Police & youth coming together in nature
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.
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
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.
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.
At 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.
On November 29th I organized a meeting at the Ministry of Youth with representatives of five of the leading national youth volunteer organizations in Lagos.
At the Ministry of Youth and Sports we met for a foundational meeting, during which I introduced my research and heard from respective representatives of the Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, Boy’s Brigade, and the Sheriff’s Guard. Roughly two heads of each organization attended, and provided an outline of their organization’s work and mission, their program development and activities, and reflections on programming they have utilized in nature or the environment.
The meeting provided a meaningful step for my own research in surveying the scene of youth work in Nigeria that engages with the natural environment. I was impressed by the dedication of the representatives who are all volunteers, and many, long-standing members of their organizations. Some of the points that they underscored included the necessity of vocational training to be paired with environmental experiences, as well as the importance of including education in their programming on environmental awareness. Environmental awareness, as the head of the Boy Scouts pointed out, should include mention of the pressure being on on the environment by all citizens and what steps we can take to alleviate some it. In the Boy Scout’s work they utilize a massive green reserve space which they use as a training facility and camping location – putting to use the 1,200 tents they have in their possession from Japan!
The Girl Guides represents an impressive body of women dedicated to empowering younger women and teaching them the value of hard skills and female strength embodied in achieving goals and stages of life skills development. The Sheriff’s Guard’s focus on a sense of belonging for youth fosters a culture of community engagment for their youth as well as skills training on how to effectively organize and mobilize one’s self for positive personal development.
The Red Cross representative outlined his organization’s commitment to cleaning up prisons and addressing their poor infrastructure. I was glad for the noteworthy connection, providing a linkage between youth work and providing positive outlets for youth so that they do not end up in such poor facilities devoid of educational empowerment. I used the point to elucidate the direction of my own research to show the effectiveness of using environmental and experiential education as a means for an alternative to incarceration – mainly in preventing young men from engaging in negative behavior that causes them to be incarcerated and for young women, to stay on positive paths of empowered direction and independent mobility.
During the final segment of the meeting, a discussion of challenges and questions, the Boy’s Brigade’s Head Officer brought up the key challenge of teaching youth lawful behavior, in a climate of lawlessness. How do you impose a sense of orderly conduct for youth, when police officers ban okada (motorcycles), implement strict guidelines, and then ride okada themselves? His point highlighted the need for communication across various sectors of civil society and law enforcement to devise an approach of solidarity in demonstrating to youth productive courses of actions, while lauding them with positive affirmation. Boy’s Brigade’s officer also highlighted their interest in cross-cultural and international exchange programs, and the potential to visit outdoor sites in the United States and the United Kingdom.
The meeting of organizational heads of youth volunteer programs was meaningful and provided rich discussion, as well as a structured platform for informed movement and data collection around the topic of engaging Lagosian youth in nature. Each representative completed a survey I developed to gather information related to their programming and environmental attitudes, and will distribute personal questionnaires to 10 of their youth related to similar concepts around environmental, city and justice attitudes, to return to me for processing.