In Nigeria, and probably elsewhere, inmates of correctional centers are often looked at, and treated with contempt. Although many people believe that not all those in correctional centers committed crimes that necessitated the restriction of their freedom in such a manner, the impression about inmates in correctional centers remains that of disdain, scorn and derision.
It is common knowledge that some hardened criminals adopt correctional centers as their second home and actually feel unperturbed when being herded into such centers. Yet, there are those whose offences are too minor or trifling as to incur harsh punishment such as putting them perpetually in what has been derisively called “awaiting trial.” There are people who committed very light offences and are taken into correctional centers only to come out as hardened criminals. It is inhuman, for instance, to dump someone who has been arrested for “two fighting” in such a center for months, if not years.
Worse still, there are reports of people dying in awaiting trial confinement because they could not afford the demands of legal institutions. In normal circumstances though, correctional centers are supposed to be an institutional sanitizer where debauched minds undergo rehabilitation and are prepared to fit into the society when their tenure expires. Such rehabilitation, in saner climes, should not only focus on character building, but also ought to include skills acquisition as well as training on sporting activities to develop their inclination towards self-dependence, and by extension, self-pride. It is on record that over time, many renowned sport icons have been jailed and they came out of such situations to continue their professional carriers, meaning that while in jail, they continued training until their release. A classic example of this is Diego Corrales.
After starting his career 33-0, Corrales was stopped by Floyd Mayweather in January 2001. It would be his last fight for two years. Shortly following the loss to Mayweather, Corrales (40-5, 33 KOs) was charged with abusing his pregnant wife, Maria. He agreed to a plea bargain and served 14 months behind bars. Corrales fought his way back to the top of the lightweight division. He traded a pair of memorable fights with Cuban legend Joel Casamayor before waging one of the greatest battles in the history of the sport against Jose Luis Castillo in 2005. Jan Mølby, Danish international was a fan favorite during his 12 years as a central midfielder for Liverpool, but he had to take a bit of a hiatus when he served a threemonth prison sentence for reckless driving during the 1988-1989 sea son.
The club and its fans stuck by Molby and he returned to the club afterward to help Liverpool get strings of victories. These examples show clearly that a journey to correctional centers may not be the last journey after all. There are potentially great sportsmen and women in the various hold-up facilities, just as there are such talents abounding on our streets. But for whatever reason(s), they have remained untapped and this may have cost the country so much at international outings. It is for this reason that the efforts of the Cross River State Commissioner for Sustainable Development, Mr. Oliver Orok to revive sporting activities in the Calabar correctional center is commendable. Last week Friday, January 21 to be precise, Orok visited the Calabar hold-up center, established in 1890 and noted for hosting prominent personalities like the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
His mission, according to him, was to encourage the inmates and assure them that they could use the opportunity in being secluded from the larger society to rejig their character and prepare themselves for a better life after confinement. Although Journalists were not allowed to enter the center because, according to officials, the protection of the inmates was paramount, Orok who spoke after emerging from the bulwark-like gate said he went to assist the inmates with sporting accouterments. According to him, the inmates were so happy to know that a prominent person like the commissioner in the state was interested in their welfare and came out massively to welcome him and his team. “I feel it is my duty to contribute my quota to the wellbeing of the inmates who have been separated from their families.
I went there to assist them with sporting wears and football so that they can use it to keep hope alive. “While I was there, they played a match which I find very interesting and now I know that even though they are in a place like this, there abound so much talents among them. They played very well and I believe if some of them continue like this, they well come out serving the country well,” he said. The commissioner disclosed that when he was in charge of Ministry of Social Welfare, he ensured that the visit to the correctional center was regular but promised to redouble his efforts to keep the inmates fit by engaging them in sporting activities, especially football.
“I have taken up the task of ensuring that I assist the inmates to engage themselves in sporting activities so that they can keep themselves fit even when they are here. I believe it is important for them to realize that their physical wellbeing is very important and I have promised them to provide some of the things they need, especially in the aspect of football,” he said. Although the Commissioner said he also contributed some cash as part of the visit, he was emphatic that sporting activities can change the mindset of the inmates as they could train with the hope of getting a club when they are released from confinement. For Mr. Ettah Williams, Deputy Controller of Corrections in charge of Non-custodial services in Cross River State, the visit of the Commissioner was a welcome development.
He said it was quite a while since the correctional center hosted a high profile government official and saw Orok’s visit as the beginning of good things to come. “His visit has rekindled the belief in the inmates that people outside still care for them. They were so excited to play among themselves.
They had their team from the various sections of the center and came out with such excitement that make us feel really great. “The sporting wears and balls donated by the Commissioner have gone a long way in motivating them and I believe that they will be using those kits on regular basis. Who knows, some of them may come out and become great footballers in future,” Williams said. On his part, the coach and trainer of the inmates, Ene Ekeng Etim, who is the sports officer of the centre, was full of appreciation to Oliver Orok for the gesture, noting that it was something the inmates will live for a long time to remember. “I can tell you that the idea to provide jerseys, balls and other kits for the inmates is well appreciated.
You could hear them shouting for joy and even when they were competing among themselves, you could feel the excitement in the air. It has lifted their spirits and I believe that some of them may well become great footballers in future,” Etim said. He disclosed that apart from attending to those within the walls of the center, he also ensures that those who have served their term are followed up and encouraged to find clubs that could assist in sharpening their football skills in order for them to keep their minds away from crime. There is no doubt that if inmates in Calabar Correctional Centre in particular, and the centers in the country generally are given the wherewithal and resources, even within the walls of the hold-up centers, the country could well harvest a lot of talents that can match other countries at international events.
Brain drain is not only when doctors find green pastures in foreign land or when professors decide to dump the country and take up teaching careers in other countries. Even within our correctional centers, the brain is draining and if the various supervising ministries undertake talent hunts in our correctional centers, they might just discover that apart from the grave, our correctional centers have smothered a lot of talents before our eyes.