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Last Updated: Friday, 13 January 2006, 17:07 GMT
Nigeria ex-convict preaches reform
An ex-convict turned pastor in Nigeria tells the BBC News website about his work championing prison reform after Nigeria announced plans to free 25,000 inmates to reduce overcrowding.

Reverend Solomon Olumuyiwa Kayode Williams
Pastor Kayode served a 10-year sentence for armed robbery

As a young man, 52-year-old Reverend Solomon Olumuyiwa Kayode Williams served a 10-year sentence for armed robbery. Afterwards he became a Christian minister and has been director general of a non-governmental organisation for prison reform and rehabilitation for 18 years.

It is not a desperate action, this decision to release about half of Nigeria's inmates to reduce overcrowding in the country's 227 jails.

It is an attempt, following a proper study into the situation, to bring real reform and rehabilitation.

Initially President Olusegun Obasanjo approached those working for human rights organisations to look into the situation. Then it was widened to include non-government organisation such as my group, Prison Rehabilitation Mission International (Premi).

Central prison in Kaduna, Nigeria [Anne Isabelle Leclercq/IRIN]
Prison was very harsh. Being in an African jail is a traumatic experience
Pastor Kayode

A commission was formed and was mandated to go to each and every federal prison. Statistics were gathered and the experiences of some prisoners were documented.

And after extensive scrutiny, this is the proposal they came out with.

It is the right thing to do but it is only half-way home: 25,000 prisoners cannot just be released into an empty field.

A lot of caring is needed, alongside good strategy planning. And although it will not be a long process, the releases will be gradual.

It is my hope that within three months something will be happening, fingers crossed.

There have already been a lot of changes - improvements - within Nigerian prisons since President Obasanjo has been in power.

He himself cannot deny what state the jails are in as he was there for three years. He has firsthand information - he knows exactly what they're like.

Feeding is still not yet adequate but they are moving forward.

Wrong crowd

It has been a long time, 25 years now, since I was in prison but from my frequent visits to prisons I can vouch that although things are better inside, there is still a very long way to go.

The troublemakers have guns and force themselves sexually onto young or new prisoners
Pastor Kayode

My mother reported me to the police.

I was 16-years-old.

I was hanging out with the wrong crowd. They were different to the rest of us teenagers in the area - they dressed well, looked smart, they smoked marijuana.

I fell victim to them and wanted to be like them with their flashy lives, expensive tastes and habits.

They were armed robbers.

I became one too. They trained me in skills needed to snatch things, use a gun, harass people and arrest bank cashiers.

Capital offence

My mother was able to note the change immediately, knowing that something was wrong. I was her only son and we were very close.

Women's cell in Nigeria [Anne Isabelle Leclercq/IRIN]
The pastor's parents paid for him to have a bed whilst in jail

Highly distraught she followed me one day to find out if her fears were correct. Once she knew she alerted the police in the hope that they would rescue me from that life.

Rescued I was, but by going to jail.

Armed robbery in Nigeria is a capital offence and so I should've been sentenced to death.

However the judge, discovering what my mother had done in the interest of reforming me, pitied her and so convicted me instead to 10 years.


Prison was very harsh. Being in an African jail is a traumatic experience.

Map of Nigeria showing location of Abuja, Ibadan and Lagos
Pastor Kayode lives and preaches in the western town of Ibadan

Before my trial I was held in a cell with 59 others. The six-by-12 foot room was intended for 15 criminals. I had to endure it for 18 months - there was no ventilation. Oh the conditions were so horrible. We were like sardines packed in a tin.

After my trial my situation improved somewhat.

But only because my parents paid the prison workers and authority on a continuous basis.

I had a room, albeit small, to myself with a mattress and a blanket. I would get a tiny piece of meat twice a week and fish thrice.

I was also allowed to study and spend my days in the library instead of doing manual labour.

Ex-convicts at their graduation ceremony after receiving vocational and reform training at Prison Rehabilitation Mission International (Premi)
The pastor's organisation trains prisoners to aid their rehabilitation

I didn't have to survive the troublemakers - the ones inside that are given special treatment and leeway by those supposedly in charge, in return they don't cause problems or riot.

They are left alone to intimidate the other prisoners, they have guns, they force themselves sexually onto young or new prisoners.

The wardens have no control and have to dance to their tune.

I survived because my parents paid my way. I was lucky for their bribes.

Most are not and that is why change must happen - overcrowding and bribery cannot rule the day.


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