Nobody looks forward to going to prison! But I looked forward to the trip to the Kirikiri Medium Security Prison, Apapa, Lagos that bright Wednesday morning.
As a member of the Penal Reform Media Network (PERMNET), the media component of the Prison Reform Project, I went with my colleagues to look at the state of the prison.
The day was Ash Wednesday so it was no surprise seeing inmates of the prison singing praise and worship songs. We joined the inmates at the Freedom Hall and were amazed at the atmosphere of conviviality among the inmates. They not only sang sonorous songs but also beat the drums in joyous ecstasy! A colleague whispered to me: “He be like say prison sweet o.”
At the barbers’ shop, our first port of call, where the inmates teach fellow inmates the fine art of removing hair from the head, I was struck by this poster on the wall: “Make room for a believer on earth like the spiritual gift.” It made no sense to me, so I asked an inmate what brought him to prison.
“Unlawful carnal”, was his prompt reply. “Did you do it?” I asked. He gave me a look reserved for an unwanted guest. He then said something to the effect that, he had to plead guilty to save himself the trauma of a prolonged trial.
The barber’s shop could do with a coat of fresh paint. The clippers were few and I could swear that I didn’t see any functional sterilizer. I made a mental note that I could donate clippers to the prison in the near future.
On the field were an army of inmates, close to a thousand. Ninety per cent of them were awaiting trial. But for the presence of prison officials, a chill could have crawled up my spine at the sheer number. I then remembered the notice we saw at the entrance of the prison: Capacity, 1,700; Awaiting Trial Persons 2,627; Convicted inmates 424. In a prison with a capacity for 1,700 inmates, the total number of inmates on that Ash Wednesday was 3,051!
Our next stop was the shoe-making shop where inmates are trained to be cobblers. Again, the facilities could do with a facelift. We went to the tailoring workshop where the inmates were taking a rest. The weather was hot and as usual, the power holding company held power!
At the Computer Training Centre, which also doubles as the library, I could only count two computers. Skill acquisition was also going on in this centre.
The visitors were fascinated by the activities at the Education Training Centre. Adult Literacy classes were going on and the instructor, who is a volunteer, was teaching multiplication of decimals.
The Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Prison Service, Mr. Francis Enobore, who organised the visit, in partnership with the Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), told us that some of the inmates were preparing for their GCE. He added that there are prisoners who had graduated with Master’s degrees.
The Controller of the Prison, Lagos State Command, Mr. Olumide Tinuoye and the officer in charge of the Prison, Oluwaniyi Emmanuel, who took us round, said in spite of the challenges, they are coping well. They said as a result of the way they handle the prisoners, they hardly have prisoners returning to the prison after discharge.
We knew our visit would be incomplete without a visit to the female section of the prison. As we entered, I couldn’t help but notice the inscriptions on the wall.
The first: “I can be changed by what happens to me but I refuse to be reduced by it.”-Maya Angelou.
The second: “Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbours and let each New Year find you a better man.”-Benjamin Franklin.
Unlike the male section, this section wasn’t really as overcrowded as the male section.
Everywhere was neat and looked inviting.
The capacity of inmates is 211 but there were 272 inmates when we visited. Out of this number, 208 were awaiting trial inmates.
Even the air we breathed in the female section was different. I joked with the PRO that there was discrimination against male prisoners!
At the hairdressing salon, we were introduced to a beautiful prison official who teaches the inmates the tricks of the trade. She said the salon could do with more space, dryers and sterilising machines.
At the Amazing Grace Assembly, the beautiful inmates with chubby cheeks entertained us with gospel songs. The lead singer an ebony black lady made a lasting impression on us. One of the journalists was overheard saying she would be a musical hit someday in future.
Like the male prison, they, too, have an educational centre and skill acquisition centre where inmates are trained how to make beads.
A middle-aged woman captured our attention with her Queen’s English. We were all enthralled when she spoke. Nobody was surprised when she told us she has a first degree in Business Administration and a certificate in Hotel and Catering Management.
She learnt to make beads in the prison and has begun to teach others.
One question agitating everybody’s mind was what brought her to prison. Since my colleagues were too ‘nice’ to ask, I decided to break the ice. “Drugs”, she responded calmly. We exchanged knowing looks. The lady, who became a prisoner in 2014, is looking forward to going home next year and plans to be exporting the beads to the US.
Our next port of call was the Crèche. As soon as the babies saw the unwanted visitors, they let out screams. We knew when we were not wanted.
How come prisoners have babies, we wanted to know. The women, we were told, had been pregnant at the time of their conviction. The prison has a system where new inmates undergo a pregnancy test before they are admitted.
We were taken to their hostel which was very neat. Obviously, their spirit was high. They told us they were happy and looking to freedom day.
One of the highlights of our visit was the news bulletin read by Madam Must Go. She was very popular among the inmates. She read the news from “Kirikiri University of Correction. We want amnesty and release.” She ended her bulletin thus: “If you know the month of March is to match out of prison, shout Hallelujah!” The thunderous applause that followed nearly blew off the roof!
As we walked out of the prison gate, the song of the inmates was echoing in my ears: “You are worthy to be praised! You are there for me o lord!”
Source: The Punch