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17 March 2021

Centre of Hope: a leap of faith. Discalced Carmelite friars in Nigerian prisons….

The Discalced Carmelite Missionaries from the Anglo-Irish Province who brought the Carmelite Ordre to Nigeria, as soon as they arrived in the Country embarked on a prison apostolate in the Diocese of Enugu whose Bishop had invaded them. One may ask: how or why did they engage in prison apostolate? The answer is simple: “A Carmelite is a man/woman who prays and acts for the transformation of the world” while responding to the needs (spiritual and social) of the local church he is ministering in.

Thus, it is to responds to the social needs of the local Church that the Anglo-Irish Discalced Carmelite Missionaries initiated the “Carmelite Prisoners’ Interest Organization” (CAPIO) as a formalized way of their intervention in Nigeria prisons.

Carmelite Prisoners’ Interest Organization (CAPIO) works as a not-for-profit, change-development organization advocating and promoting genuine justice and correctional sectors reforms and contributing to improve the general welfare of inmates in Nigeria. Over the years, CAPIO is committed to the call for justice through advocacy for legal reforms and penal codes’ reviews; through provision of free medical and legal services; and through compassionate obligation in helping inmates while in and out of custodial centres. CAPIO’s interventions continues to focus mainly on the provision of basic needs of inmates; free legal and medical services; rehabilitation of inmates; and cooperation with other Human Rights Organizations to advance the course of justice. CAPIO executes her work under the five program components of Legal, Medical, Social welfare, Advocacy and Rehabilitation.

CAPIO was birthed following the deplorable conditions of the custodial centres (prisons) by the Discalced Carmelites in Nigeria over thirty years ago. Unfortunately, over ninety percent of the incarcerated persons are youths who are in their prime and are accused of committing one crime or another. While in custody awaiting trial, they are constantly subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment contrary to United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, 1999 Constitution of Fedral Republic of Nigeria as amended, and other extant laws.

What is even more disturbing is that inmates, while in the custody, practically learn nothing to improve themselves or get rehabilitated. Thus, these custodial centres have become, as it were crime universities. The more years they stay in custody, the worse they become. And so, upon release from custody, the vicious cycle of in and out of prison continues (recidivism).


Idea became a reality

To ameliorate this dangerous trend, CAPIO conceived the idea of a Centre of Hope (Rehabilitation Centre) where “returned citizens” (ex-offenders) and vulnerable youths will be rehabilitated for safe re-entry into the society. The Centre of Hope Program remained an idea until the Conferenza Episcopale Italiana (CEI) generously accepted to fund the program. The Centre of Hope when completed will serve as a-half-way home for returning citizens with the relevant legislations put in place. At the Centre, candidates will undergo a rehabilitation program on a wide range of educational, vocational and agro-based skills that will help them to be self-reliant. The Centre of Hope promises to produce candidates that are well equipped to become productive in the society. The rehabilitation program will be holistic: economical, mental, physical, psychological, social and spiritual.

In this Centre, a large portion of land is allocated to animal husbandry: piggery, fishery, and poultry. The poultry farm consists of broilers and layers with the capacity of ten thousand (10,000) in each. There is also a chick brooding house and egg store building. The piggery farm has a capacity of seven hundred and fifty (750) heads. Included in the farm are three batteries of fish ponds with a total capacity of fifteen thousand (15,000). A Farm Store and Abattoir are not left out. There is also farm office building that has a reception and four offices for veterinary doctors. In addition to the animal husbandry, the Centre also has a skill acquisition building that includes carpentry, tailoring, and other skills. There will be an administrative building that will house clinic, offices for doctors and psychologists.


Benefits of the centre of hope program

One might be wondering why Discalced Carmelite Friars in Nigeria are venturing into this unique and challenging project. It is worth noting that this is the first of its kind in Nigeria and it has lots of benefits to the society.

The first benefit that this Centre will provide to the society and Nigeria as a country is that it will address the gap that exists in the criminal justice system in Nigeria. There is no centre in Nigeria where victims of crime can be treated or rehabilitated. The Centre of Hope thus becomes a place where this gap is filled. Secondly through the services that this Centre will be rendering, it will greatly reduce recidivism that is found in the country today. It must be noted that there are many people in the society who are not as privileged to have a good family background or a good level of education. Hence the society cannot expect the same moral standard from them. So, with the services that this Centre will render, people who have nowhere to go upon release will now have a place they can fall back on, that will cushion the effect of prison and crime in their lives.

Thirdly, the wide range of skills that will be available for acquisition will make the Centre a hub for various highly sorted skills in this part of the country, such as tiling, mason, tailoring. Hence it will provide a lot of employment for people who would otherwise not be employed and also reduce crime in the society to the barest minimum. Finally, most of the candidates that will be in the Centre are those who are really vulnerable, those who have no one to take care of them. The Centre is meant for the poor and all the services that will be rendered will be free while the candidates work hard to make the Centre self-sustainable. Hence it is hoped that the Centre will provide a lot of employment opportunities and skills for those that will encounter the Centre.


A word of thanks

It is crystal clear that the Centre not only benefits returning citizens but also provides employment for experts in different fields of study. Indeed, CAPIO team and the entire Discalced Carmelite Friars in Nigeria are happy to embark on this singular project and waits eagerly to see that it comes to completion and operational. Immense thanks to CEI for their funding support.  We also express our immense gratitude to the people of Italy who give their 8Xmille taxes to CEI to support initiatives as this throughout the world.

We are also grateful to Father General, Saverio Cannistra, OCD and his Definitors for their unalloyed trust and support.  We cannot thank enough Fr Jerome Paluku, OCD, the General Secretary for the Missionary Corporation Office, for his maximum support and guidance. CAPIO team remains grateful to the Discalced Carmelite Vicariate in Nigeria for their unmitigated support. The Centre of Hope is also made possible by the support from other donors. To these donors we say thank you. Finally, to others who, reading this article, will want to support the CAPIO apostolate, or collaborate with CAPIO in this work, our doors are widely open and we thank you immensely in advance.