Sun. Apr 14th, 2024

In commemoration of International Women’s Day/Month 2024, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria Abuja branch, in collaboration with My Take Initiative embarked on an outreach program to the Nigeria Correctional Service in Keffi, Nasarawa state. The visit aimed to extend support and empowerment to the female inmates in the Centre. ENE OSHABA writes

Women’s Month

The International Women’s Day is celebrated March 8th yearly, however elevating voices and rights is beyond International Women’s Day. While the day is formally observed on March 8th each year, the entire month is a bustling hub of activities dedicated to advancing women’s rights and amplifying their voices for change.

This year’s theme, “Investing in Women: Accelerating Progress,” resonates deeply with FIDA’s foundational principles.According to FIDA Nigeria Abuja Branch Chairperson Chibuzo Maureen Nwosu, the organization remains steadfast in its dedication to safeguarding and advancing the rights of women and children, tirelessly advocating for their equitable treatment and empowerment within our communities.

“The 2024 theme “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress ” resonates with all that we do in FIDA and we believe in our values and women should be treated right because they are important in the society.

“Our organization is mainly focused on the protection and promotion of the rights of women and children and carry out mandate by going for enlightenment and advocacy visits.

“We decided to visit the female Correctional Service Centre as part of our activities to mark the international women’s day that was held on the Eighth of March.

“As we all know the theme: invest in women: accelerate progress. So it’s in that spirit we thought it wise to go visit the woman, celebrate with them find out their needs both legal and personal needs to see how we can intervene or bring our support,” she explained.

Bridging the Gap: Understanding the Needs

Recognizing the unique challenges faced by incarcerated women, FIDA took proactive steps to address the legal and personal needs of female inmates.

The visit provided an opportunity to engage with the female inmates, understand their circumstances, and extend tangible support.

According to the Chairperson, numerous inmates are detained for minor infractions, such as outstanding fines ranging from 10,000 to 20,000, or lack of sureties. The visit aimed to review their cases and offer support services to the best of their abilities.

Acknowledging the persistent issue of overcrowding in correctional centers, FIDA emphasized that the custodial facility is particularly cramped for female inmates. Nonetheless, they commend the staff for maintaining a clean environment and displaying empathy rather than harshness towards the female inmates, making the best of the available space.

“I want to believe that the place is too small for them. However, I also believe that they are making the best use of what they have. It’s reassuring to see that the Correctional staff are empathetic and not harsh towards the female inmates. From our interactions with them, it’s evident that they genuinely want the best for the inmates, and that is commendable,” she lauded.

However, Assistant Comptroller of Correction, Officer in Charge of the Medium Security Correctional Centre, Uche Ofoegbu, commended FIDA and My Take Initiative for their gesture of visiting the inmates. She expressed concern over the increasing congestion at the centre and voiced her hope for more opportunities like this, so the female inmates can regain their freedom and return home.

“Most Correctional Centres across Nigeria are congested, not just the one here in Keffi. However, my Controller General is working tirelessly to decongest these centres. The Ministry of Justice, both at the headquarters and in Nasarawa state, is also actively involved in ensuring that the centres are decongested.

“It’s incredibly difficult for women; they endure suffering, and some inmates here are innocent of the crimes they’re accused of, while others are not. Tragically, some women perish at the hands of their boyfriends or husbands over trivial matters,” she urged.

“Women should also keep the struggle up to get into leadership positions because this is were government policies are made and without women involved in decision-making processes these policies will be made without consideration of the needs of women ,”she added.

On his part, The Communications Officer at My Take Initiative Favour Obaka, expressed displeasure saying that My Take Initiative opposes the prolonged remand of inmates for minor cases or small fines, citing unjust outcomes, overcrowding, and further marginalization.

“This is why in collaboration with FIDA the bail for qualifying inmates were paid, the organization facilitated the immediate release of 7 men and 2 women,” he said.

A Gesture of Compassion:Providing Essentials

FIDA’s outreach in partnership with My Take Initiative included the provision of essential items such as sanitary towels, soaps, toiletries, and slippers, acknowledging the specific needs of women in custody.

Additionally, bags of rice were distributed to help alleviate immediate concerns.According to Obaka, the gesture was to cushion the harsh living conditions faced by inmates, including inadequate healthcare, limited access to basic necessities, lack of training, and discrimination.

“The organization’s aim to promote justice and equity for women, children, and the vulnerable motivated this action on International Women’s Day.

“Female inmates at the Keffi Custodial Centre endure challenging conditions such as inadequate healthcare, limited access to necessities, lack of training, and discrimination. My Take Initiative intervenes to provide essential support and services, while partnering with FIDA ensures free legal assistance for inmates, furthering their access to justice.

“We provided basic needs from detergents, toiletries, sanitary pads, bags of rice, etc.,” he said.

Legal Support

Conducting a comprehensive legal clinic, FIDA facilitated one on one interviews with female inmates. Through these sessions, they identified individuals in need of legal representation, assistance with bail conditions, or mediation for unresolved cases.It was in the process that FIDA immediate secured the release of two women whose reason for being remanded was a fine of 50,000 and 100,000 respectively. It was a good day for the women as they never envisioned returning home that day.

Joining the team to the Correctional Centre A partner at a Commercial Law Firm in Lagos and member of the Nigerian Bar Association Tobenna Erojikwe, secured the release of seven males in support of the work that FIDA does.

My Take Initiative urges fair treatment for all, regardless of economic status, while partnering with FIDA to ensure legal support for inmates.

However, Obaka expressed displeasure saying that My Take Initiative opposes the prolonged remand of inmates for minor cases or small fines, citing unjust outcomes, overcrowding, and further marginalization.

Empowering Actions: Securing Releases

In a remarkable display of solidarity, FIDA and My Take Initiative secured the release of several inmates by paying fines exceeding 150,000 Naira. Furthermore, a senior member’s initiative resulted in the release of seven male inmates, demonstrating a collective commitment to justice and reform.

FIDA’s Correctional Service Centre Committee maintains a continuous presence within the prison system, gathering vital information and coordinating with relevant committees to address inmates’ needs. Through legal advocacy, welfare initiatives, and mediation, FIDA remains dedicated to fostering positive change.

Chairperson of the FIDA committee on Correctional Service Centre Dr. Rosemary Chikwendu, lamented the poor conditions of the centre, noting that the government allocation is not feasible with what is seen on ground.

The need for a reform of the Correctional Centre was advocated for, while Government’s efforts and Intervention was acknowledged, FIDA emphasizes the urgent need for systemic reform within the correctional system. Addressing issues of overcrowding, arbitrary detention, and access to justice is paramount to ensuring fair and humane treatment for all inmates.

“As we celebrate International Women’s Day/Month, FIDA urges collective action in advancing women’s rights and empowerment. Women are deserving of celebration and support every day, and it is imperative that society continues to champion their cause,” said Nwosu.

A Vision for Change

My Take Initiative’s Commitment Barr. Rosemary Chikwendu, Chairperson of FIDA’s Correctional Service Committee and Executive Director of My Take Initiative, reaffirms their commitment to supporting women, children, and the vulnerable. By addressing systemic challenges and advocating for reform, they strive to create a more just and inclusive society.

It is worthy to note that FIDA’s outreach to the Nigeria Correctional Service Centre in Keffi embodies the spirit of International Women’s Day/Month, emphasizing the importance of investing in women’s empowerment to accelerate progress and foster positive change within society.

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