Despite the uncertain circumstances facing condemned inmates, those serving life sentences and others serving various jail terms as well as awaiting trial inmates, some of them have continued to advance their education with a surprising level of doggedness.

Statistics exclusively obtained from the Nigeria Prison Service (NPS) showed that no fewer than 493 prison inmates have engaged themselves in studies at the various National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) prisons centres, picking many university degrees in various disciplines.

These academic degrees range from Bsc, B.A, Masters and Ph.D.

The document obtained by LEADERSHIP Sunday gave a detailed breakdown of the centre-by-centre inmate registration in NOUN, ranging from the location, state, current inmate students and ex-inmate students.

According to the breakdown, presently, Kaduna State has 19 inmate students, while Enugu has 50 in addition to seven ex-inmate students, totalling 157.

The document further highlighted that Kuje in the FCT has 58 inmate students with 19 ex-inmate students, totalling 77 while Keffi in Nasarawa State has 35 inmate students and two ex-inmates, totalling 37 Awka, Anambra State, has five inmate and two ex-inmate students, while Illaro in Ogun State has 14.

Port Harcourt centre in Rivers State has 34 current inmate students with six ex-inmates, while Umuahia in Abia State has 14 current inmate students with five ex-inmate students, bringing the figure to 19.

In Lafia centre, Nasarawa State, 11 inmates are involved in the programme, while Kirikiri and Apapa in Lagos have 100 inmates and 10 ex-inmates studying for degrees.

LEADERSHIP Sunday however gathered that while those on death row and a few others serving life jail terms have vowed not to allow their situation to discourage them from fulfilling their dreams of acquiring higher academic qualifications, many of the awaiting trial inmates have simply refused to partake in the educational and vocational programmes within the prison, saying they had not been convicted and did not want to take part in ‘convicts’ programmes’.

The NPS spokesman , Francis Enobore, who described it as a shift from the past, said, “We are aware that one question that comes to the mind when one learns of prisoners awaiting execution pursuing Ph.D, master’s and other academic degrees in the university is, is it a worthwhile venture in their circumstances?”

He said although some of them were distressed by their condition, “they do not see it as capable of truncating their educational ambition. Rather than brood over their situation, they vowed that if they would lose anything in life, it would not be their dream of acquiring higher degrees.

“So, like a hungry lion sighting a prey, they jump at the opportunity to go back to school when they found out there is a NOUN study centre in the prison. Our degrees will never be useless – Condemned Prisoners, Lifers

Tunwase Kabiru’s story is one that epitomises hope and faith in the fact that being a lifer did not translate to hopelessness.

For 13 years, 53-year-old Kabiru was on death row, waiting to be hanged as ordered by the court. But in 2014, providence smiled upon him. While touring prisons in Lagos in 2013, a Lagos State Chief Judge commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.

Explaining why he did not allow his plight to extinguish his burning desire for higher education, the Ph.D student said: I have the firm belief that I will one day walk out of the prison to impact knowledge to the society.”

Another inmate, a former Police officer currently a master’s degree student, Alegbe Afolabi, said although his conviction was devastating, instead of brooding over it, he saw the prison as a fertile ground to pursue his academic dreams.

Afolabi said, “All hope was not lost when I was sentenced to death. I was already in 400 level at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) centre here in the prison. The sentence did not deter me from pursing my academic dreams.”

He disclosed that before he came to the prison, he had a diploma in Cooperative Economic Studies, adding that he now has BSc in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution and is presently studying for a master’s degree.

Another inmate, Nwomuh Chika, a former secondary school dropout who has a death sentence hanging on his neck, said after achieving his academic dreams, he would be a fulfilled man even if he is eventually hanged.

Jude Onwuzulike, an inmate currently serving a life sentence at Awka Prisons in Anambra State, is studying Information Technology at NOUN.

Onwuzulike, a father of four, matriculated on August 13 during the seventh matriculation ceremony of the institution held at the Awka Prisons.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) has been awarded the 2018 UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy as a result of its education for prisoners programme in NOUN.

This was contained in a statement signed by the director of media and publicity of NOUN, Ibrahim Sheme.

He disclosed that the university, Africa’s top Open and Distance Learning (ODL) institute, has for years been running the programme in Nigerian prisons without charging any fees.

He also revealed that a letter from UNESCO to the comptroller general of the NPS, Ja’afaru Ahmed, said the prize’s jury “highly appreciated the programme for its innovative approach in equipping prisoners with useful skills and professions to facilitate income generation upon discharge (and) discourage future crime.”

LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that the prize was jointly instituted by UNESCO and the People’s Republic of China in 2007 to reward outstanding individuals, governments and NGOs working to promote literacy for rural adults and out-of-school young people, particularly women and girls.

It was named after Confucius (551-479 BC), the Chinese educator and philosopher and one of the most famous historical and cultural figures, whose thinking still has great influence on education in China and the world today.

Findings revealed that winners of the prize are awarded a silver medal, a diploma and $20,000 prize money, as well as a trip to the birthplace of Confucius.

A letter from Nigeria’s permanent delegate to UNESCO, Miriam Katagum, intimated the minister of education, Adamu Adamu, that UNESCO recognised that the NPS’s education programme “is effective through the establishment of Prisons Study Centres by NOUN.”

LEADERSHIP learnt that both NPS comptroller general, Ahmed, and the vice chancellor of NOUN, Abdalla Adamu, have been invited by UNESCO to attend the award ceremony scheduled for the organisation’s headquarters in Paris on September 7, this year.