Ex-Corps member dedicates life to teaching prisoners
Seeks Establishment Of Primary, Secondary Schools For Inmates
For 28 years old Adogbeji Oghenevwarhe, nothing can be more fulfilling in life than helping to build the career of other individuals, especially the downtrodden. The Ugheli North, Delta State born, University of Benin graduate of Mass Communication, is in love with education and would do all in her ability to impact others with the much she has got.
Posted to Enugu after her graduation for the one-year National Youth Service (NYSC), scheme, Adogbeji, had hoped that, she would be deployed to a school to teach, but this did not materialize, as she was sent to a private firm to do her primary assignment.
While working for the private firm, during one of her Community Development exercises, she ran into a friend, who told her about the National Open University (NOU) Programme for inmates of the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS).
“I showed interest. I met with my boss and explained to him that this is something I like to do and that if he could give me some hours in a day, it will enable me go to prison to help teach them. My boss, being a lenient man, agreed and that was how I found myself there,” she told The Guardian.
Now a regular teacher at the Enugu Maximum Correctional Centre, even after her one year national service, Adogbeji said her major focus at the moment is how to get the Federal Government establish primary and secondary schools in the premises of the Prisons to serve inmates, who had no opportunity of “reading and writing before their present predicament.”
She narrated, “Before now, I have never been to the prison; I had this mindset that people put on uniforms are in chains. But when I got to the Enugu State Maximum Prison, I was really surprised; I saw people putting on normal cloths, I could not differentiate between the staff and prisoners. I got there, didn’t know I would teach the first day.
“Officials of the NOU asked me what I can teach, I said I studied Mass Communication and they said they don’t have inmates studying Mass Communication. So, I look through the course outline and choose Peace and Conflict Resolution. That was how I started taking the students on Peace and Conflict Resolution. So, because of lack of tutors there, what I do is that I try to take more than one Course.
“Going there has really been wonderful. I became close to my students; there’s this closeness we have. I discover that some of them really want to go to school. The National Open University is a free education for them and I was wondering why some inmates are not taking part in the opportunity. So, in my interaction with them, I discovered that there are a few of them that have lost hope because they have been abandoned by their families; some are there for crimes they did not commit and as such, didn’t feel that certificate would do anything in their life.”
She continued: “Having this knowledge also opened my eyes to begin to think of what else to do apart from teaching. I tried to sit down with them and encourage them about life. I also recruited people, who have joined me to teach. Last June, I organisd an education programme for the inmates and so many issues came up from there. Some of them questioned the need for certificate when they would not gain freedom among others. We encouraged them not to give up, that is better they have certificates than not having at all. That sensitization boosted registration. It went a long way to motivate the staff of the Open University to push for the release of some students during the federal government’s amnesty programme,” she added.
On how she relates with the over 100 students that have shown interest in higher education, many of whom her senior, she said, “My students are older than me; I went there basically to help. I give them assignments and they do it. They are ready to learn; they make work easy for me. I am also using this means to gather experience that will help me tomorrow.”
Sharing her experiences working at the Enugu Correctional Centre, she said, “I noticed that we have some minors in the prison; their cases still is in court. One I know committed murder, the other one, her case was that of theft. Chinaza has been there since she was 14 years; She can neither read nor write and many others. I have noticed that there is a gap. The government has established the National Open University and this is for those, who had taken NECO or WAEC. But there are minors, who should either be in the primary or secondary school. What about them? So, they should be given opportunity to go to school and that is why I felt that the government should establish secondary and primary schools in the prison premises for the inmates. That’s my focus and advocacy for now, so that if they can read and write, then we proceed to the secondary school. Those that came to the prison not knowing how to read and write should be able to leave the prison if opportunity comes, knowing how to read and write.”
She continued, “Again, for the ex-inmates, there should be an empowerment for them because the length of time they spend in prison could have affected them. If nothing is done the tendency to fall back to crime will continue to be there. Before now, I thought it was all about teaching them, but I am beginning to see a bigger picture; I want to see how I can help these inmates. I believe that God brought me to Enugu for a purpose and I want to see that purpose come to reality. I want to establish an NGO that will touch the life of inmates in welfare, education among others. I am very passionate about their education.”
Asked whether she gets paid for her services to the inmates, Adogbeji who answered in the negative, however, added, “The whole prison outreach was borne out of passion – passion for education and passion to make impact, help the less privilege and drive joy in it. I’m happy doing what I am doing. The experience has been wonderful. Just seeing your face is enough motivation for them; they receive us well. Whenever we come, there is this joy we see in them that, at least, somebody cares about them.”
On her decision to stay behind in Enugu to continue to teach the inmates after her NYSC, she said, “I thought of going back to my state to look for a job, but as God will have it, I got an internship job in Enugu here, which was flexible. So, I still do it and still do my work at the Enugu Maximum Prison. That is how it has been”, she stated.
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