Saturday, March 17, 2018 was a remarkable day in the annals of the Port Harcourt Maximum Security Prison, when prominent Rivers state philanthropist and youth mentor, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, in the company of the Dumo Lulu-Briggs Youth Foundation, DYF 23 and other senior associates, visited the penitentiary facility, as part of an outreach programme of the Foundation across Rivers State.
The significance of the visit, which is in line with one of the core mandates of DYF 23, of repositioning the youths for a better tomorrow, was further underscored by the historical fact that the Port Harcourt Prison was built in 1918 and this year would mark the centenary anniversary of the facility as it clocks 100 years in 2018.
Historically, the Port Harcourt Maximum Security Prison, Iocated at the Dockyard area, off Aggrey and bordering the popular settlement known as Bundu waterside, in Port Harcourt, was originally built in 1918, four years after the amalgamation of Nigeria by sir Fredrick Lord Lugard in 1914, to accommodate 800 inmates, but current statistics indicate that it now holds around 5,000 persons in its custody with about 3,700 of the inmates, awaiting trial for over five years, thus it was a visit that evoked deep, sober reflection as Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs and his visitors stood before and later interacted with a mixed population of predominantly able bodied young and talented people, whose talents and prospects have been temporarily truncated and perhaps permanently stunted and eroded for the rest of their lives.
Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, who was deeply touched and emotionally overwhelmed by what he witnessed as the conditions under which the prisoners and especially mothers and children were living, said that the visit was indeed “a saddening and emotionally draining experience for me and for all of us who made that eye opening visit”.
Speaking further Chief Dumo said: “Like you well know, life often throws different challenges at us and we respond to those challenges differently. Sometimes, we respond very poorly and then we get ourselves in those situations like these people we met in our prisons.
“As human beings we are all allowed to make mistakes, except that sometimes, there are some of those mistakes that can destroy us. And so what we should feel for people who are in the prisons and under this sort of condition, is some level of compassion; to try and put yourself in their shoes and find out what they are going through and see how you can humanize them,” he appealed.
Expressing his sadness over the conditions of the prison and situation of the inmates, the Rivers born legal luminary and humanitarian said, “I was also made to understand that there were some who were still there in the prison who I learnt have been granted bail but they are not able to fulfill those bail conditions. So you can see that there are some people who are still sleeping in these places when they ought not to be there.
“There were also some who are awaiting trials and their matters are at different stages, but because they have issues getting lawyers to come out and defend them they have remained in prison. That is a failure of society because anybody who is awaiting trial should have a counsel to themselves and except of course you have been convicted, you shouldn’t be in prison.
“So we have all sort of issues there and we even met with some mothers who were there with their babies, and all of them, living in that condition. We must feel compassion for those little kids who are there because their mothers are there. We needed to give them a sense of feeling, a sense of hope that they know there is a wider world out there and it’s prepared to receive them and they will not be judged when the come out,” he said with a heavy voice.
He then inspired hope and joy in the inmates by reminding them that there was a life full of opportunities outside the prison walls, even as he reminded them of great men and women who became famous after they had come out from prison.
“And of course like you know we have had persons who have transited from Prisons into the larger society and have become great men and women and have ruled nations. Nelson Mandela is an amazing example. Some of the best writers wrote their books while they were in prison. So its a harrowing experience but its something that the rest of society must show an attachment. We must feel that empathy that there are people who are here and we need to see how we can help touch their lives….Weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning”, he added even as he assured them of the inevitability of their morning, with strong conviction.
Reflecting on the deep feelings invoked by the revealing experience which the prison visit had left in him and on the efforts he would make through the DYF23 to provide some succour for the inmates, Dumo Lulu-Briggs said: “Life is about those in prison as well as about everybody else, so as much as possible I feel very humbled that I was given the opportunity by inmates to share their experiences with them.
“I spoke with them and we were able to have a decent meal for all of the inmates numbering 4,135. A decent meal is like Xmas meal for prisoners. We were able to bring loaves of bread and Noodles and food stuffs and other things to give to them. We were able to make committments to the female “freedomers” as they call themselves,” said an emotional, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs who, receiving a set of twin baby girls born by one of the inmates, stated in a heavy voice laden with deep compassion, “I have been around the world, I have seen things, but nothing amazed me more than seeing mothers incarcerated for such long years”.
He further confirmed that, “We were also very concerned about the women and female wards of course, and when they told us that their tanks were leaking, we made provision for those leakages to be addressed, and then for their floors to be tiled and for their living conditions to be made more decent.
“We made serious committments and I’m very very excited and I thank God for giving us that opportunity, and that’s what this foundation is all about. I thank God for the opportunity and the privilege to reach out to those of us who live in the shadows of life,” he enthused.
Addressing the members of the DYF23 and the youths of Rivers state, against the backdrop of the prison visit, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs noted that, “The Dumo Lulu-Briggs Youth Foundation is about mentorship, its about preparing the youths for a better tomorrow. Now they are beginning to understand the challenges that the society faces, challenges that they as leaders when they emerge, will have to confront.
“So this is a life enhancing experience for all of them. I am glad that this is like being in the eye of the crucible for them and they are going through all of those things that they will meet when they are saddled with higher responsibilities. Young people will have to prepare theirselves for that tomorrow that is theirs, and that tomorrow must come, he said, adding, “So DYF23, I’m sure this is a wonderful, amazing experience for you. Your President had to speak to almost all of the inmates and then we saw how they were excited when they were praying, how there was so much hope – how hope filled the entire prison, it rented the air; they were calling Christ and you can feel the spirituality that this experience has brought out in them. So they are no different from us,” he observed.
Admonishing the larger society to exhibit some understanding for the prisoners plight, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs pleaded thus: “You can make them feel like human beings because they are here for a period. They are here to be corrected of the ills that they may have committed. Therefore, when they come back into the larger society, they should come back and meet a caring society and they should begin to feel that those of us who are outside understand that there are some people who are inside, who have lost their freedoms for different infractions. If we don’t care especially for those of us who live in the shadows of life then we haven’t started,” he enjoined the outside world.
He then hailed the officials of the Port Harcourt Maximum security Prison for their commitment to their task over the years. “I want to also commend the prison officials for the effort they are making to ensure that the inmates are taken care of, especially given the challenging human and material conditions and circumstances they have to encounter, endure and operate under. God Bless you,” he prayed for them.
Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs concluded his remarks by urging that, “There is a fundamental difference between being a human being and being human and I want society not to begin to look down at them, not to stigmatise them but to understand that they have been there for one reason or the other, but as soon as they get their opportunity to be out again they will become one of us. They will be fully integrated and must be given every opportunity that each an every one of us have always enjoyed.
“We shall endeavour to make more regular visits to such facilities to pray with them, eat and sing with them, felicitate with the mothers and access the progress of the children and also ensure that some of the commitments we have made to address their existential situation have been implemented with the aim of exploring other avenues through which we can continue to bring hope and be of assistance to our fellow brothers and sisters who have found themselves at the wrong end of life at this time,” he pledged.
“Hope is indeed the Engine that keeps one going on,” he concluded with great enthusiasm.
Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs then promised to provide legal aid to all who had need for it, for free; and also to help reintegrate them back into the society when they eventually breathe the air of freedom.
In her own remarks, Miss Gift Ijinda, President, Dumo Lulu-Briggs Youths Foundation (DYF23), who could not hold back her emotions, lamented the depressing state of facilities which the female inmates endured, even as she expressed sadness at the sight of some inmates whose talents have been wasted and who had stayed so long in prison and had even become mothers inside the walls of confinement.
“Just like what we saw in the Prison when we went to the women’s ward, I felt so bad seeing my fellow women in that condition. One had twins in her hands. She was pregnant before she came into the Prison. I felt so bad that I see talents there wasting in that prison. So there’s enough reason for these ones to come out from prisons; and I believe that this is another lesson to us the youths that are not there, because seeing them in that condition I felt so bad,” she intoned sadly.
Speaking further, the DYF23 President said, “I shed tears to see a fellow woman, like the one that said she has stayed for 20years. How pretty that lady is. Just imagine her 20 years ago and she is still looking beautiful. She’s just there wasting away. I think it’s a great lesson to the youths to live an upright life and not to do things that will bring us into these kind of conditions. Their condition there is too bad. Last time we came in here, I and some of my Excos, we met with some of them, a girl of 18years being in the prison, is not a good lifestyle,” she admonished.
Miss Ijinda who hinted that the visit by the foundation to the prisons, was in line with its objective of repositioning young people for a brighter tomorrow, and further stressed the preparedness of the foundation in leading the path for not just assisting and showing love to the inmates but also providing every necessary assistance in their reabsorption back to the society, also took time out to shower encomiums on the grand patron of the DYF23, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs.
Miss Ijinda said, “Well, as the President of this noble foundation, the Dumo Lulu-Briggs Youth Foundation, I’m so glad to work with a man, who is a great man that has passion for the youths. I thank God for a great man like this that has passion for the youths. I know that our coming here will be good to them because so many of them are quite optimistic that with this our coming, I believe that our grand patron will do something and some of them will come out and be with us again. Thank you very much,” she said in appreciation to the man popularly addressed as DLB.
Lending his statesmanly and sagelike voice to the emotions of the day, a one time Deputy Speaker of the Rivers state House of Assembly and now chairman of the Grand Rivers Alliance, GRA, Rt. Hon. Iyk Oji who accompanied DYF23 and Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs to the Port Harcourt Maximum Security Prison said, “I believe and I’m persuaded that Chief Barrister Dumo Lulu-Briggs is at the service of God through the conferment of survivial benefits to other members of the human race; but most importantly, we are here because some people have made wrong choices. So they are here based on the consequences of choices they have made, and everyday we are faced with choices. I pray that what we have seen coming as it is, will help us to make better choices in future,” he reflected soberly.
Some of the high points of the visit included a very lively interactive session at the female section of the Prioson where the head of the “female freedomers” (as they are called), who has been a prisoner for over 20, years, thanked Chief Dumo Lulu-Brigfs for the visit saying that his father, Olu-Benson Lulu-Briggs, has done alot for the prison and its inmates over the years.
Other highlights were the presentation of the set of twins to Chief Dumo and the Prayers and the robust praise worship with the inmates during which special prayers were made for the foundation and its grand patron.
The visit was succesfully conclude with donations for the renovation and equipping of the cells and to various groups within the prison community including the mother of the twin baby girls for their upkeep. Food items and relief materials were also given to the inmates.
Receiving the donations, the Controller, Port Harcourt Maximum Security Prison, expressed immense appreciation to the foundation and its grand patron, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, promising that the funds would be used judiciously for the good of the inmates and the prison community at large.
Additional reports and photos from DYF23 Media team.