Nigeria, 21 November 2023 - “I used to be caught in the routine of simply caring for inmates’ welfare within the prison walls,” says Inspector Babagana Zarami, an officer of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS). “Little did I know that a remarkable journey awaited me when I was selected for a life-changing opportunity.”
Inspector Zarami works in the Maiduguri Maximum Custodial Centre in the north-east part of the country. Over the past decade, Nigeria has been grappling with the threat of terrorism and violent extremism from groups such as Boko Haram, most active in north-eastern Nigeria. As a result, many people have been detained and prosecuted for terrorism and violent extremism-relate d crimes.
This has placed additional pressure on people like Inspector Zarami and the NCoS at large, which is already faced with obstacles such as overcrowding, poor prison conditions, limited rehabilitation facilities, and inadequate prison management capacity.
These challenges undermine the primary objectives of incarceration, which are to protect society from crime and prevent recidivism by supporting rehabilitation and preparing prisoners for social reintegration upon release.
Inspector Zarami found his career and outlook changed following a three-week training programme delivered by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for correctional officers responsible for vocational training. The training was part of a UNODC programme aiming to strengthen the capacity of the NCoS to effectively rehabilitate prisoners and support their reintegration into communities after their release.
To support the NCoS in addressing these challenges, from 2021 to 2023, UNODC implemented a programme on 'Strengthening the Capacity of the Nigerian Correctional Service to Effectively Rehabilitate and Reintegrate Prisoners Held for an (alleged) Association with Boko Haram (Phase I-III)'. This programme focused on three key areas of intervention: enhancing prison security and safety; supporting the rehabilitation and social reintegration of prisoners; and improving the capacity of the NCoS continuously monitor compliance with core provisions of the Nelson Mandela Rules.
Read the full report.
The training programme that Inspector Zarami attended is one example of how prison staff can be supported to work with prisoners to help them develop new skills, thereby enhancing their prospects for successful reintegration into society.
“These three weeks opened a world of possibilities. I ventured into the realms of carpentry, masonry, and drywall installation. Beyond the technical skills, I acquired valuable knowledge on the proper use of equipment and the essential part of keeping oneself safe in both training and workplace environments.
“Our instructor was a true master of his craft. He didn’t just impart knowledge; he instilled confidence. Each of us had the chance to demonstrate our newfound skills, crafting practical items that showcased our progress.
“The most rewarding part of this journey is what came next. Armed with these newfound skills, I returned to the Maiduguri Maximal Custodial Centre with a purpose – to teach inmates the art of block-molding.
To date, the inmates under my guidance have produced more than 1,000 blocks, tangible evidence of the impact of this vocational training.
“Our plan is to showcase these accomplishments to the world, a testament to the transformative power of education and skill development.”
In addition to training prison staff, the expansion of tools and equipment resources across the lifetime of this programme has enabled more inmates to access vocational and educational programmes. Before the programme began, only 291 out of 700 inmates who had expressed interest in learning vocational skills were registered. In contrast, since the programme has been in place, 706 inmates have been able to enroll, significantly improving the likelihood of a successful reintegration back into society.
“I am deeply grateful to the Federal Government of Germany for providing the funding and support to UNODC for bring this invaluable programme to life. It has not only equipped me with lifelong skills but has also brought us closer to the goal of effective rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates in our care.
“I have discovered the potential for positive change, one block at a time.”
With sincere thanks to our donor, the Federal Government of Germany without whom this initiative would not have been possible.
Read the report – Strengthening the Capacity of the Nigerian Correctional Service to Effectively Rehabilitate and Reintegrate Prisoners Held for an (alleged) Association with Boko Haram (Phase I-III)
Find out more about UNODC’s work on prison and penal reform here.
Click here for the UNODC e-learning course on the Nelson Mandela Rules.