OpinionOPINION: Goldmine In Nigeria Correctional Centres

OPINION: Goldmine In Nigeria Correctional Centres


March 15, (THEWILL) – Like play, like play, I have also joined the league of people who discovered things. So, Mungo park discovered the course of River Niger, Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity, Michael Faraday discovered benzene and Grace Anderson discovered a goldmine in a correctional facility. Hmmm! The ministry is finally moving to the permanent site.

Of all the places on earth, it was at the correctional centre, Uyo, that I discovered a massive goldmine, but how did I even get to the correctional centre to discover a goldmine? Perhaps, you may be wondering how.

It was Comrade Grace Udoma, who invited me to the centre. Not that she was a prisoner or a staff there. She used her office as the Chairman of the Atlantic FM Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists to mobilise her members to go show love to inmates there. I was just on my own when she insisted that I should accompany them to the centre. I came up with my objections, but Comrade Udoma isn’t the type that takes no for an answer and that was the genesis of how I discovered the goldmine.

The day in question was the 14th day of February, 2023. As is the norm the world over, that particular day is regarded as Valentine’s day. Valentine’s day is otherwise regarded as lovers’ day. Historically, there is a narrative that says that Valentine was a priest, who served during the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II ruled over Rome then and he decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, so he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

In this part of the globe, people often do things that are uncalled for to commemorate the day. It is a common sight to see young ladies fighting themselves over a man on Valentine’s day. It is also a common sight to see single ladies hanging around people’s husbands like pins on a magnet. Many homes have been scattered due to romance gone wrong on Valentine’s day. On the contrary, Comrade Udoma and her chapel members chose that particular day to do something unprecedented, they decided to touch the lives of the inmates there, by showing them love.

By 9 am, we were at the premises. We were subsequently addressed by the Assistant Controller of Corrections, Nigerian Correctional Service, Akwa Ibom State Command, ACC E. J Ogueri, he expressed his delight about our visit and invited us into the centre to see things for ourselves.

Folks, inside the correctional centre, I observed that it was another world entirely. I saw prisoners dancing and gyrating. I saw hardened unremorseful criminals and I also saw the innocent amongst them. My hunch kept signalling to me that some people there were actually innocent. Theirs was the case of Joseph, seeing his undies in the hands of his Oga’s wife, but not being able to explain how the underwear got to her. Folks, it was a day of sightseeing. I even saw babies inside the prison. They were all enjoying the moment. The young men there were trying to create fun and entertainment. They recreated their own version of “I wanna flex”. The moment was like a heaven-on-earth kind of a thing. I was nodding my head and responding to the rhythm of the music. There and then, I discovered the gold mine. The goldmine I saw was in the inmates. I saw the human capacity and enthusiasm in them as a goldmine.

See the way the inmates were displaying raw talents. Some of them could do exploits in the entertainment industry if given the opportunity. I saw a handful of energetic youths amongst them. These ones had prison terms to serve. Most of them were a product of a dysfunctional system. Believe me, if they were previously in a functional society, 80% of them wouldn’t be there. Some were actually there due to peer group influence. Others were there due to one societal menace or the other. So, after serving their prison terms, what next? Then the answer was forthcoming. One or two cottage industries could spring up from the correctional centre. It then dawned on me that Nigeria is still importing so many things from China. The other day, I saw an imported wooden spoon. What is a wooden spoon that the inmates cannot produce? It is certainly not a high-tech thing. Besides, the raw materials are readily available. The inmates can produce it and from there, a trust fund could be opened for them to save a percentage of the money gotten from proceeds from the sales. The savings could eventually be used by them when they finally leave the prison to start a business instead of going back to society to become a nuisance. As I said, the goldmine I saw there was massive. Given the right training, these prisoners could do exploits. How about Uyo prisoners producing apps, software and even android devices?

Some of those inmates were actually hackers and internet fraudsters, but they could be transformed into information technology professionals if little more attention is given to them. Folks, when people are in confinement, that is when the inspiration to do exploits flow.

Apostle Paul was inspired to write some books of the bible while he was incarcerated, even Joseph was busy solving problems while in prison, some of those inmates you see there are intellectual giants, but as I said, they were also a product of a failed system. Another thought quickly flashed through my mind. Wig-making by the inmates was another option, with proper training, these people could produce wigs and closures for export. If we do more exports, believe me, the value of the Nigerian naira will appreciate.

What about shoe making, with proper training, these inmates could produce shoes for export too. Imagine foreigners queuing up to buy made-in-Nigerian shoes, that would be a plus. The idea of a garment factory also came to my mind. I saw inmates being trained professionally to sew ready-made wear from prison. I mean wears with designer labels. As the thoughts kept flashing through my mind, the chaplain of the centre announced that the female officers of the centre were about to play a football match with the female inmates. Chai! I followed them back to back. They were even playing soccer inside the prison. Comrade Udoma was given the opportunity to do the official kick-off of the exercise. Off she went. With a kick from her, the ball flew into the air. She was not kicking as a novice. She was kicking as a professional. This Comrade must be a woman of many parts. So, with the official kick-off from Comrade Udoma, the idea of a football academy within the facility came to bear. With proper training, the inmates could beat all those international football clubs that people brag about. You see those inmates, they will so dribble their opponents because they already, have the stamina to do so, just a little orientation, intentional training and encouragement can do the magic.

How about foreigners doing subscriptions to watch the Akwa Ibom league or something similar? It will surely be a plus for the state. But can a prisoner today become a soccer star tomorrow? The answer is yes. We have had cases of people coming out of prison to rule their world. Didn’t former President Olusegun Obasanjo leave prison in 1998 to become President in 1999? Did the heavens fall? The answer is no. Meaning that prisoners can also shine. At that point in time, I began to appreciate the brain behind the change of name from the Nigerian Prison to the Correctional Centre. The term, ‘Prison’ was hard, it portrayed that everyone in prison must have been a criminal, but that is very far from the truth. Those babies I sighted there could not have been criminals. They were just suffering from crimes committed by their mothers, while they were in the womb. Besides, nobody is imprisonable I have seen politicians, lawyers, doctors and all manner of elites being imprisoned. I have also seen the lowly and those who have no one to speak on their behalf also going to prison too. The term, “Correctional’ is more dignifying and apt.

Having discovered this goldmine, I now officially drop it in this corner for the Government, public-spirited individuals, NGOs, Senators, House of Representative members, house of assembly members and others, to go and mine. When they start cashing out the redesigned new naira notes or dollars from the mine, will they even remember the discoverer in their kingdom? For now, I can’t say.

Written by Grace Anderson.

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