Hope Behind Bars Africa Appoints Additional Board Members to Improve Efficiency

Hope Behind Bars Africa is pleased to formally announce the expansion of its board with two new members who will bring diverse expertise and insight to its work.

Over the years, we have worked diligently to ensure that our board and leadership represent a variety of experts from the fields of International Development, Law, as well as advocacy groups; and our new board additions are no exception. The new Board members resumed their tenure in October 2022 and would serve for a period of 3 years.

Meet our new board members:

Stanley Ibe is a leader at the forefront of driving innovation and positive change in the criminal justice field. His extensive experience and deep commitment to supporting justice systems to deliver better outcomes to the most vulnerable in society make him a remarkable asset.

Currently, Stanley serves as senior partner at Goodshare & Maxwells, a consulting firm with interests in law, rights, non-profit and international development. He is also a commonwealth scholar at the University of Oxford.

Prior to Goodshare & Maxwells, he helped initiate and/or nurture early access criminal justice projects in Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria and Sierra Leone as Legal Officer for Africa at the Open Society Justice Initiative. Under his co-leadership, a network of partners across Africa persuaded the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to adopt the guidelines on conditions of arrest, police custody and pretrial detention. He also designed/directed the inaugural Africa Human Rights Litigation course and served as counsel on record in the path-breaking advisory opinion of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the decriminalization of petty offences.

Stanley earned a master of business administration (MBA) from the University of Essex, UK and a second masters in law (LL.M) with specialization in globalization and human rights from Maastricht University, The Netherlands. He was a Reagan Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, Washington DC (2016/17) and a Draper Hills Summer Fellow at Stanford University’s Centre on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (2014).

He brings two decades experience in democratic governance, justice sector reform and rule of law programming to the board of Hope Behind Bars Africa. His other affiliations include membership of the editorial board of National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) Law journal and life membership of Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU).

Mr. Gabriel Okeowo is the Country Director of Budgit Nigeria and a development sector professional with over 16 years of multi-stakeholder, country-level, and regional experience across Africa. He is competent in thematic areas which cut across social protection, human development, community development, health promotion, youth and family economy and livelihood, organizational development, and promotion of public sector transparency and accountability.

He has coordinated projects with funding support from Global Fund, World Bank, EU, British Council, Dutch Government, and other international foundations like Bill & Melinda Gate Foundation, Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Open Society Foundation, Skoll Foundation, and Conrad Hilton Foundation. He serves as a volunteer faculty member of Fate Foundation entrepreneurship program and as a Mentor in the LEAP Africa’s Social Innovators’ Program. He is also currently serving as a member of the Advisory Committee for the development of South-West Agricultural Transformation Framework.

Ms. Winnie Ishaku, the newly appointed Secretary of the Board has worked as a volunteer with Hope Behind Bars Africa since its inception. A Lawyer and a Human Rights Advocate, she currently works as a Programs Officer with the National Association of Persons with Disabilities, the umbrella organization of persons with disabilities (across their diversities) in Nigeria.

In the past, she has worked as Programs Officer at Hope Behind Bars Africa, interned at Connected Development and was a Campaigns Volunteer for Amnesty International. Ms Ishaku is an alumnus of the YALI Network West Africa Program and a participant in the Nairobi Summer School on Climate Justice in Kenya.


Effects of Incarceration on Self Esteem

On his way back from college, Christian John got arrested by the now defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit, spent some months at the SARS facility and was charged with armed robbery and conspiracy. Afterwards, he was taken to the Kuje Correctional Facility where he eventually spent 5 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

Hope Behind Bars Africa represented Christian and facilitated his freedom.

Christian John at aYellow Ribbon Advocacy event

We were elated by his release, giving ourselves a pat on the back for our efforts, but unknown to us, Christian’s travails had just begun. We followed up his post incarceration journey under our Rehabilitation and Reintegration program, but unfortunately, he was no longer the same man.

During a random check in with Christian, he intimated us about his experiences. He was discriminated against by friends and family. All his attempts to get jobs were futile because of the label, “ex-prisoner”. His experiences took such a toll on his mental health that he decided to change location from one state to another in order to have a fresh start at life; but the deed had already been done. After the relocation, although few knew of his past in his new place of living, Christian had internalized the rejections and eventually locked himself in, refusing to go out anymore. He was slowly losing hope and the will to live.

In our years of experiences representing individuals in conflict with the law in Nigeria, we have witnessed the debilitating effects of incarceration on self esteem. Research also shows that incarceration takes a heavy toll on the mental health of affected persons. In a population-based cohort study from Sweden, the researchers found that the overall suicide risk among released prisoners was 18 times higher compared to the non-convicted general population. The risk increase was even more pronounced during the first months after release. After observing 12 suicides, they found that the incidence rate for suicide was highest during the first 28 days, suggesting that this is a particularly vulnerable period for previously incarcerated persons.

As a self esteem advocate, I have noticed that the effect of incarceration on self esteem is worsened by the fact that in this part of the world, little attention is given to mental health, especially self esteem issues, as many are of the opinion that “Nigerians are resilient people and we will always find a way”. While this may be true to some degree, it still doesn’t change the fact that there is a need to do better in our attitude towards mental health and self esteem issues. The average person has the mindset that people behind bars are automatically guilty and live a wayward lifestyle, meanwhile, many examples abound of individuals who have been wrongly convicted. Another major problem Nigerian correctional facilities face is the high rate of pretrial detention which proves that there is a systemic issue.

Organizations like ours in the criminal justice sector are doing a lot of work on the front end by representing indigent individuals, but we at Hope Behind Bars Africa also recognize the need to equally work on the back end because we understand that no problem can be solved without addressing the root causes and so there is a need to engage stakeholders when we seek to create change in any sector. Beyond the government agencies and parastatals, every individual out there is a stakeholder in the criminal justice sector because a society with a high crime rate is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

Thus, there is a need to prioritize rebuilding the self esteem of people in conflict with the law because this will significantly curb recidivism and reduce incarceration and pretrial detention. You can also play your part in this effort by doing the following:

  1. Adopt a Positive Mindset

Not every person behind bars is a convict and of course, not everyone behind bars is guilty. Even when they are guilty, they can be reformed. Understanding this truth will go a long way in effecting a mindset shift.

2. Do not Invade their Privacy

Going behind bars makes the affected individual very self conscious. They condemn themselves before they are condemned by others. Many also go through unimaginable torture in detention. This is evidenced by many horrible stories that were shared by victims of the now defunct SARS unit in Nigeria. Therefore, invading their privacy by asking for the details of their time behind bars is subjecting them to reliving the horrors of detention and beyond that, it makes them feel ashamed of their experiences. Rather, focus on creating a safe space for them such that when they feel the need to share their experiences behind bars, they will have recourse to you.

3. Listen to them

Listening is a powerful tool in rebuilding the self esteem of individuals because it leads to self analysis and without self analysis there can be no change. Carl Rogers an American Psychologist aptly summed this up in his quote “… We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know”. Oftentimes, I have found that when people speak to you about challenges or hard times, it is rarely because they need a solution and mostly because they need to let out the pain they feel. For some others, they want to process out loud. So, by listening without being judgemental even when they committed the crime, you give them the gift of acceptance and the knowledge that they are accepted despite their experiences gives them the strength to let go of the shame and self condemnation they feel.

4. Encourage them to go for Therapy.

I saved this for last. Therapy is beyond listening. It is also a treatment plan for traumatic events. In this part of the world, we often resort to self help measures when we experience traumatic events. While there is nothing wrong with that and in fact, they are sometimes very effective, it is still advisable to seek professional help because they have proven skills to diagnose and treat mental health issues, of which low self esteem is one of them.

We are glad to report that with our support, Christian got back on his feet mentally and physically and his self esteem has shown significant improvement over the years.

Rosemary Ochiwu is a Programs Associate at Justicepadi, a civic-tech solution incubated by Hope Behind Bars Africa. She is also the founder of Initiative for Self Esteem Education and Advocacy (ISEEA) an organisation that advocates for SDG 3 by enlightening young people on the importance of self esteem, the effects of low self esteem, and how to overcome them.


Extrajudicial Killings in Nigeria, the unending circle

On February 17, 2023, viral social media allegations of extra-judicial killings led to the arrest of three police officers in Anambra state. CSP Patrick Agbazue, SP Nwode Nkeiruka and Inspector Harrison Akama were alleged to have masterminded a kidnapping and organ trafficking syndicate, in direct violation of their duties as security operatives of Zone 13 Command, Ukpo-Dunukofia.

The reports from Anambra are deeply concerning and a tale of one too many. Extra-judicial killings have been a recurring issue in Nigeria. In the past, there have been several reported cases of police brutality, leading to online and in-person protests. The now defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) , a special force in the Nigerian Police, was a known culprit for police brutality and extra-judicial killings which led to the #ENDSARS campaign that received global acclaim. During the #ENDSARS Campaign, Nigerians and the international community were united in demanding that the SARS team be disbanded, as they were alleged to have strayed from their objective of crime prevention to engaging in extortion, brutality and harassment.

A protester during the #EndSARS campaign (image credit: The Guardian)

Nigeria is not bereft of laws that condemn wanton abuse of power by security officials. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), provides for the protection of the fundamental rights of all individuals, including the right to life. Additionally, the Criminal Code and the Penal Code criminalize taking a person’s life without lawful justification. The Police Act and other relevant laws provide guidelines for the conduct of law enforcement agents, including the use of force in the discharge of their duties. The Anti-Torture Act of 2017 prescribes that any police officer or law enforcement officer who subjects a citizen to torture is liable to be tried and if convicted to imprisonment for 25 years. If any person dies as a result of torture, the police officer indicted is liable to be tried for murder.

Nigeria is also a signatory to several international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which prohibit extrajudicial killing and other forms of human rights violations. Sadly, in spite of our legal structure, not many erring law enforcement officers have been held accountable for their crimes.

A thorough, comprehensive, and transparent probe into the alleged extra-judicial killings in Anambra State must be held for it not to take the scenario of previous cases.

In view of the current investigation by the Inspector-General of Police, we portend that every whistleblower or witness that is interviewed during the course of these investigations should be given access to fair hearing with regards to what they know about the extrajudicial killings.

The investigative panel set up by the Inspector-General of Police should be allowed to hold their sittings in Anambra State, which is in closer proximity to the victims’ families and will give allowance for people with more knowledge on the incidents to testify. Those that are found culpable on this matter must be brought to book, and justice should be served in accordance with the provisions of the law. This will serve as a deterrent to other police officers who have been or are currently planning to engage in extra-judicial killings.

The Federal Government must stay committed to upholding the rule of law and ensuring that law enforcement agents operate within the confines of the law to protect the fundamental rights of all Nigerians.

Temitayo Okereji works as a Program Associate for Hope Behind Bars Africa, a leading Human Rights Organization championing Advocacy for Criminal Justice Reforms.. In the past 5 years we have provided diverse support to over 8000 indigent pre-trial detainees.

Funke Adeoye, Speaks on the Launch of the Court Duty Solicitor Scheme in FCT: A Panacea for Speedy Justice Dispensation

In June 2022, Hope Behind Bars Africa, in partnership with the Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee, held a collaborative  capacity-building session with lawyers who would be engaged in the  Court Duty Solicitor Scheme. Hope Behind Bars did this to strengthen participants’ ability to provide pre-trial legal services to indigent defendants.

Recall that in February 2022, ACJMC launched the Police Duty Solicitor Scheme (PDSS) to make investigation and prosecution more transparent. The scheme mandates officers to take  statements from suspects only in the presence of a legal council. To achieve this, the ACJMC saw the need to train and deploy lawyers who will promptly take up cases of offenders during their first interactions with the police.   In August 2022,  the ACJMC formally launched the Court Duty Solicitor Scheme (CDSS). The scheme aims to deploy lawyers to represent indigent and vulnerable litigants on trifle matters.  According to the Executive Secretary of the ACJMC, Mr Sulayman Dawodu Esq, the CDSS is one of the mechanisms effectuated to ensure that citizens have access to justice irrespective of their financial status. It  will ensure speedy trials and decongestion of detention facilities in the country including the reduction of the dockets of the courts. It  will also make it easy for defendants to access legal representation at their first appearance. 

‘Justice delayed is justice denied’.

William E Gladstone 

(Former British Statesman and Prime Minister) 

The criminal justice system is the machinery the society uses to enforce the standards of conduct necessary to protect citizens and property. It is a fusion of various arms of government that aim to enforce the law and mitigate crime. These include the Police, the Chief Law Officer/Prosecutor, Judiciary and Correctional centres. There are other stakeholders like the lawyers and the organisations that work to hold the government accountable or provide legal aid, amongst others. These arms interface and are required to address criminal matters collaboratively, and in various capacities, ensuring that justice is speedily dispensed by investigating suspects, protecting victims of crimes and witnesses, convicting and sentencing the guilty, reducing reoffending, while absolving the  innocent.

According to statistics by World Police Brief,  7 out of 10 incarcerated persons are awaiting trial. This is attributed to various factors such as inadequate and under equipped criminal justice facilities, inadequate criminal justice personnel, the inability of suspects to afford the services of a legal counsel at the time of arrest amongst others.  Research has shown that the more crucial time for a defendant to access legal representation is between the point of arrest and arraignment. With the launch of the CDSS, defence lawyers will be available to represent  indigent defendants at the points of arraignment in selected locations in the Federal  Capital Territory (FCT). 

With the laudable legislative improvements made through the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) which was  signed into law in 2015, serving as a replacement for the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) and Criminal Procedure Code in Southern and Northern Nigeria.  We are glad that FCT will again benefit from the innovations of the ACJA  through the launch of the CDSS and we are excited to be partners with the ACJMC as we work together to continually strengthen the capacity of the lawyers deployed towards the scheme.   We believe that the CDSS, if properly implemented, will be a channel for effective and speedy dispensation of criminal justice in FCT. 

By: Grace Eche, Head of Operations


By Samson Ojodomo Onuche,

Nigeria has witnessed a significant rise in the incidence of jailbreak from 2015-2022. The most recent successful jailbreak, is the attack on the Nigeria Correctional Centre facilities in Kuje, Federal Capital Territory, Abuja on 6 July 2022, which led to the escape of several inmates.

According to Hope Behind Bars Africa data on jailbreak in Nigeria, there have been 13 successful jailbreaks and 8 unsuccessful attempts from 2015-2022. A total of about 6,611 inmates have successfully escaped from Correctional facilities across various states in Nigeria. This data points to the fact that there is 80% percent success on jailbreak/attacks and 20% unsuccessful jailbreak/attack attempts within the past 7 years.

These incidents are worrisome, it presents a grave consequence on the security challenges currently being faced by Nigeria. By law, The Nigeria Correctional Centre Custodial facilities are built to hold inmates suspected to have committed a crime or persons convicted of a crime. These inmates are expected to go through various stages that will ensure reformation, before they are reintegrated to the society. Therefore, Jailbreak clogs the laudable purposes of incarceration.

Wryly, there has been contributory negligence on the part of the government that has upsurge jailbreaks in Nigeria. In advanced systems, the Prisons are classified into categories such as; Maxi-Maxi security Prisons, Maximum Security Prisons, Medium Security Prisons, Minimum security Prisons, Women’s Prison etc. Inmates are strictly kept in each facility based on the security risk such inmates pose. This has not been observed strictly in Nigeria. There are also situations of inadequate information management system for inmates, lack of modern security technology, inadequate manpower and security personnel, corruption and conspiracy from Correctional Service officers. The Nigerian government has also been more reactive to incidence of jailbreak rather than taking proactive steps to prevent jailbreak.

While the Nigeria Correctional Services authorities have made an effort to apprehend the escapees from the Kuje Jailbreak and have published the names and pictures of these escapees, this effort may not heed the desired result, due to the fact that such pictures were
not displayed in conspicuous places across Nigeria and there are no adequate data or profiling of these escapees.

The government must avoid these messy situations. Strict classification of inmates in Correctional facilities must be carried out. There must also be the speedy determination of criminal cases and decongestion of Correctional Centres in line with the laudable provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and Laws of states that have domesticated it. Superintendents and other officers of Corrections must maintain cordial relationships with inmates. This will encourage inmates to report conspiracy from other inmates. There must be control of inmates’ subcultures and cliques, proper feeding, a Hygienic environment,

comfortable cells, good medical facilities, fortification of the prison perimeter fence, modern security and surveillance system, and proper documentation of inmate’s data on the Nigerian Corrections Information Management System (CIMS). Emergent actions must be taken in the general security architecture of the country. These will go a long way to forestall future occurrences of jailbreaks in Nigeria.