The article on page 7 of the Christian Voice newspaper, edition of Sunday 15-21 with the caption: “State of Prisons in Nigeria and impact on our children”, written by Nma Olebara (Mrs.) on her regular column, “Family Affair”, provoked this article as a follow up. In fact, she deserves a special commendation for her concern over the poor state of an institution which, though plays a vital role in national security, but is rarely accorded the recognition as such by many Nigerians including our leaders.
Her beautiful article threw up a number of issues which I would like to shed more light on from a vantage position to enable her and others, who share the same feelings understand the enormity of the problems facing Prisons and Prison Administration in Nigeria.
First, the problems of prisons in Nigeria cannot be discussed without mentioning crime because the later gave rise to the need of the former. Crime is one of the earliest problems of mankind which started with humanity and can only end with the end of all human beings on earth. That is, when we have all died, and the earth becomes void and empty. In the Bible for instance, the first murder case was recoded when Cain killed his younger, Abel, due to petty jealousy (Gen 1:3-8). Again, the brothers of Joseph were said to have conspired and sold the innocent chap into slavery but lied to their old father that his beloved son was killed by a wild animal (Gen 37:25-28). A pretty damsel called Tamar was raped by Amon, her half brother. In retaliation, Absolom (Tarmar’s brother), killed Amon (2 Sam 13:1-29).
Crime, according to the definition in the oxford advanced Learner’s Dictionary, is an offence for which there is serious punishment by law. But then, the interpretation of the law in a given crime depends on the integrity of the judge or magistrate who also prescribes punishment accordingly. In Nigeria, the handling of some criminal cases in our law courts leaves much to be desired. There have been instances where some so-called “highly placed” persons who have committed serious crimes which deserve stiff punishment are either made to serve very short period of jail terms not commensurate with offences committed or allowed to go free. Sometimes, they are made to pay fines out of money looted from public funds or forfeit few landed property acquired as ill-gotten wealth. But when it involves an ordinary man, the full weight of the law would be brought to bear on the individual. In most cases, stringent bail conditions beyond what the person can afford are imposed.
This disparity in the dispensation of justice which have become common knowledge, has given rise to the upsurge in various criminal activities in the country such as: embezzlement of public funds set aside for specific projects, inflation of amounts of money provided for contract jobs, stealing of public property, arson, importation and manufacturing of fake drugs and package food, kidnapping, arm robbery, ritual killing, crude oil theft etc. Whether the perpetrators of any of the above are apprehended or not, crimes have been committed.
One point that remains incontrovertible is that the perpetrators of these crimes cut across all strata of human society. The rich and poor, educated and illiterates, leaders and ordinary men, are all guilty of this social malaise. Unfortunately, the issue has been politicized. Nigeria now appears to be a country where ill-gotten wealth is celebrated.
Those behind it are regarded as heroes. They are given titles and specially honored by our traditional rulers, religious organizations as well as institutions of higher learning. A good number of Nigerians are known to be living far above their legitimate incomes judging by the kind of their lifestyles and properties acquired, but none have been confronted to account for such ill-gotten wealth. The activities of some government agencies established to fight crimes are published in most cases just to create the impression that something serious is being done about crimes when a lot of it committed within the nose are swept under the carpet. All this is an indication of the collapse of our value system where the society now places emphasis on material acquisition not minding the source or means of acquiring them.
Ironically, these criminals are among us. They live, dine, and wine with us. They could be our children, parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunties, teachers, students, friends, in-laws, bosses in the offices etc. Since we are surrounded by such a large number of criminals, we cannot sleep with two eyes closed. No safe place to hide.
In view of the seriousness of the problem, all hands must be on deck in fashioning out an effective security network involving all stakeholders. The system would be different from the present arrangement where more attention is focused mainly on detection, arrests and prosecution of crimes. It has now become obvious that we cannot rely only on these to achieve the needed solution to the war against criminals in our society. While efforts should be stepped up in creating more job opportunities for the teeming jobless youth as a means of reducing their indulgence in criminal activities, it is very necessary that attention should equally be given to Prison which is the last bus-stop for criminals and therefore bears the brunt of the whole problems.
Prison institutions in Nigeria have over the years suffered abject neglect by the society and successive governments. This is traceable to erroneous public perception of the institution as a place where criminals are dumped. Perhaps, this is why ex-convicts from poor background suffer stigmatization. Those who have completed their jail terms are rejected in the society and denied employment opportunities. This has been a major challenge to Prison Administration as these ex-convicts soon found their way back into the prison shortly after they have been discharged.
It is important to state here that not all persons in the custody of Prisons are actually guilty of offences for which they are charged and held. A good number are remanded just to allow for investigations into the charges preferred against them. Records abound to show that some inmates have been discharged and acquitted for lack of evidence or inability of the prosecution to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt before a judge or magistrate. Available records show that over 65 percent of Prison inmates in Nigeria are on awaiting trial list.
The major problem facing Prison Administration is therefore the large number of inmates which has overstretched available infrastructures and manpower in our Prisons. Yet, the number is on the increase almost on a daily basis. As a short term measure towards addressing the problem of congestion in Prisons, the authorities embarked on the construction of more cell buildings in existing Prisons to provide enough accommodation for inmates in their custody. This approach which appeared helpful initially soon gave rise to another problem of its kind. Since a typical Prison yard is a piece of land bounded by walls on all sides, the construction of more cell buildings reduced spaces meant for other essential facilities such as clinics, sewage disposal pits and recreational activities.
The number of inmates accommodated in such Prisons thus increased with attendant pressure on the available space, staff strength, medical personnel and facilities, water supply and other essential services. Under such crowded condition, the inmates can never value and accept the services rendered by the Prison officials as the highest possible giving the circumstances around them. Take for instance Owerri Prison which was established a long time ago with a capacity of 500 but now has over 18000 inmates in its custody. The number is likely to be higher with time as more people are sentenced especially during this political era than discharged. With a given area of land which cannot be easily expanded without causing much harm to adjoining properties coupled with limited infrastructures and manpower, it is becoming increasingly problematic to cope with the demands of the inmates which obviously cannot be met.
To be contd
Mr. Theo. Onyema Nwoha Ejiofor writes from Owerri
The Data of Forgiveness
The most important ingredient in today’s media economy is data. The amount of data available determines how much and how long we can work or play on the internet. Currently, many of the service providers offer unlimited data plans but we know that those “unlimited” plans are not always unlimited. Sometimes, your download speed can get slowed down when you cross a certain point. Today, however, Jesus gives us the divine model of an unlimited plan. It is the unlimited bundle of compassion and forgiveness which never gets slowed downed shut down for maintenance. The theme for this week is that we must learn to forgive without limits no matter the injury committed against us.
In Matthew’s Gospel, today’s teaching on unlimited forgiveness comes after Jesus had told his disciples the parable of the wandering sheep, so it is plausible that some would have wondered among themselves how many times a good shepherd should go after the same sheep if it keeps wandering away. In those days, people believed that forgiveness was limited to three times only – a fourth transgression was not to be forgiven. So, by asking Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother, Peter was probably aiming to increase the limit to seven times. And Jesus makes it clear that we are to forgive others, “not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:22).That means we must dispense an unlimited data bundle of mercy.
In Jesus Christ, we have the forgiveness of a debt we could never pay. Sin is an offence against God and a direct rebellion against his authority and creation. The debt of 10,000 talents mentioned in today’s parable symbolizes the magnitude of the offence that sin causes in God’s eyes, but he is always willing to forgive without limits. However, we can easily cut ourselves off from God’s river of mercy when we refuse to forgive others. We end up restraining God’s mercy and putting ourselves under strict justice. To unfold his mercy without compromising his justice, God leaves each person free to choose between the two. If we insist on strict justice when we are offended, we bring God’s strict justice upon ourselves. But if we offer an unlimited bundle of mercy to others, we draw God’s unlimited data of forgiveness upon ourselves.
The secret to forming a forgiving heart lies in recognizing the evil of our sin and the immensity of God’s goodness in forgiving us. Until we see the ugliness of our ingratitude and selfishness, we will never appreciate the generosity of God’s forgiveness. Let us examine ourselves now to see how much forgiveness we are giving. Is there someone we still cannot forgive even after they have expressed sorrow for their actions? Have we judged someone too harshly because of something they said or did that we did not particularly like? How many times have we failed to help somebody because we are still dwelling on an injury that we suffered many years ago? How many times have we treated someone differently based on preconceived notions or stereotypes? These are some of the factors that shackle us like chains and that disrupt the unlimited data of divine grace in our lives. When we close ourselves off to people or dismiss them based on our preconceptions, mistaken judgments, and prejudices, not only do we make them suffer, we suffer as well.
But it does not have to be that way. Jesus came to free us from and the burden of sin and unhappiness. Forgiveness is like mercury, which runs away when it is held tightly in the hand but is preserved by keeping the palm open. When we lose forgiveness, we lose the ability to give and to receive love because love is the foundation of forgiveness. And since God is the foundation of love, whoever refuses to forgive automatically rejects the love of God. This is the essence of today’s parable and it is highlighted by the contrast between what was owed by each man. The wicked slave owed his master some 10000 talents. In gold terms, that is 350 tons and at today’s price, he owed his master USD21.8 billion. This was way more than King Solomon made in a year which was 666 talents of gold or USD1.45 billion in today’s value (cf. I Kings 10:14). So, this unforgiving servant owed his master what no individual could never payback. In contrast, his fellow servant owed him the equivalent of one talent of gold or USD2.1 million; so a man who was forgiven $21.8b could not let go of $2.1m, and his wickedness landed him in the hands of torturers.
Dear friends, forgiveness is an act of compassion which is expressed in the free choice to pardon one another’s shortcomings every day, and to also pardon ourselves for own mistakes Forgiveness transcends the fear of being wounded again; it is a deliberate act in imitation of the redemptive work of Jesus, the advocacy of the Holy Spirit, and the loving kindness of the Father. The whole point of today’s parable is that our Father in heaven will do the same to anyone who refuses to forgive others. Whoever refuses to forgive is doomed to a life of bitterness, and as the ugly trend continues, the person ends up building invisible walls of resentment around themselves, thereby blocking off not just one’s relationships with other people but with God as well. Forgiveness is not just an emotional expression or a sense of righteousness; it means being merciful not only when there is an explanation or apology, or a promise of amendment from the offender, but even when the offence is deliberate, and the offender is adamant. Forgiveness is a precious gift of grace, which does not depend on the worthiness of the receiver. Forgiveness is what we called to do, and the Lord’s grace is sufficient for us in that regard. Amen.
Imo Deputy Governor’s giant strides towards revitalizing agriculture
By Joy Opara
The increasing cost of Agricultural products in Imo State in recent times has continued to be a major source of concern to the citizens of the state.
A critical appraisal of the development of Agriculture in this state reveals that successive governments had neglected this major sector of the economy, over three decades now, and this has adversely affected the revenue of government.
In line with the vision of the “shared prosperity” government of the Hope Uzodinma administration, the revolution of agriculture is among its cardinal programmes for which a high powered committee (on agricultural master plan for Imo State) has been set up.
For the purpose of resuscitating all moribund agricultural industries and facilities in the state, it is not surprising that this committee is headed by a world class Professor of Agriculture and Deputy Governor of Imo State, Prof. Placid Njoku.
The need to diversify the economy cannot be over-emphasized. It is a well known fact that there is no better and more sustainable means of diversifying the economy than through agriculture. It would be recalled that after the inauguration of his committee, the deputy governor went into action, first by visiting all moribund agricultural facilities in the state, which included Adapalm in Ohaji/ Egbema LGA, Avutu Poultry farm in Avutu, Obowo LGA, Songhai farms, Okigwe road, Owerri, ADP farms in Nekede, Owerri West. Others are Acharaubo farms in Emekuku, Owerri North, Imo Rubber Plantation in Obiti, Ohaji/ Egbema, amongst others.
Prof. Njoku in one of his speeches during the tour described agriculture as the economic base of most countries of the world. Considering the dwindling oil revenue, he said it should be a source of worry to people of good conscience that the vision of our founding fathers to generate revenue, food security, economic advancement, industrialization, employment and eradication of poverty was destroyed by successive governments.
The Deputy Governor, who not only is acknowledged as one of the greatest professors of Animal Science, a renowned Agriculturist and former Vice Chancellor of a leading University of Agriculture, the Federal University of Agriculture, Umudike, made it clear that the present government led by Governor Hope Uzodinma is desirous to return agriculture to its former glory.
The Ikeduru-born technocrat and farmer per-excellence said that the 3R Mantra of this administration namely: Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Recovery is a base for making the dream of Imo State as the food basket of the nation come true.
Noting that government is a continuum, the deputy governor promised that his committee will build upon what is already on ground by rehabilitating the ones that could be rehabilitated and bringing in new facilities where necessary to ensure that the passion of the governor towards agricultural revival is achieved.
Meanwhile, in most of the establishments visited by the committee, it was discovered that indigenes of the communities had badly encroached into the lands and converted them to personal use. Investigations by the committee revealed that agents of some past governments in the state connived with the communities to make it possible, for their personal aggrandizement.
The deputy governor, whose humility has become legendary pledged his total support to the Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma whom he described as God sent to right all that were done wrong by the previous administrations in the state. He called on all to give this administration the needed support to rewrite the history of Imo State in gold, especially the agricultural sector.
Child Abuse: A case of betrayal of reciprocal trust
By Christian Uzoukwu
Some years ago, while as a kid, I fell out with my father due to an occasion of sheer disobedience and on that very day, I was given no food and was ultimately battered by hunger. Child abuse includes both acts of commission and omission on the part of parents, guardians as well as care-givers.
These acts have led to a lot of actual and threatened harm meted out on countless number of children. In 2014, the WHO made an estimate of 41,000 children (under the age of 15) that are victims of homicide and other related offences. This estimate, as expounded by this world body is grossly below the real figures due to the views of the society in relation to corporal punishment experienced by children. Girls are always most vulnerable to different forms of child abuse during unrests and in war-thorn territories.
Cases of child abuse can be established in some deadly human vices such as child trafficking, child labour, forced adoption as seen in the one-child policy prevalent in China. In the Asian country, women, by law are only allowed to have one child. Local governments would sometimes allow the woman to give birth and then they would take the baby away stating the mother violated the one child policy. Child traffickers, often paid by the government, would sell the children to orphanages that would arrange international adoptions worth tens of thousands of dollars, turning a profit for the government.
Other striking examples of child abuse are the various forms of violence against the girl-child which involves infanticide, sex-selective abortions, female genital mutilations (FGM), sexual initiation of virgins in some African cultures, breast ironing in some parts of Cameroon – involving the vicious use of hot stones and other tools to flatten the breast tissue of girls who have attained the age of puberty. As if those were not enough, female students are also subject to maltreatments in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is not to talk of recurring kidnapp of female students in some parts of Nigeria, as we saw in the case of Dapchi and Chibok schoolgirls.
Based on simple analysis, child abuse can be defined as “all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power”.
This definition by WHO also falls in line with the definition propounded by the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that child abuse are acts of commission. This commission includes “words or overt actions that cause harm, potential harm, or threat of harm to a child”, and acts of omission (neglect), meaning “the failure to provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional, or educational needs or to protect a child from harm or potential harm.
In Nigeria, most cases of child abuse have become cumbersome due to the fact that these acts of abuses are regarded as mere punishments to unruly young ones and by so doing, should be justified and doesn’t call for any further discussion and/or scrutiny. According to various statistical studies and researches, child abuse is a vast societal cankerworm and has four profound tentacles viz:
Physical Abuse: this involves undue hitting, beating, kicking, shaking, biting, burning, strangling, insertion of pepper into the eyes and pubic regions of children, maltreatments from house-help(s) and seniors at boarding/day schools, suffocating and forcing children to live in unwholesome conditions.
Sexual Abuse also includes persuading a minor into acts of sexual intercourse, exposure of the child’s private parts, production of child-related pornographic contents and actual sexual contacts with children.
Psychological Abuse of children can be seen in cases of excessive scolding, lack of proper attention that children should be receiving from their parents and guardians, destructive criticisms and destruction of a child’s personality.
Neglect of children can also lead to children dropping out of schools, begging/stealing for food and money, lack of proper medical care for minors and realities of children looking like ragamuffins.
Consequently, the causes of child abuse can be judiciously related to sex, age, personal history, societal norms, economic challenges, lack of Rights’ Protection Agencies, parents battling with traits of alcoholism and family size. These causative agents of child abuse can bring untold effects upon the society at large and these effects can be emotional, physical and psychological as the case may be, giving rise to individuals with dissociative lifestyles.
Furthermore, the treatment of individuals who have been malformed with respect to the abuses they experienced abinitio, can be a long process because it involves behavioral therapy and other forms of neoteric therapies. Treatments of psyche-related problems are not just a one-day process due to the long-lasting effects of abuses on various conscious mental activities. It is also noteworthy to point out that, prevention is always better than cure and holding fast to this true reality, entails that agencies who have the responsibility of protecting the rights of children must continue to do the needful which requires proper oversights of parent-child relationships.
To conclude this piece therefore, we must agree that untold hardships have been a great challenge for children especially in Africa and some parts of Asia. Children with long histories of abuses turn out to become societal misfits. To this end we encourage that: Children should be given a free platform to express themselves on many topical issues and issues relating to their existence.
Children should also be allowed to freely ask questions on any issue, no matter, how weird it seems to be.
Governments should make regulations outlawing societal norms and values that might amount to child abuses.
Corporal punishments by parents, guardians and care-givers should be discouraged at all levels, thereby making parents/guardians/care-givers who seem to be incorrigible, to face the full weight of justice enshrined in the law of the land.
Education system (both conventional and unconventional) in Nigeria should be able to train up young ones into becoming critical, analytical and evaluative individuals with a view of defending the vulnerable.
And again, since children are said to be leaders of tomorrow, it is pertinent to note that to secure their future, their present existence must be cherished and protected.
Christian Chimemerem Uzoukwu
08100029867 / 09025760804
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