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.