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At Kirikiri Prisons, Interior Minister turns preacher

Posted by By MIKE JIMOH & PAUL OMO-OBADAN on 2008/01/08 | Views: 449 |

At Kirikiri Prisons, Interior Minister turns preacher

At exactly 11.45am last Tuesday, a convoy of cars driving the Minister of Interior, Mr Godwin Abbe, screeched to a halt before the entrance of the biggest detention facility in Lagos. It was his first visit to Maximum Security Prison after his appointment as minister.

•Says ‘This is not the end of the world for those of you here’

At exactly 11.45am last Tuesday, a convoy of cars driving the Minister of Interior, Mr Godwin Abbe, screeched to a halt before the entrance of the biggest detention facility in Lagos. It was his first visit to Maximum Security Prison after his appointment as minister.

Long before his arrival however, there was already an air of expectancy at the prison for high profile criminal offenders. Inside their cells, inmates were oblivious of the minister’s visit. But their minders were already up and about looking the part of excited hosts awaiting a special guest outside Kirikiri prison.

Headed by Michael Adebiyi Onaadepo, Controller of Prison in Lagos state, the warders were all squeaky-clean in their starched olive green uniforms and smart shoes. And once they heard the siren announcing the arrival of the minister, they quickly formed a military line at the front of the prison, hightening the expectation of the visit for it was the very first time a government official that high up in the civil service would be visiting the prisons.

“It is part of the quarterly tour of prisons that both prison officials and those in the Interior ministry embark on,” a source told the newspaper. Onaadepo himself has had no fewer than six tours since he assumed duty as the CP in Lagos last September. The last time a visitor from Abuja called was in March when personal adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Mr Salako, spent close to three hours at the prisons at Kirikiri and Ikoyi one afternoon, “to better understand the welfare of inmates and their minders.” Abbe’s visit last week was not any different.

So one after another soon after the minister set foot in the prisons, he moved from cell to cell, introducing himself to the inmates of Maximum, and then Ikoyi prisons. Right from when he got to the death row inmates in the condemned cell, he told them his mission, how the government has not forgotten them and is doing all it can to ensure they are well taken care of.
“This is not the end of the world for those of you here,” Abbe told a crowd of inmates from awaiting trial cells just before midday. “Make sure that once you regain your freedom, you won’t do anything that will bring you back here again.”

From then on, it was more of an interactive session between the minister and prison officials on the one hand, inmates themselves and then journalists on the other hand. Are there enough drugs in the infirmary? Are inmates served good food and appropriately too? What about the warders themselves? Is there any problem with their performance as prison officers?

On the whole, Abbe’s performance was superb, although there were one or two tetchy moments he had with journalists and even the CP. It had to do with protocol, which was soon ironed out by both parties.
“I am impressed generally with what I have seen so far,” Abbe gleefully told reporters after covering the first lap of his look-around at Maximum Prison. “The inmates look well fed and they are not in any way scruffy or unkempt. In fact, if you were not told, you wouldn’t believe these are prisoners. I really commend the prison officials here, especially the CP. You can see that he is doing a good job.”

That was not just gooey talk from a government official whose ministry covers the prisons. From questions he asked the inmates about their welfare, they all had good news – about their feeding and general welfare. But some of them however, complained about the slow pace of trial.
A young man, Inneh Francis, in for fraud in one of the new generation banks in Lagos complained to the minister about delay in the justice system. “Some of us have been here for two or more years without trial. I, for instance, have been here without ever having gone to court once,” Inneh said. “We would be very happy if you can do anything to hasten trial of awaiting trial inmates.”

In response, the minister thanked the inmate for his well-articulated case but wondered why a seemingly brilliant young man would ever get involved in fraud in the first place. “You misused your opportunity of becoming a model citizen of your country because of your greed to make quick money,” Abbe replied him with military finality. The short exchange turned out to be a subtle dress down for the inmate.
Even so, the minister assured the speaker that the question of speedy trials is not his to address but the Ministry of Justice. “Our job is to keep you people (inmates) here pending when the courts deem it fit to bring you to trial.” In truth, the Ministry of Justice is solely responsible for dispensing with cases in court and not warders or even the Interior Ministry.

Next, the minister’s train moved on to the manufacturing section at Kirikiri cited midway between Maximum and Female Prisons, to inspect the furniture and welding sections where prisoners learn a trade or two while in detention. “The aim is to make them useful to themselves while serving time here,” said Ope Fatinikin, Public Relations Officer of Prisons, Lagos state. “They won’t have to go back to crime if they learn a useful vocation here at Kirikiri. That is the essence of the having the furniture and welding sections.” From there, the minister’s convoy headed to the Prisons Training School, Kirirkiri, and then to Ikoyi Prisons.

Arriving Ikoyi, the same guard of honour was on hand to receive the minister. Even before his train got anywhere close to the cells, the smell of unwashed bodies was thick in the air, making some of the visitors twitch their noses in disgust. “This is where I have the biggest problem in all the prisons under my command,” Onaadepo confessed to the minister just outside one of the cells teeming with inmates. The cell was so crowded that inmates had to stand since there are no places to sit. “We need more space so we can relocate some of the inmates from here,” the CP went on.

On his part, Abbe promised to do whatever his ministry can to see to the welfare of prisoners at Ikoyi prison. “The government of President Musa Yar’Adua is ready to help inmates in all prisons in the country. That is why I have come here today on this visit. The president actually sent me to find out about your welfare. I have seen you are not doing badly. But be rest assured we will do everything to help all of you. Your welfare is our concern,” he told the inmates before bidding them goodbye.
As with his visit to Kirikiri, his tour of Ikoyi was a success. “I am personally satisfied with what the prison officers are doing here in Lagos,” he mused to journalists to round off his official tour of prisons in the state.

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