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Pictures: UN, experts, FG reveal how sports can rehabilitate, reintegrate violent extremists in Nigeria

Stakeholders at a two-day workshop on Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) in Prison Settings through Sports have advocated an improved systemic sporting approach in the rehabilitation and reintegration process in the Nigeria Correctional Service.

Speaking during the consultative workshop, organised by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) between October 10 and 11, 2023 in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, both the resource persons, experts and participants were of the view that sports remain veritable tool in the short and long term engagement of young people, particularly those in any prison confinement.

Facilitator of the workshop and Director-General of the National Sports Commission, Mallam Alhassan Yakmut, said strengthening the capacity of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) to effectively rehabilitate and reintegrate prisoners held for alleged involvement in Boko Haram insurgents activities through Sports is also key to their successful deradicalisation.

Mallam Yakmut emphasised the need for engagement of more Sports personalities including administrators and professionals in the country’s NCoS.

Talking about the significance of the gathering, Mallam Yakmut, a former Secretary of Board Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigeria Society and Civil Defence Corps, Nigeria Fire Service and NCoS said, “The significance of the workshop is strategically part of initiative to help rehabilitate, reform and reintegrate terrorist prisoners hope for better life.

“Using sports, the idea became imperative after it was observed that education and agriculture were not enough to give everyone an opportunity. And with Sports, if the right things are done, the offenders won’t find it necessary to go back to offense. We expect that if a talent is discovered in sports, you cannot be a convict again.

“Between 1995 and 2016, the British Prison Service has employed 30 sports and physical instructors back then to 743 as in 2016.

“So if as a country, we adopt this strategy in reforming convicts in the prison, some will end up becoming physical and gyms instructors, coaches and referees. So when an ex-convict becomes a referee through the Sports programme, I don’t expect a referee who determines who wins in a competition to go back to crime because he knows that to win a competition, you must obey the rules and regulations guiding it.”

Also, a Deputy Comptroller of NCoS, Dr. Ibrahim Ade-Yusuf, said already the service has queued into using Sports as one of the programmes in the process of rehabilitating convicts, adding “Sports is also part of what we use to keep our staff fit.”

In their separate submissions, an official of UNODC, Georgia Dimitropoulou, and a consultant Christian Achaleke from Cameroon Republic said Sports has become a major tool for prevention of crimes in the society.

Earlier, Minister of Sports Development, Senator John Owan Enoh, said, “Rehabilitation and Reintegration of prisoners into society through sports-based programs and policies is a modern and effective tool for  the transformation of inmates. Research shows that high reoffending rates are often due to the disproportionate focus of criminal justice systems on ‘punishing’ offenders instead of helping rehabilitate them with an eye towards reintegrating effectively into society after they have served their time. 

“While most prisons include rehabilitative programs, sport has yet to be seriously recognised as a powerful tool for self-transformation. It is hoped that the lessons from this workshop would further our understanding and insights for developing evidence-based interventions for future programs on the use of sports in prison settings in Nigeria.”

The workshop which focused on the area of policy formulations, according to the organisers, will also set agenda for their implementation in subsequent edition.

In an interview, former Taekwondo athlete and Olympic medallist, Engr. Chika Chukwumerije, harped on the need for the government to retool its sporting architecture for young Nigerians.

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