Feature in US Embassy Nigeria’s Blog

Humbled by this beautifully written piece by Kerry McIntosh published in “From the Drive,” the Official Blog of the U.S. Embassy Nigeria.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Fulbright Scholar Explores Justice, Youth, Outdoors Across Nigeria

Fulbright scholar Erica Licht is not content to experience the world through the perceptions and stereotypes of others.  Whether through teaching yoga to at-risk youth, traveling by bus to Enugu to lead an anti-violence workshop, or strolling through Lagos Island to observe community policing efforts, Licht’s work in Nigeria aims to engage minds and challenge common perceptions on youth, justice, community and the outdoors.


JustifiedOutdoors Interview on Silverbird TV

Please watch the full interview with Erica Licht of Justified Outdoors that aired on Nigeria’s Silverbird TV on Tuesday, February 5th, 2013.
Credit: Interview and Production by “Global Perspectives” Host Aghogho Oboh


Justified Nature…..Every Tuesday at 2:30pm!

4418977778_6277c728fe_zJustified Nature, a new radio program generating a public conversation on criminal justice and the environment is now airing every Tuesday on UNILAG FM 103.1 from 2:30 – 3:00pm.

Join the 30 minute segment for a show bridging the two distinct fields of criminal justice and nature in an effort to look at the possibilities for justice reform that involve the natural environment. Each show includes a Guest interview and thematic music from around the world and across various genres.

Guests from the first two episodes have included Vweta Ariemugbovbe, Peer Educator with PRAWA I-MAP, and DPO Monday Agbonika of Central Police Station, Adeniji Adele Road, Lagos Island.

Stay tuned this week for Adetayo Okunoloa, Program Manager at the Nigeria Conservation Foundation, and music from Peter Tosh, Buju Banton, Dr Sley and Climbing Poetree.



Ikoyi Prison

On Tuesday morning, I visited Ikoyi Prison with Raphael Mbaegbu of the CLEEN Foundation. The visit provided an introspective into the realities of the Lagos criminal justice system and lived experiences of the incarcerated. The prison, built one year after independence in 1961, was constructed to hold 800 people. It currently holds 1778 men. Of those 1778 men, 1534 are awaiting trial.

 Altogether, 86 percent of Ikoyi prison is operating as a holding cell.

It is only once incarcerated men are formally convicted they can begin to participate in the various reformation programs that the prison offers. Reformation is a key to the ideology of the prison, as well as two other R’s: Rehabilitation and Reintegration. It is a an admirable mantra, especially given the politics of the criminal justice in the United States, whereby many programs once emphasizing the importance of Reintegration have been wiped away from the offerings of prison’s services.

IMG_0345At Ikoyi prison men can learn the trades of tailoring and carpentry, as well as sell goods that they make or buy, around the yard. My guide, Timmy Castle, the assistant to the Superintendent, noted that some save a good amount of money through their business or work while in prison and can leave with thousands of Naira – an important stepping-stone in the Reintegration process.

Of the 1778 incarcerated men at Ikoyi Prison, 1200 are awaiting trail for Murder or Armed Robbery charges. Timmy and I discussed at the length the reasons for the high influx of prisoners after the 1980’s and 1990’s, as well as the problems within the communities that many of the men come from which are sending them to prison, and recycling them back into the system. Timmy put a significant emphasis on the broken family structure of the Nigerian family. Parents are not properly teaching their children appropriate behavior or lifestyle choices, and are not assisting them in staying on positive lifestyle paths. The question surfaced in my mind, as it did often during my work at the General Penitentiary in downtown Kingston, Jamaica, “Where are the fathers?” Many of them were standing right before me in the prison yard.

But more importantly now, the question strikes me, where is the condemnation that so many fathers are absent from the home, are unemployed, seeking other women or sexual partners, and resorting to extortion or other illegal means to acquire financial success and masculine power? Where is the condemnation for sexual assault, rape and domestic abuse? And where is the community accountability for actions of male aggression that go undenounced? Of the 1778 incarcerated men, 150 are convicted of “carnal knowledge” or rape, and that’s just the number reported.

The sad reality that I have witnessed in Lagos is that sexual assault and rape are not crimes taken seriously, either by the legal system or by community accountability. Women who become the victim of sexual aggression, are chastised for their own sexual prowess or seduction powers through behavior, dress, or for merely going “to the wrong place,” “or a place she should know is dangerous.”

Ikoyi Prison’s structure sheds light on the prison system at large in Lagos, functioning as a make shift means for renounced justice. Laws put in place to the guide the prison system have had to be abandoned or bent in order to accommodate their realties: high numbers, small facilities and broken conditions. The axe hanging over the head of most of those who are incarcerated is the threat of solitary confinement in a one room unit – which encompasses the space for defecting, eating and sleeping – and the hope for serving a shorter portion of one’s convicted sentence, as the reward for good behavior. At the two churches and mosque on the prison compound, I saw the multitude of men seeking belief and devotion to a higher power and religious body. The question remains whether the belief in fortitude of governance translates into the same sanctity for marriage, relationships, and engagement with the lawless law.