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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.
WOMEN BEHIND BARS ENGAGED BY THE EMBASSY OF GERMANY FOR THE PRODUCTION OF FACE MASKS.
It is often said that treasures are found in the darkest places. Such is the case with the incarcerated women of Suleja Custodial Center (Prison) who despite their incarcerated state have found a way to be a beacon of hope to underserved persons during the pandemic through the Ankara Face Mask Project.
As part of our empowerment behind bars project (Made in Corrections), we donated 4 brand new sewing machines and other tailoring equipment to the female ward of Suleja Custodial Center. For 3 weeks we helped to refine the sewing and tailoring skills of the inmates with the approval of the Controller.
The Ankara Face Mask Project is an initiative of Mrs Briggit Ory the German Ambasador to Nigeria as part of the Embassy’s response to COVID-19 in Nigeria in partnership with Stewards of the Enviroment for Sustainable Change Initiative. Hope behind Bars Africa served as a field implementation partner in executing the project as 10 incarcerated women were paid the Nigerian Minimum Wage for making 138 face masks each. The face masks were branded, laundered and distributed for free to persons in underserved communities including all the inmates and officers of the prison. In total, 11 communities were reached and 5500 face masks distributed.
HOPE BEHIND BARS AFRICA ORGANISES SHORT COURSE ON CAPITAL REPRESENTATION FOR LAW CLINIC STUDENTS AND YOUNG LAWYERS
With support from Accountability Lab, Hope behind bars Africa had a successful capacity building training for Law students and young lawyers in the month of July, 2020.
The Capacity building training was a combination of virtual knowledge sharing sessions and on-site trainings, 15 deserving applicants were selected and the virtual sessions were open to interested persons. A total of 75 persons participated and the feedback on the insightfulness of the session were amazing.
Here are the highlights from the training program.
Day 1- We had Kulani Ngobeni from Stellenboch University and Rosemary Ochiwu from Nigerian Law School speak on the role of law students in criminal justice reforms.
Day 2- We had Bamisope Adeyanju a multi-award winning scholar from Columbia University speak on public interest lawyering.
Day 3- We had facilitators from the Cornell University Center on the Death Penalty and other Makwanyane Institute fellows speak on cross border issues relating to the death penalty. We had astute professor Sandra Babcock– Clinical Professor at Cornell, Paulina Lucio Maymon-JD student at American Washington University, Funke Adeoye-Makwanyane fellow and several others.
The feedback was amazing as the applicants opined that they learnt more than they had anticipated for from the sessions.
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.
“Our success has really been based on partnerships from the very beginning” Bill Gates
Today, a delegation of
Hope Behind bars Africa led by the Executive Director, Funke Adeoye paid a
working visit to the National Human Rights Commission at its headquarters in
The Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer of the Commision, Mr. Tony Ojukwu, received us alongside Mr. Iheme Richmond, Assistant Director (Investigation and Montitoring) who also leads the team at the Commission on Police, Prisons and Other Regulatory Bodies. Also in attendance from Hope Behind Bars Africa were Osarieme Omoruyi, Esher Akhigbe, Nkechi Dim, and Emmanuel Agabi.
After we shared our impact story with him, the Executive Secretary Mr. Tony Ojukwu, expressed his excitement at the sight of young people working passionately on human rights and access to justice issues . He stated that the commission is willing to provide support to Hope behind Bars Africa in all ways possible. He also espoused the need for us to enlarge our capacity for greater impact.
He further stated specific prison related projects that the commission had carried out with the hope of continuity and urged us to keep up the good work as we sealed the support of the Commission towards ensuring that Human Rights is entrenched across correctional facilities in Nigeria, one custodial centre at a time.
For us at the organisation, we believe partnerships are necessary to achieving our goals in line with Sustainable Development Goal 17 which is Partnership for the SDGs and we look forward to sharing ways in which this first visit to the commission would result in us making more impact to our beneficiaries and to the society at large.