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The Uncertain Future Of Nigeria’s Female Prisoners

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“I am still awaiting trial after five years behind bars for a crime I did not commit,” says Toke Okeowo*, a 25-year-old inmate at the female section of the Kirikiri Prison in Apapa, Lagos State, Nigeria. Her case typifies the injustice suffered by hundreds of poor women in Nigeria.

Kirikiri Prison is one of two female correctional facilities in the country. At the entrance of the prison, there is a notice stating the prison was carrying 2,000 people over its 1,700 capacity, an issue that has led to the spread of diseases and countless deaths. What is more alarming, a majority of the detainees, similar to Okeowo, have not been convicted by any court of law.

“My neighbor came over to my place and told me to hold her mobile phone while she went next door to pick up her child. Thirty minutes later, a group of men came knocking at my door looking for the neighbor who had apparently fled. They found the phone which had been stolen from the men along with a laptop and accused me of being an accomplice,” says Okeowo.

She was immediately detained and sent to the medium security wing of the prison where she has been waiting for a verdict for the past five years. Nigeria has the highest number of detainees awaiting trial in Africa.

The Grime That Comes With Crime

Okwendi Solomon, an expert in Criminology and Penology, estimates that over 70% of prison inmates are on the awaiting-trial list in the country. The legality of these detainees is still an ongoing debate. Section 19 of the Prison Act of Nigeria defines a woman prisoner as “any person lawfully committed to custody”.

However, Dr Uju Agomoh, an expert in justice and prison reform and founder of Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), believes the ambiguity in the law needs to be addressed.

“For a woman to be recognized as a prisoner in Nigeria, her confinement to prison must be lawful. This raises serious concerns as to the legal status of awaiting-trial women who are often charged by magistrates who have no jurisdiction to do so and are then remanded in prison custody by such magistrates pending their proper trial before a competent court,” says Agomoh.

Dr Uju Agomoh (Photo supplied by PRAWA)

Furthermore, she believes that because women do not account for a majority within the criminal justice system of many African countries, most prisons have a proclivity to cater to the larger male prison population without sufficiently taking into account a gender-sensitive approach and therefore unable to adequately take care of the special needs of female prisoners.

Princess Ndema* experienced this insensitivity the hard way.

“I was arrested for trafficking drugs. At the time, I was six months pregnant so I ended up giving birth to my child in this prison. It was very bad conditions because the prison did not have adequate treatment or care. I fell ill immediately after that due to an infection I contracted during childbirth. If you do not have someone bringing you feminine hygiene products from the outside, you basically have to try and somehow survive,” says Ndema.

Most of the toiletries used by inmates at the Kirikiri Prison are provided by non-governmental and religious organizations – a problem for the female prisoners who might be nursing mothers or pregnant.

“We do not get any welfare from the government. If it was not for the local church who bring sanitary pads, soaps and sometimes food to us, the situation will be a lot worse than it is,” says Ndema.

She and her son have been at Kirikiri for seven years now. She claims although she was 16 at the time, the arresting officer said she was 21 so she could be tried as an adult. That trial never came.

“The number of female prisoners are few in comparison to the male population, however, due to the recent alarming growth as well as the unique nature of female prisoners, I think it is imperative for the criminal justice system in Nigeria to focus on the conditions and issues that can have a negative impact on their health,” says Dr Olayinka Lawal, Executive Director of PRAWA.

How Criminals Free Their Mind Behind Bars

The organization was established about 22 years ago as a non-profit due to the inhumane conditions in the prison system. For Lawal, improving conditions in the prison also means speeding up the legal process for awaiting-trial persons.

“The way this system should work is, somebody is arrested for a criminal offence, goes through trial, and is presumed innocent constitutionally until found guilty of the offence. But this does not happen because the criminal justice system is slow with the average detainee waiting between five to 17 years. Three years ago, we helped to release one of the longest detainees in the state who had spent over 17 years awaiting trial,” says Lawal.

The only light through the prison’s concrete labyrinth for those still awaiting trial is the presence of organizations like PRAWA. The organization puts prison reform at the top of their agenda through capacity research and institutional building as well as advocacy.

“The administration of Criminal Justice Act ACJA 2015 has outlined the framework to tackle the issue and we need to find prudent and efficient ways of implementing this. As I have always stated, there are other forms of sentencing like communal service instead of prison term so education is also key,” says Lawal.

The mandate to reform the prisons in Nigeria rests with the Nigerian Prison Service (NPS) but due to the peculiar challenges in prisons in the country, the process of rehabilitating prisoners and sending them back into society has been significantly hindered.

“Those awaiting trial under the eyes of the law are usually presumed to be innocent and there is no provision for them in the prison system because they are just passing by. As a result, the reformative program in the prison is intended for the convict,” says Lawal.

According to Dr Kemi DaSilva-Ibru, founder of Women At Risk International Foundation (WARIF), “When juxtaposed with other members of the society, prisoners suffer numerous health issues in prison including substance abuse, mental health and communicable diseases.”

Equally worrisome for mothers like Ndema, the responsibility of raising her son rests squarely on her shoulders until she is separated from him during incarceration. For her and many females facing an uncertain future, the challenges continue. The only way out is through government and other stakeholders coming together to provide and improve the prison system as well as healthcare and most importantly, ensuring the criminal justice system achieves its intended purpose by legally punishing or acquitting individuals in an expeditious manner.

*names changed to protect identity

Billionaires

Quote Of The Day

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We have grown past the stage of fairy-tale. As women, we have one common front and that is to succeed. We have to take the bull by the horn and make the change happen by ourselves.

– Folorunso Alakija, Billionaire Businesswoman

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Entrepreneurs

From The Arab World To Africa

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Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi; image supplied

In this exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA, successful Dubai-based Emirati businesswoman, author and artist, Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi, shares some interesting insights on fashion, the future, and feminism in a shared world.

Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi wears many hats, as an artist, architect, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She currently serves as the CEO of Paris London New York Events & Publishing (PLNY), that includes a magazine and a fashion house.

She runs Velvet Magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication in the Gulf founded in 2010 that showcases the diversity of the region home to several nationalities from around the world.

In this recent FORBES AFRICA interview, Hend, as she would want us to call her, speaks about the future of publishing, investing in intelligent content, and learning to be a part of the disruption around you.

As an entrepreneur too and the designer behind House of Hend, a luxury ready-to-wear line that showcases exquisite abayas, evening gowns and contemporary wear, her designs have been showcased in fashion shows across the world.

The Middle East is known for retail, but not typically, as a fashion hub in the same league as Paris, New York or Milan. Yet, she has changed the narrative of fashion in the region. “I have approached the world of fashion with what the customer wants,” says Hend. In this interview, she also extols African fashion talent and dwells on her own sartorial plans for the African continent.

In September, in Downtown Dubai, she is scheduled to open The Flower Café. Also an artist using creative expression meaningfully, she says it’s important to be “a role model of realism”.

She is also the author of The Black Book of Arabia, described as a collection of true stories from the Arab community offering a real glimpse into the lives of men and women across the Gulf Cooperation Council region.

In this interview, she also expounds on her home, Sharjah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE and the region’s educational hub. “A number of successful entrepreneurs have started in this culturally-rich emirate that’s home to 30 museums,” she concludes. 

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Entertainment

Kim Kardashian West Is Worth $900 Million After Agreeing To Sell A Stake In Her Cosmetics Firm To Coty

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In what will be the second major Kardashian cashout in a year, Kim Kardashian West is selling a 20% stake in her cosmetics company KKW Beauty to beauty giant Coty COTY for $200 million. The deal—announced today—values KKW Beauty at $1 billion, making Kardashian West worth about $900 million, according to Forbes’estimates.

The acquisition, which is set to close in early 2021, will leave Kardashian West the majority owner of KKW Beauty, with an estimated 72% stake in the company, which is known for its color cosmetics like contouring creams and highlighters. Forbes estimates that her mother, Kris Jenner, owns 8% of the business. (Neither Kardashian West nor Kris Jenner have responded to a request for comment about their stakes.) According to Coty, she’ll remain responsible for creative efforts while Coty will focus on expanding product development outside the realm of color cosmetics.

Earlier this year, Kardashian West’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, also inked a big deal with Coty, when she sold it 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The deal left Jenner with a net worth of just under $900 million. Both Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty are among a number of brands, including Anastasia Beverly Hills, Huda Beauty and Glossier, that have received sky-high valuations thanks to their social-media-friendly marketing. 

“Kim is a true modern-day global icon,” said Coty chairman and CEO Peter Harf in a statement. “This influence, combined with Coty’s leadership and deep expertise in prestige beauty will allow us to achieve the full potential of her brands.”

The deal comes just days after Seed Beauty, which develops, manufactures and ships both KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, won a temporary injunction against KKW Beauty, hoping to prevent it from sharing trade secrets with Coty, which also owns brands like CoverGirl, Sally Hansen and Rimmel. On June 19, Seed filed a lawsuit against KKW Beauty seeking protection of its trade secrets ahead of an expected deal between Coty and KKW Beauty. The temporary order, granted on June 26, lasts until August 21 and forbids KKW Beauty from disclosing details related to the Seed-KKW relationship, including “the terms of those agreements, information about license use, marketing obligations, product launch and distribution, revenue sharing, intellectual property ownership, specifications, ingredients, formulas, plans and other information about Seed products.”

Coty has struggled in recent years, with Wall Street insisting it routinely overpays for acquisitions and has failed to keep up with contemporary beauty trends. The coronavirus pandemic has also hit the 116-year-old company hard. Since the beginning of the year, Coty’s stock price has fallen nearly 60%. The company, which had $8.6 billion in revenues in the year through June 2019, now sports a $3.3 billion market capitalization. By striking deals with companies like KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, Coty is hoping to refresh its image and appeal to younger consumers.

Kardashian West founded KKW Beauty in 2017, after successfully collaborating with Kylie Cosmetics on a set of lip kits. Like her half-sister, Kardashian West first launched online only, but later moved into Ulta stores in October 2019, helping her generate estimated revenues of $100 million last year. KKW Beauty is one of several business ventures for Kardashian West: She continues to appear on her family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, sells her own line of shapewear called Skims and promotes her mobile game, Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Her husband, Kanye West, recently announced a deal to sell a line of his Yeezy apparel in Gap stores.

“This is fun for me. Now I’m coming up with Kimojis and the app and all these other ideas,” Kardashian West told Forbesof her various business ventures in 2016. “I don’t see myself stopping.”

Madeline Berg, Forbes Staff, Hollywood & Entertainment

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