went about cleaning, dusting and setting up the hall instantly suggested that these were men who were about to begin one of the most important daily business of their lives. For them, getting education within the walls of the prison is a big deal.
Cleaning was over in minutes. Few of the inmates available organised outside the block, prayed and sang the national anthem with the pledge. After a ‘pep’ talk from older inmates who teach the classes, the business of the day started.
While millions of students across the country go to school leisurely every day, these men are thankful for every second they spend in that block. They eagerly answered questions from the teachers in the front of their class and studied with equal avidness.
At the Ikoyi Prison, our correspondent was told that those serving life sentences were not so common. In fact, those who were already convicted were not common.
‘My 14 years in prison not a waste’
One of our correspondent’s first point of contact in the Ikoyi Prison yard was 39-year-old David.
Fourteen years ago when David was convicted, he was a 200 level university undergraduate studying Economics.
“I thought my life was over,” he said.
It took him few years to get over the psychological effect of finding himself in prison. Years later when he had reconciled himself with his situation, David decided to teach his co-inmates English and Economics.
He said he sometimes taught inmates as old as 40 years old who could neither read nor write.
“In 2012, I realised that I could also earn myself a degree here and enrolled in NOUN with the help of our principal. I am so happy at this period of my life because the 14 years I have spent here is not a waste,” he said.
David is studying Criminology and Security Studies and is said to be on a cumulative grade point average of 4.36.
He proudly informed our correspondent that he was currently writing his project on ‘Intensity and Control of Armed Robberies in Lagos State (2007-2015).’
Asked if he was concerned about getting a job with his certificate when he eventually leaves prison, David turned to our correspondent with a serious expression: “My contribution would speak for me. If I am discriminated against because of my prison history, I am not the one who loses; the society does because I have a lot to offer.”
At the Ikoyi Prison, 38-year-old Emmanuel Ajiobo, the prison’s overall pastor and ‘general overseer’ gladly volunteered his name and asked that his photograph be taken as he narrated his educational journey in incarceration.
Ajiobo, who got to the prison in 2004 said he hoped to leave and establish a church.
He acquired a Bachelor’s degree in Christian Theology, a feat he is obviously proud of.
He told our correspondent that outside prison, there was likelihood that he would never have become educated.