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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.
Hope Behind Bars Africa Initiative is pleased to announce a fresh partnership with The Pollination Project, an organization which connects with grassroots changemakers, offering belief and seed funding to allow them to focus on the issues closest to their hearts.
The partnership with The Pollination Project through seed funding is geared towards strengthening the capacity of young human rights lawyers in Nigeria. Specifically, The Pollination Project supports Hope Behind Bars Africa with funds for the research and production of a handbook on pre-trial defense for young human rights lawyers also known as “new wigs” in Nigeria.
Hope Behind Bars Africa remains committed to being a beacon of hope to the unjustly incarcerated and a voice for criminal justice reforms legal aid, data, advocacy and education. We have in the last 3 years provided free legal representation to over 200 indigent pretrial detainees. To learn more about our work, visit www.hopebehindbarsafrica.org
PROJECT “ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOR 400” ENTERS ITS SECOND YEAR
For Immediate Press Release:
November 23, 2021
The “Access to Justice for 400” (formerly Justice for 1000) project was launched in August 2020, through a collaboration initiated by Flemer Project Initiative and Hope Behind Bars Africa, with support from Partners West Africa and the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (Hill). The project set out to facilitate and seek speedy access to justice for indigent Pre-trial Detainees charged with minor offenses across various Pre-trial Detention Centres in Nigeria.
At the inception of the project, services of competent, young, and vibrant volunteer lawyers were secured across various States, to provide legal services to indigent persons in correctional centers, under the supervision of their State Team Lead. The project also, employed the use of adequate technological aids to monitor the duration of each matter handled under the “Access to Justice for 400” Project.
While it is not new, that there have been several efforts from the Government, Non-Governmental Organisation and Civil Society Group, to decongest the various Custodial Centres. The World Prison Brief, statistics reports that about 70% of the inmates in Nigeria’s Correctional Centres as of October 2021, are Pre-trial detainees. This reality prompted the initial launching of the “Access to Justice for 400” project, and recently available data signifies the need to sustain the project beyond its initial proposed one-year duration.
The project which was originally planned to take off in Lagos, Edo, Kano, Kaduna, Nasarawa, and F.C.T, got to a fine start, gaining more grounds in Lagos, Edo, Kano and Abuja. Over 200 indigent pre-trial detainees have been represented since the inception of the project in August 2020, and 154 number of cases have been completed with the percentage of female to male being 1 to 9.
According to Ms. Beatrice Oserime, (the Head, Legal Team of Flemer Project Initiative), “the project objective was to have 400 inmates represented within a year, but judicial activities in Nigeria have been marred with a myriad of challenges, such as the covid 19 restrictions to gain access to correctional facilities, unfortunate destruction of Court buildings, and the disruption of Court sittings by hoodlums during the #EndSars protests in October, stalling several cases across some cities where the project was on-going”. She also stated that the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) strike, which led to the closure of various courts in Nigeria for a period of about 3 months, also resulted in delay in attending to pending cases.
Emmanuel Okorie, (the Coordinator of Access to Justice project for Hope Behind Bars Africa in Edo State), stated that during the course of the project, several cases were referred to the project office in Edo State by several Magistrates’ upon realization of the impact of Hope Behind Bars efforts at decongesting the Edo State Correctional Facilities. A total 78 (seventy-eight) cases have been concluded within the state and some pending, before the unfortunate incidence of the jail break reported in the Edo State Correctional facilities, which in turn slowed down the progress of these pending cases.
The Executive Director of Hope Behind Bars Africa, Ms. Funke Adeoye, stated that most of the cases, handled by volunteers’ lawyers in the project, had no business in the criminal justice system. She decried the frequent interference in civil cases by the Nigerian Police despite rebukes by the courts, and clear provisions of the law. According to her, “The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) of 2015 excludes the Nigeria Police from civil disputes. Section 8(2) of the Act states that a suspect shall not be arrested merely on a civil wrong or breach of contract but this is not the case in reality. Ms. Adeoye also, decried situations where persons with mental health challenges were sent to Prison for offences like loitering when all they needed was medical care.
The project which is exclusively designed to benefit marginalised inmates charged with minor offences is now entering its second year. The various organisations involved will be deepening the work in Kano, FCT and Nasarawa. We therefore urge all stakeholders in the Nigeria Criminal Justice system to utilize the opportunities presented by “Access to Justice for 400” project to ensure speedy access to justice for indigent pre-trial detainees.
1000 INDIGENT PRE-TRIAL DETAINEES IN NIGERIA TO GET FREE LEGAL REPRESENTATION THROUGH NGO PARTNERSHIP
Date: Monday, 17th August 2020
As of July 2020, 72.7% of incarcerated persons across Nigeria’s Correctional facilities are awaiting trial. This is so despite the decongestion activities occasioned by the pandemic carried out by the Federal government and various state governments within the past 4 months. With the restriction on visits to custodial centers to prevent the coronavirus from getting into Nigeria’s Correctional Facilities, the human rights of several indigent pre-trial detainees are violated as they are been denied access to justice.
Access to Justice for 1000 Pre-trial Detainees summarily called Justice for 1000 is an initiative of Flemer Project Initiative in partnership with Hope behind Bars Africa Initiative which is funded by Partners West Africa and The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (Hill). Flemer Project Initiative is an organization that helps indigent pretrial detainees conclude their matters in court as quickly as possible with the help of young volunteer lawyers, and uses tech to monitor the progress of representation provided by the lawyers. Hope behind Bars Africa is an organization with the mission of being a beacon of hope to the incarcerated using action, education, and advocacy. Both organizations have previously provided free legal representation to over 130 indigent pretrial detainees in Lagos and F.C.T, Abia, Edo, Niger, and Nasarawa state respectively.
The project has the following objectives:
– To facilitate access to justice for indigent pretrial detainees charged with minor offenses by supporting and incentivizing young lawyers who provide legal representation to such persons within the earliest possible time.
– To work with all relevant stakeholders in the Criminal Justice System towards holistic decongestion of correctional facilities.
– To promote the implementation of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and the Nigerian Correctional Service Act on provisions that relates to alternatives to incarceration and restorative justice practices in criminal matters.
The project is set to kick start in Lagos, Edo, Kano, Kaduna, Nasarawa, and F.C.T by August 2020.
For further information, kindly contact:
Flemer Project InitiativeHope behind Bars Africa Initiative
The world is currently battling the Corona Virus Pandemic. COVID-19 is spread through droplets released into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms show up in people within 14 days of exposure to the virus. The symptoms include cough, fever, shortness of breath, muscle aches, sore throat, unexplained loss of taste or smell, Diarrhea and Headache. In rare cases, COVID-19 can lead to severe respiratory problems, kidney failure or death. Also, some patients may not show any such symptoms. Such patients may just be carriers of the virus, and can spread it to others. Diagnosis with only a physical examination may be difficult because mild cases of COVID-19 may appear similar to the flu or a bad cold.
Doubtless the covid19 season is a tough season for everyone. This is even more so for people in confined places like the Nigerian Correctional Facilities where the movement and social distancing is very limited because of space. This is why as is our mandate to reach out to inmates, on 11th May, Hope Behind Bars Africa Initiative with support from LEAP Africa, Citi bank and Dow Chemicals through the COVID19 Emergency Prison Fund took interventions to the prisons.
Our core message centres around protection and prevention of spread through prison decongestion as a means to #zerocovid19inprison. We also sensitised on social distancing, use of face masks, thorough hand washing and a proper hygiene system. We interacted with the prison officers and provided pictorial IEC materials donated by Youth rise Nigeria to enable them properly guide the inmates.
With the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the number of usual supports enjoyed by this prisons has greatly dwindled. We therefore supported inmates with palliatives which includes 5 bags of 50kg rice, -2 bags of garri, 1 bag of beans, 3 gallons of red oil, 2 bags of salt (50 pieces each), Half bag of sugar, 1 bag of Kulikuli, 1 and half carton of Milo,1 and half cartoon of Milk 1 cartoon of Maggi, 20 pieces of Minimie Chin Chin, 5 cartons of digestive biscuit, 10 cartoons of Viva detergent, 5 cartons of bathing soap, 12 Mosquito nets, 20 bathing buckets, 20 packs of toilet rolls, 2 and half packs of Sanitary pads, 1 cartoon of Dettol disinfectant, 36 pieces of Vaseline, 3 hand washing drums, 20 Hand sanitizers for officers, 20 face mask for officers to all 228 inmates and officers of Old Keffi Correctional Facility.
WE SECURE THE RELEASE OF 5 INDIGENT AWAITING TRIAL INMATES!
On the 27th of April, 2020 we secured the release of 5 indigent young men who were inmates of Oko correctional Facility, Benin-city, Edo state. This comes under our Access to Justice Program and specifically Zero COVID 19 in prison decongestion project.
All 5 men had spent more time awaiting trial than the time they would have spent had they been convicted for the various crimes for which they were charged.
For Emmanuel Adan (pseudonym), the main offence he was charged with under S.428 of the criminal code law of Edo carried a fine of N40 but he had spent 5 months in prison already. The other 4 were arrested for wandering and breach of peace since February. An offence which carries a fine of 1 month imprisonment with no option of fine. One of them, had come from Ebonyi to visit a relative when he was arrested.
We wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of Edo state Hon. Justice Esther Edigin informing her about 8 of our cases prior to the decongestion exercise and during the exercise, our counsel Emmanuel Okorie who had been representing the defendants advocated for their release. Out of the 8 cases we submitted, 5 were released. This is addition to 8 other inmates released by the CJ. The CJ expressed her appreciation and commended us for partnering with the state to make the decongestion exercise smooth.
We supported the inmates with funds for their logistics and immence plans have begun for their reintergration back to the society.
Over time, public health emergencies such as the corona virus outbreak poses huge socio-economic burden on individuals, families and nations. Evidence shows that vulnerable populations especially people in shielded environments such as correctional facilities are disproportionately affected in multiple ways.
This is the case for correctional facilities in Nigeria, a country with 70% of its prison population awaiting trial with little or non existent healthcare systems behind bars, congested cells and inmates living in unsanitary conditions.
As an organisation, we are advocating for the decongestion of Nigeria’s custodial centres as a major step to fighting COVID 19 in prison. In addition, we launched the a COVID 19 ‘Emergency Welfare intervention for Prison Inmates’ This is to supplement the efforts of the government in catering for the prison population. This is of utmost importance at this moment considering that the religious organisations and NGOS who otherwise support the efforts of the government have been banned from prison visits.
We secured approval from the Comptroller of Prisons, Nasarawa state Command CP Felix to pilot the first phase of this project at the Keffi Custodial centre.
We call on the members of the public and organizations to join us as we take relief items to this very vulnerable population.
It was reported on 31st
March, 2020 that inmates of the Kaduna custodial center attempted a jail break
due to fears that COVID -19 was in in their facility. This particular center
has a holding capacity of 540 but currently holds 1200 – 1400 inmates at an
average. Social distancing or self-isolation in an overcrowded environment is impossible
as it is also the case in other custodial centers across the country. Reports further stated that in other to curb
the unrest, arms where fired at inmates which led to injury of two. This is a
flagrant human rights violation that could have been avoided if the government
has been more proactive.
We are fighting a common
enemy of which only few nations of the world are exempted for now. In other to completely combat the coronavirus,
protection of the lives of vulnerable populations must be prioritized. The unsanitary
conditions of our congested facilities, the non-existence of health care and
the absence of specialized hands in prison would lead to fatal consequences. Faith
based organizations, NGOS and individuals who support the welfare of inmates have
been restricted from visits and major cities are on lockdown. This means malnutrition
among inmates would be at an increase making them less immune to the virus
Furthermore, the risk of the virus been
brought into the centers by staff who are daily commuting from the prisons to
their communities is as high as a staff contracting it and spreading it in
their communities especially as correctional staff offer essential services and
thus are not affected by any lockdown. Eventually,
we would all suffer the consequences of a further delay in decongestion.
We hereby urge the presidency
and the governors of all states to leverage on their powers under S.175 of the
1999 Constitution to decongest our prisons now. We recommend that the following
set of inmates be released as releasing them would not lead to a surge in
criminal activity or fuel social unrest at this time.Inmates over the age of 65 who have served at least one-third of their sentence.
Inmates over the age of 55 with underlying health conditions.
Minor offenders with a sentence of less than three years.
Minor offenders serving terms with an option of fine.
All pregnant women awaiting trial should be granted bail with conditions that will ensure their attendance at trial when court sessions resumes.
We further recommend that
part of the funds donated towards combating the COVID-19 should be directed
towards the swift implementation of these measures and the measures spelled out
in the Nigerian Correctional Service Strategic Preparedness Plan.
These measures could
spare thousands of hospitalizations, relieve pressure on our nation’s already strained
health system and, most importantly, save lives. The cost of decongestion far
outweighs the cost of a jail break or a COVID-19 Outbreak. We urge the government
to recognize the urgency at hand and take immediate action.