The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic came at a time where nations of the world were grappling with challenging issues. Nigeria as a country was battling with endemic insecurity issues, rapid economic downturn, lack of accountability on the part of the government amongst other problems. The margin between the rich and the poor had widened in no small measure so when the pandemic hit, it further exposed and exacerbated inequities around us and particularly in our justice system. Courts and Legal service Providers were forced to curtail in-person operations, there was the non-existence of resources or technology to offer remote-access or other safe alternatives. These access limitations compounded the effects of other harms wrought by the pandemic. The lives of many persons, particularly low-income people and minorities were affected. The number of persons in pre-trial detention burgeoned and several of our clients at Hope Behind Bars Africa felt the full impact of the pandemic.
As a growing organization big on innovation, we set into motion several strategies to curtail the effect of the pandemic on some of the most vulnerable persons in our society-people behind bars. We provided relief materials to 3 correctional facilities during the lockdown and in August 2020, we launched “Made in Corrections”, a social enterprise that equipped women and young persons in prison with vocational skills that helped to make them self-sustaining behind bars and when they reenter prison.
It has been more than 2 years since the pandemic hit and although the casualties have reduced, the virus is still very much here with us and as an organization, we will continue to work with stakeholders to cushion its effect on the people we serve.
Being a recipient of the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund Project has given us wings to fly and has helped us to reach those furthest behind. With this funding, we are able to work with female inmates to produce reusable face masks to persons within 5 correctional facilities in Nigeria. Considering the congestion problem faced by most of the correctional facilities, we will also be distributing hygiene items for the use of inmates. In addition to these, we will be carrying out an intensive capacity development training of young lawyers interested in, and with a track record of engaging in pro-bono legal services. The training will be held offline and online. Among other things, with the training, young lawyers will be armed with practical knowledge on how to represent indigent pre-trial detainees in the fastest way possible.
In February, we unlocked the first phase of the Covid-19 Grassroots Justice Project as our team led by Ms. Funke Adeoye, our Executive Director, visited Suleja Custodial Center where we met with the Deputy Controller of the Prison, Ali D Ali and other officers and shared with them our strategy for the implementation of the project.
As usual, the correctional officers welcomed us with open hands and reiterated their support and availability as we implement our activities. At a time when many are left behind due to the class and status inequities which have been enhanced by the pandemic, Hope Behind Bars Africa is excited to do its bit to reach those furthest behind.
It is that time of the month again where we doff our hats to celebrate women who have made a name for themselves, severing all gender biases whilst carving a niche for themselves in the society.
The International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated every March 8 globally to mark the celebration of women and their achievements; economic, cultural, political and societal. The theme for 2022 IWD is “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”. The mission of this year is to address issues of gender equality through women’s leadership. The hashtag #BreakTheBias is used in this year’s campaign to raise awareness and rally for gender equality.
Nigeria’s Criminal Justice System has come a long way, and when we talk about criminal justice reforms, we cannot help but talk about the women who are at the forefront of ground breaking actions and activities that has put our criminal justice system on a pedestal for growth even though we are not yet where we desire to be. During the EndSARS protest, we saw women from different backgrounds come together to speak up against injustice and valiantly challenge a system that profiles young people inordinately. We saw women like Aisha Yesufu, Rinu Oduala, the women from the Feminist Coalition leading the pack in the quest for good policing practices. Prior to #EndSARS protests, we had women like Uju Agomoh, Kemi Okenyodo and several others who are leaders of Non-profit organisations leading interventions in the pursuit of human rights, security and criminal justice reforms.
In commemorating the 2022 International Women’s Day, we would be celebrating 12 Women who are breaking all biases, Challenging the system and standing up for what is right in the pursuit of criminal justice reforms in spite of the limitations. This list is not in any way exhaustive of the number of women doing amazing work in this area, we have carefully selected these powerful women from various areas of work, age grades and locations. . These women are Dr. Uju Agomoh, Kelechi Achinonu, Rinu Oduala, Ruth Eguono Olofin, Osai Ojigho, Kemi Okenyodo, Pamela Okoroigwe, Joke Aladesanmi, Oluyemi Orija, Olufunke Baruwa, Osarieme Omoruyi and Lizzie Ekpendu.
Dr. UJU AGOMOH
Dr. Uju Agomoh is the Executive Director, Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) – with a mission of promoting institutional reforms in formal and informal sector for access to justice, rehabilitation, and social development of prisoners, ex-prisoners, torture victims and youth at risks. She is also Executive Committee Member, African Security Sector Network (ASSN).
Dr. Agomoh’s work involves training, research advocacy, assessment, program design and implementation of over 72 projects on security, justice, corrections and development related issues in many African countries including Nigeria. She has authored/co-authored till date thirty (30) books, four training manuals and directed the production of four (4) audio-visual documentaries on death penalty, treatment of mentally ill prisoners, torture, and prison conditions in Nigeria.
Kelechi Achinonu is a tech lawyer and justice advocate.
She is the Founder of Techlawyered, a future focused technology company that seeks to be the one stop for everything law, tech and justice innovation in Africa. She is also the founder of Legal Hackers Lagos. She is also an Operations Associate (West Africa) at The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL).
Kelechi has a passion for the intersection of software development, lawyering and technology.
Rinu Oduala is a human rights activist and social media influencer popularly known as SavvyRinu. She is the Director, Connect Hub Nigeria, an organization into supporting the masses, defending and advocating against state violence, positioning the public towards good governance and citizens engagement, social advocacy and activism, human rights and reforms. Rinu is renowned for her bravery by being at the forefront of the EndSARS movement.
RUTH EGUONO OLOFIN
Ruth Eguono Olofin is currently the Acting Executive Director, CLEEN Foundation.
She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from the University of Ibadan, a Master of Arts Degree in Development Studies with a major in Social Policy from the Erasmus University, Rotterdam, Netherlands and currently pursuing doctoral studies and research in Defence and Security Studies.
Her work focuses on improving the effectiveness of security and justice sector agencies through human rights-based approaches and improved accountability for better service delivery. Her technical and research interests are in security sector reforms & governance, police reforms, peacebuilding, counter terrorism, civil-military relations, and gender inclusivity.
Osai Ojigho is the Country Director, Amnesty international. She is a respected human rights lawyer with a vast experience for campaigning and development across Africa. Her knowledge of the region and understanding of the drivers of human rights violations keeps her on tippy toes to do more when it comes to human rights, justice and reforms.
She obtained her (LLB) law degree at University of Lagos and a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from the University of Wolverhampton, United Kingdom. She was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2000 and obtained a practice Diploma in International Human Rights from the College of Law of England and Wales in 2010.
Kemi Okenyodo is the Executive Director and Founder of the Rule of Law Empowerment Initiative also known as Partners West Africa, Nigeria.
She has over fifteen years’ experience in security and governance issues in both Nigeria and West Africa, NGO management, and litigation practice.
She has expertise in the security governance sector, with special emphasis on police accountability and citizens/security institution engagement. She has also been engaged in several works geared toward the evolution of non-state actors and their contributions to improving public safety and security; policing and gender issues, as well as, election security management.
From December 2017 till date, she has been the Team Lead for the Nigeria Policing Program. A policing reform program supported by the Her Majesty Government (HMG) through the Conflict Security and Stabilisation Fund (CSSF).
Pamela Okoroigwe is the Executive Program Manager, Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) Nigeria, a non-governmental organisation of pro-bono lawyers engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights, the rule of law and good governance in Nigeria.
Pamela coordinates programmes on Women’s rights and Access to Justice under LEDAP. She advocates against human rights violations and has successfully provided pro-bono legal representation to victims of human rights violations in Court.
Pamela holds a bachelor’s degree in Law from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka and a Master’s degree in Law from the University of Lagos. She is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association.
Joke Aladesanmi is the Founder and Executive Director of Centre for Legal Support and Inmate Rehabilitation (CELSIR).
Under her leadership and management, CELSIR provides pro-bono legal services to indigent inmates and helps ex-inmates successfully reintegrate into the society through its rehabilitation programs. CELSIR also provides facilities to those behind bars to ensure that inmates are not deprived of basic amenities. In 2021, CELSIR donated Solar system to the Medium Security Custodial Centre, Ikoyi and a Library to the Ikoyi Correctional Centre.
Oluyemi Orija is a human rights lawyer and activist, this led to her establishing Headfort Foundation where she heads the Foundation as the Executive Director and Managing Partner.
Oluyemi Orija creates access to justice for indigent inmates with the aim of decongesting the Nigerian Correctional Centres. Oluyemi has through her foundation offered pro-bono services to over 100 inmates.
Remarkably, Oluyemi is one of the women that were selected as ‘BBC 100 Women 2021’.
Olufunke Baruwa is the Program Officer, Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice, Ford Foundation, West Africa.
Olufunke is a gender and development practitioner with almost two decades of experience from government and civil society focusing on public policy, gender advocacy, civil society engagement and governance.
Before joining Ford Foundation, she has worked in many civil society and non-profit organisations. She has led several social policies and reforms in Nigeria aimed at women’s leadership.
Olufunke holds a B.Sc. Business Administration and an MBA in Management from the Universities of Abuja and Nigeria, with post-graduate certifications in Gender, Public Policy & Management and Corruption & Governance from the Universities of East Anglia, York and Sussex respectively.
Osarieme Omoruyi is a human rights lawyer and restorative justice advocate. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Restorative Justice for Africa (REJA).
She has interests in human rights advocacy, peace building, the rule of law, criminal justice reforms, juvenile justice reforms and access to justice amongst many other things.
Her non-governmental organisation gives restorative justice a voice in Nigeria. Osarieme has been able to provide access to justice interventions for many indigent persons across Correctional Centres in Nigeria.
She is also the Founder of Confident Teens Club, an organisation through which she advocates for juvenile justice reforms.
Lizzie Ekpendu is the Deputy Comptroller of Prisons, in charge of the female section of Nigerian Correctional Service, Kirikiri, Lagos.
Lizzie has been described as the “First Lady of the Kirikiri Female Prisons” because of the reforms she has brought to the Correctional Centre since she became the officer in charge.
She is known for her love and commitment towards the welfare of the inmates. She has used her influence to expand facilities in the women correctional centre which has greatly improved the living conditions there.
These women through their interventions and interactions with the criminal justice system have brought about tremendous changes. We commend them for all that they have done and what they are still doing to change the face of the criminal justice system in Nigeria and to defeat injustice in Nigeria.