For 36-year-old Akinwale, a young man who had just acquired a National Certificate of Education in an Abeokuta prison, the journey to incarceration began in 2006, when he was convicted for armed robbery. But he claimed he was not a robber and will never be one.
However, he said for the alleged armed robbery, he spent 10 years and six months in the prison, before he got amnesty and was released last November.
Akinwale (surname withheld) while in prison, became a student at the old Abeokuta Prison, Ibara, Ogun State, of the study centre of the Yewa Central College of Education.
And at the graduation held for the graduating students on Wednesday, he was the cynosure of all eyes, as he was the best graduating student of the Ibara Prison study centre of the YCCE. He bagged Nigeria Certificate in Education in Social Studies/Economics.
Elated Akinwale, who was decked in a black suit and white shirt along with a red tie, shone in his academic gown. He was not ashamed to share story of his travails with our correspondent.
He said the company where he worked was invaded by a gang of armed robbers in 2006 and one of his friends who usually visited him in the company was later identified as one of the robbers.
Akinwale said the alleged friend absconded after the operation, and he(Akinwale) was arrested and later charged with armed robbery.
He said he spent 10 years and six months in the prison before he was granted amnesty by the state governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, last year November.
Talking about his new status as an NCE graduate, Akinwale said he would like to practise as a teacher, and at the same time engage in barbing, a skill he learnt while in prison.
He said, “While I will say going to prison was not a palatable experience, I will say that I thank God that I had been pardoned by the governor.
“My journey to prison began in 2006. Armed robbers had invaded the company where I worked and it happened that one of robbers was identified as a friend who usually came to visit me in the company.
“I never knew he was an armed robber, and I never knew where he lived. But my offence was that he knew me and he had been seen coming to visit me. The alleged friend could not be found after the robbery operation, and I was arrested.
“That was how my journey to prison began, going to and fro the courts. I spent eight years as an awaiting trial inmate.
“While in prison, I got to know about the NCE programme being run at the prison by the Yewa Central College of Education. I indicated interest and was admitted to study Social Studies/Economics. It was a three-year programme. I thank God today I am the best graduating student of my set.”
Akinwale said as an NCE holder, “I will like to go into teaching, and in the evening when I return from school, I will engage in barbing for men. That is the skill I acquired in prison.”
He is, however, concerned about the stigmatisation of ex-convicts by their family members and the society.
He advised that instead of rejection, ex-convicts should be embraced and assisted to live a normal life after prison.
“It is unfortunate and painful that family members and the society see ex-convicts as ‘never do wells.’ However, what they need is help and assistance to enable them to stand again and rediscover themselves.
“When they are rejected, that is why some go back to crime and end up in prison again.”
A total of 60 inmates graduated in different courses between 2012 and 2015, while 50 others were admitted for the 2016/2017 academic session at the study centre.
The Controller-General of Prisons, Ja’afaru Ahmed, said engaging prison inmates in educational and vocational programmes leads to their reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration into the society.
Ahmed who was represented by a Deputy Controller of Prisons, Emmanuel Ogundele, said this process “is called crime control and prevention strategy” to make them turn their back on crime.
The provost of the college, Prof. David Bamgbose, said he started the study centre in Ibara Prison in 2010, as part of the institution’s corporate social responsibility.
“Since we began the programme in 2010, no fewer than 400 inmates had benefitted from the programme,” he said.