By NBF News

No fewer than 20 prison inmates on Wednesday graduated from the Life Recovery Pre-release Empowerment Programme at the Medium Security Prisons, Kirikiri, Lagos. Another 20 prisoners were also matriculated into the six months programme popularly known as Onesimus Project. The occasion marked the first graduation and second matriculation ceremony at the Lagos campus.

Prison Fellowship of Nigeria, Covenant University, Nigerian Prisons Service as well as Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) are the joint sponsors of the programme.

The ceremony was attended by the Director-General of SMEDAN, Alhaji Mohammad Nadada Umar, Head of Welfare, Nigerian Prisons Service, Mr. Gregory Adinfono, who represented the Controller General, Mr. Olusola Ogundipe, Assistant Controller General of Prisons, Zone A, Mr. Segun Bewaji and other top prisons officials.

Ogundipe charged the graduating inmates to maximize the opportunities presented to them by the skill empowerment training in order to be good citizens of the country after their freedom from the prisons.

'Onesimus Project is a project of self-reliance. This is what every prison inmate who wants to live a happy life on discharge requires in a society where discrimination against ex-convicts is the order of the day, and where even the perpetrators of the discrimination also find it difficult to secure jobs for themselves, because the jobs are not readily available,' he said.

While saying that the country has a total of 42, 000 inmates in custody out which 800 are on death roll and 28,000 awaiting trial, Ogundipe lamented that that the agencies in the criminal and justice system were in a sort of 'input-output' relationships.

He said: 'The inability of the courts to process the input from the police is creating problem in the prisons as we receive the 'unfinished' output from the courts and police. This is not giving us space for reformation programmes for the convict.' Also, Umar enjoined the graduating and matriculating students to remember that prison experience was only a chapter in their unfolding life story.

He stressed that prison experience was also a chapter in the lives of Mahatma Gandhi of India, Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria. According to him, 'It is entirely up to you to elect to follow the footsteps of these great men to the renown that awaits only those who would not be limited by mere circumstances.'

Executive Director, Prison Fellowship of Nigeria, Benson Iwuagwu, urged Nigerians to desist from stigmatizing, ostracizing and discriminating against ex-prison inmates. He warned that if the society did not change positively towards the ex-convicts, 'we become collectively responsible for depleting our social capital, create hate, fear and insecurity in the land.