2017 in the Eyes of a Prison Officer,By Ugwuoke Kelvin Abuchi

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Today is the last day of the year 2017 and it is pertinent to take stock of this year in order to herald the New Year. As a prison officer, this year has been interesting and full of ups and downs. However, to say the least, I have not had it so good career-wise in my almost 9 years in service, and I believe that most prison officers and men, and even inmates will agree with me that this year has been worthwhile nay justifiable.

The year started with the carryover of the promotion of over 10,000 officers and men of the Nigerian Prisons Service which was announced towards the twilight of 2016. This is considered as the largest since the inception of the service. Though, I was not involved, but I was affected as most of my colleagues who were promoted wore smiles and became rejuvenated to do the job whole-heartedly. This gave the rest of us hope and made us to believe that better days are here again. Inspectors of Prisons (IPs) who were stagnated for more than a decade were all promoted, while those that have additional qualifications were upgraded.

Then came what I term as the biggest achievement this year: the purchase and distribution of operational vehicles and farm machineries to prison formations nationwide. This singular gesture soared many hopes in the service. It brought about a renewed vigor among staff and inmates. Prior to this, we all know how it used to be: logistics conundrum. Inmates were not produced as at when due in courts because most prisons lacked court duty vehicles. This compounded the congestions we had in our prisons as cases were adjourned endlessly owing to the non-production of Awaiting Trial Inmates in courts. Well, that is now history as inmates are chauffeured to and fro court in brand new escort vehicles that can stand any standard. Prison Farm Centres (PFCs) have been mechanized and the results are there for everyone to see. It was heartwarming to learn that one of the Farm Centres situated in Plateau state made a harvest of over 400 bags of rice in 2017. Can you beat that?

The year 2017 has been a very busy one for our training institutions; and for the staff too. Myriads of courses, seminars, workshops and conferences were held in all the training institutions to refresh staffers on the rudiments of the job. It was a handful for our staff in the various training schools and colleges. Various courses of varied durations were conducted. Infact, the appellations for some of the course were grotesque and made yours truly wonder if they ever existed. For example, a 2-weeks course was held for orderlies and drivers! In my almost a decade of staff-ship herein, I have never heard of such a course. But I learnt of it this year. Yours truly was not left out as I attended a weeklong training on Dynamic Security and Modern Prison Management which held in Jos prison, and also a 2-Day Workshop on Application of Social Media in Contemporary Communication Strategy which held in Kaduna.

The abecedarian mission and vision of every prison in the world is to churn out reformed persons who would shun crime, fit into the larger society and contribute meaningfully to national development. Hitherto, Nigerian prisons were regarded as dungeons where criminals are hardened the more. This made the general society to write off our Prisons and even regard prison officers as bad examples. This year, the perception of the public towards the prison has changed for the positive. This is due to the philosophy of the present management towards ridding the service of bad eggs and bequeathing a change in every inmate that passes through the prison.

Today, we are happy to beat our chests that our prisons are transmogrifying into citadels of learning vis-à-vis centres for skills acquisition. This year recorded a high increase in educational activities and skills acquisition programmes in various prisons nationwide. Prisoners are acquiring degrees in prison, thanks to the partnership with the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) and well-meaning organizations. This year, we saw a prison inmate enroll for a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programme! This year, there is an increase in enrolment into the various educational programmes available in our facilities. This has culminated into high turnover of prisoners who sit for external examinations like UME, SSCE, BECE and others. And these efforts have not gone unnoticed. I read in Vanguard Newspaper of 27th December, 2017 that the foremost examination body, the West African Examination Council (WAEC), having noticed the drive of the prison towards custodial education, has sought to collaborate with the Nigerian Prisons Service to assist prison inmates to have easy access to education. This is a pointer that there is improvement in the modus operandi of the service. Yes, imprisonment should not limit the prisoner from attaining his or her goals in life; instead, it should serve as a stepping stone to self-actualization. That is the ideology of the present management of the Nigerian Prisons Service.

Again in this withering year, we witnessed the purchase and distribution of large cache of medical drugs. Snippets from some quarters rate this gesture as the highest in the annals of the service. We had infirmaries which lacked basic drugs thereby making it difficult to manage ill-health among inmates. But with the purchase of these drugs and their subsequent distribution, the healthcare of prison inmates has been improved magnificently.

Just recently, all junior prison officers nationwide were given free uniform materials and accompanying accoutrements. Yours truly has never seen this happen since I joined the service 9 years ago. I use to hear that uniforms were supposed to be free for junior officers, but it sounded theoretical to me as I have never seen it happen. But in 2017, all junior officers of the Nigerian Prisons Service were given free uniforms and accoutrements. And it did not stop there as blankets, beddings, provisions, toiletries and other store materials were also distributed for the use of the inmates. This is a miracle happening in our time!

One of the pleasing-to-the-mind achievements of 2017 is the increased reportage of prison activities in the media. Hardly does any day goes by without a report of activities in one prison or the other. Prior to this, prison and its activities took the back seat in the media. The public were kept in the dark about happenings in the prison. But with the liberal poise of the present management, and the effulgent initiatives of the Public Relations Unit, the Nigerian Prisons Service is now enjoying the front seat in the media and the Nigerian literati. Kudos must be given to the management for partnering with the Centre for Crisis Communication (CCC) in this regards.

There are several areas that have witnessed improvement in 2017 that for want of time and space, I will mention them passively. Such areas like infrastructural renaissance, improved budgetary provisions, restoration of discipline in the service, and many other areas.

What else can we pray for than to supplicate that the source of all these goodies should not run dry, but continue to be an eternal fountain? Like the popular maxim: the reward for hardwork is more work. We pray and hope that the good works of the present management will ricochet into the New Year. With the present vigor to reposition the service, 2018 will be much better than 2017.

Happy New Year!

ASP Ugwuoke Kelvin Abuchi
Medium Security Prison
Makurdi, Benue state

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