Oluwafunke Adeoye, providing access to justice for the underserved

Oluwafunke Adeoye is a lawyer, social entrepreneur and human rights defender with over a decade of experience working on issues relating to criminal justice, human rights, civic space strengthening, and tech for social good.

She is the Founder of Hope Behind Bars Africa, a social impact organisation working to close the justice gap in Nigeria using legal aid, evidence-based advocacy, data, and technology. So far, over 7,000+ justice-involved individuals have benefited directly from their interventions.

Having experienced the injustice in the justice system after her father was several years ago detained and denied his rights for a crime he did not commit and having lost a child to providing access to justice to the underserved inadequacies of a government health facility, Oluwafunke is committed to providing access to justice to the underserved and working with relevant stakeholders to strengthen government systems.

Funke is a graduate of law from the University of Benin, a fellow of the Cornell University Makwanyane Institute for Capital Defenders, and an Acumen West Africa Fellow. She has attended two flagship programmes at Lagos Business School, including the prestigious Executive Certificate in Non-profit Leadership and Management.

She is a recipient of several awards, but recently won the Waislitz Global Citizen Choice Prize, 2023.

By fall of 2023, Oluwafunke will begin her journey as a Commonwealth Scholar at the University of Oxford.

Take us through your formative years and experiences

I was born in Port Harcourt on 1st of March,1992 but spent most of my life in Lagos, though I am an indigene of Ondo state. I come from a very humble background, Dad initially worked as a sailor and subsequently became a marine engineer. Mum managed a few small-scale businesses, taught as a teacher and currently runs a school in Lagos. I am the third of 6 children. My siblings and I are first-generation graduates. Despite not having so much, our parents prioritised two things which I call gifts that ultimately shaped me into who I am today.
The first is the gift of education. My parents did not have a university education, but I went to the best school that they could afford at the time. One time, I had to stay out of school for a year because we were struggling financially. My dad sold some of his personal items to get me back to school. Watching my parents do everything to make ends meet, I learnt the value of education, diligence and tenacity. My parents also encouraged a reading culture at home. There is a book I have today that was given to me by my dad ‘You’ve got what it takes’, that book stroked the fan of ambition in me as a child.

The second gift my parents gave me is the gift of faith. They taught me the power of prayer and believing in a force greater than me. All through my childhood, we would wake up at 6 am daily for morning devotion and 8 pm for night prayers, this routine continues to date. I began to know God for myself when I got into the university and as an adult, my faith is an invaluable part of my life. It is what fuels my passion and my purpose. My parents worked as diligently as they prayed, and this is something that has followed me into adulthood, that being a person of faith should not be an excuse for mediocrity. In fact, because I am a person of faith, I am indebted to living out God’s word which says I can do all things (excellently) through Christ who strengthens me.

Why the decision to be a human rights lawyer?

Several life events contributed to this, but I would say I made the professional decision to become a human rights lawyer after I tried my hands on different areas of law and found that the one area of law that makes me tick is when I handle cases that involve standing up for the oppressed or marginalised. This realisation came sometime around 2016 when I worked as an Associate at Olumide Sofowora Chambers in Lagos State. It was a decision that came with lots of tears and sacrifice.

Several months prior to my moving from Lagos to Abuja to join my husband, I had passed five interview stages at a top firm and gotten a role as an Associate working predominantly on corporate transactions. The offer was great because it would save me from being out of work after I resigned from my role in Lagos. I looked forward to it. As soon as my offer letter came, I lost my peace. I prayed and knew that I had to humbly reject the offer. The thought of doing human rights law had come to me in the past, but everyone knows it is not lucrative, and for me at the time, I was not sure it was a futuristic career path. After that incident, I made the decision to only look for roles in human rights or the development space.

Why was ‘Hope Behind Bars Africa’ set up?

Hope Behind Bars Africa was set up to address the inequalities in the Nigerian Criminal Justice System. Individuals awaiting trial constitute about 69.3% of Nigeria’s prison population. This is the highest percentage of awaiting-trial prisoners in Africa, according to the World Prison Brief’s report, which puts the figure at 12.4% for Ghana and 32.9% for South Africa. This means that only three out of every four prisoners are convicted of a crime in Nigeria, the rest are pre-trial detainees, and some can stay behind bars without committing any offense for up to 25 years because they are unable to afford the three B’s: bail, bribe, and Barrister.

Section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the presumption of innocence. The section provides that “Every person who is charged with a criminal offense shall be presumed innocent until he is proven guilty”. The Constitution, under Section 36(4), also guarantees the right to access to justice. But the reality in Nigeria is that defendants are presumed guilty even before trial. Arrest and imprisonment are the order of the day, even for the smallest offences. Indigent people have been victims of the system and cannot afford good legal representation. Sadly, the Legal Aid Council, which is the agency responsible for facilitating legal aid, is underfunded and understaffed.

I had a personal experience with the system; the history dates back to when my dad faced injustice when I was a child. He was arrested, detained, and denied his human rights for a crime he did not commit. He was released after about 2 weeks, but not without us parting with money we did not have. He lost his job, and this was the first time I experienced injustice in the justice system.

I opted to study law, and in 2012, during my final year, I wrote my long essay on “Restorative Justice as a Veritable Tool for Prison Reforms”. This research work opened my eyes to some more challenges in the justice system. At the time, the number of awaiting trial inmates was about 65%.

After my graduation, I went to Law School and joined the law clinic on prison visits. Subsequently, I joined the prison ministry of House of the Rock, the church I attended in Lagos. Sadly, due to my busy work schedule, I could not do so much.

Between 2014 and 2017, while working at a private law firm, I co-defended 14 indigent men arrested and detained for various felonies. One of them had been extrajudicially killed by the police, and the others had assented to a confessional statement to avoid being killed. We won the case on merit at the High Court and Court of Appeal.

Fast-forward to March 2018, when I had another bad experience with the Nigerian health system that led to the loss of my child. I wanted to sue the institution but found solace in the urge to pursue my purpose. In May 2018, I kicked off the first prison visit that led to the birth of Hope Behind Bars Africa.

So, I started Hope Behind Bars Africa from a place of pain. I was angry and concerned by a lot of things that I believed were not working well in Nigeria, and because I find it easier to act than to talk, I asked myself what I could do and what I had to do to make things better.

At the time, the only thing I had were my legal skills, which I believed were enough. So, I started off with a letter written to the FCT Command of the Nigerian Prison Service (now known as the Nigerian Correctional Service) requesting approval to interview indigent pre-trial detainees who were unable to afford or access legal representation and represent them pro-bono.

Over time, other well-meaning lawyers joined the organisation as volunteers, taking up cases and representing indigent people in various holding cells and correctional facilities. In May 2019, Hope Behind Bars Africa was officially registered as an incorporated trustee at the Corporate Affairs Commission.

What has been the experience so far?

In terms of numbers, we have supported over 7,500 justice-involved individuals through our diverse interventions at the last count. Of this number, 427 indigent pre-trial detainees have been represented, and we have built a network of over 200 attorneys who have logged over 700,000 hours in pro bono cases. Together, these have helped cut time spent on trial or in prison by at least 50%. About 40% of this number were charged with simple offences, 20% with misdemeanours, and the rest with felonies and capital crimes. We have also filed two fundamental human rights actions against the Federal government. About 80% of these cases were taken from inmates during visits to the custodial centres, while 20% were based on referral and at the police stage. The results from these cases range from convictions, discharges for lack of diligent prosecution, successful no-case submissions, withdrawals of complaints, and acquittals. In all these results, our main goal is to provide adequate legal representation and to make sure that the rights of indigent pre-trial detainees are not prejudiced.

In addition to our access to justice work, we have two other programme areas: support for incarcerated individuals, which aims to bridge the rehabilitation and reintegration gap for incarcerated women and young people in prison, and the third program area is strengthening criminal justice systems. This third area addresses the problems we see from a system lens, and we currently have some ongoing campaigns, which include: Decriminalisation of petty offenses and advocacy for the implementation of non-custodial sanctions.

Currently, Hope Behind Bars has eight full-time staff, two physical offices in Abuja and Edo states, a network of over 200 probono lawyers, a very strong board governance structure, and interventions across Nigeria. We are also big on technology and innovation, and we have deployed two technology tools to help foster access to justice for all.

We are proud of every case we have handled, especially the ones where it was glaring that the defendants had no business being in prison. The very recent one will be the case of Emmanuel, who has been awaiting trial in Okorie Prison, Benin City, Edo State, for robbery since 2018. The next time he would see the insides of a court was in November 2022, after volunteer lawyer Emmanuel Okorie met with him and filed a motion to discharge him in court. He was subsequently discharged earlier this year, in March. We supported him in returning home, as he had nothing on him or no one to go to. His mother called us, wailing with gratitude, and said she thought she had seen a ghost when she saw him.

Shed light on what exactly happened to your dad that led to his arrest

My dad was arrested, detained, and denied his human rights for a crime he did not commit some time in 1998. There had been some power dynamics at his place of work, and the employees with lower economic status were worst hit by them. As a child, I remember vividly how my mum had to go out daily to the police station to give him food. No public defender was assigned to him, and we had to pull lots of strings to get him out. He was released after about 2 weeks, but not without us parting with money we did not have and selling some of our properties. One of our distant relatives, who was a lawyer, also helped out. I recall my mum sharing that it was not until she came into the picture that the police started taking things easy with her. The incident set us back as a family for years.

What led to the loss of your child?

In 2017, I was newly married and pregnant with multiple. Based on advice from family, I signed up at a public hospital in Abuja, thinking I would get the best care there. First, I did not receive the kind of care necessary for someone carrying multiple. I had to find out a lot of things myself. I had certain symptoms in my third trimester that I brought to the doctor, and he basically said it was nothing. I found out my babies were in distress on my own at 32 weeks in March 2018, and after being told I would go into an emergency cesarean section, it took more than 24 hours for a bed space to be found for me. This was after visiting at least three other government hospitals. When I eventually had the c-section, one of the babies had given way and the other was in some distress. Post-delivery, I saw different reasons why using health care in Nigeria was an extreme sport.

What interventions does the healthcare system in Nigeria need and how can this be carried out?

A lot of work needs to be done for our healthcare system especially to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates and to ensure positive health outcomes for everyone.

Investment in healthcare infrastructure is crucial, including the construction and renovation of healthcare facilities, particularly in underserved areas. This can be carried out through public-private partnerships, increased government funding, and collaboration with international organisations. Strengthening the healthcare workforce is also essential. This involves increasing the number of trained healthcare professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and midwives, through improved training programs, scholarships, and incentives to work in rural and remote areas. Additionally, continuous professional development programmes can enhance the skills and knowledge of existing healthcare personnel. Expanding health insurance coverage can significantly improve access to healthcare services. Implementing a robust national health insurance scheme, subsidising premiums for low-income individuals, and strengthening existing community-based health insurance programs can help achieve this. Finally, by having well-crafted legislation in place, it becomes easier to address critical issues that the healthcare sector faces, such as accessibility, affordability, and quality of care.

You were an Associate at Olumide Sofowora SAN Chambers in Lagos where you handled your first set of criminal cases. Amongst several, which stood out for you and why?

I got the role at Olumide Sofowora Chambers immediately after completing my one-year mandatory corps service in Benue State in November 2014. Olumide Sofowora, SAN, one of Nigeria’s top attorneys, founded the firm in 1989. The firm was a full-practice law firm, which meant that I tried my hands on different areas of law. My boss was a highly disciplined, intelligent man who taught us the value of research, excellence, and doing good work. I found myself working on a variety of cases.

One of the firm’s senior associates had gone for a prison visit and seen some 14 indigent pre-trial detainees who were on trial for pipeline vandalism, conspiracy, and the murder of nine policemen. It was a sensational and popular case at the time, a shootout had occurred between certain militants and the police, which had led to the loss of lives. The bodies were never found. The defendants were different people, picked up randomly; some of them had not seen each other. They had all confessed to making the statement involuntarily after an extrajudicial killing of one of the defendants occurred. I worked on this case with him. We won at the High Court and at the Court of Appeal. I had just about 4 years of post-call experience, and achieving this feat was exhilarating. I also saw the power of teamwork. I handled research, co-drafted some parts of the submissions, and also participated in the cross-examination of the prosecution. This particular case stood out for me, and it is one of the contributing factors that led to the work I do today.

You consulted for Cornell University and also an expert respondent for the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index since 2019. Tell us about this

Cornell University was looking for a human rights lawyer based in Nigeria to help map out human rights organisations in Africa, where Cornell students who took a particular course could intern. I completed a fellowship with the Makwanyane Institute, under the Cornell Center on Death Penalty Worldwide, in 2019, which is how I got to know about the opportunity. The duration of the role was about 6 months, and I did it to the best of my ability. Subsequently, I have been able to work with Cornell University in other areas, particularly in relation to the death penalty.

The World Justice Project Rule of Law Index is a quantitative assessment tool that shows the extent to which countries adhere to the rule of law in practice. Every year, they will reach out to lawyers and individuals across the world to respond to a series of questions and surveys relating to the lawyer’s practice areas. I started participating as an expert respondent in 2019, and even though it is a voluntary role, I have been able to contribute largely to a body of data that is being used to design people-centred justice solutions, engage the government, and predominately get all stakeholders to act.

You were a program manager at Global Rights. Share your experience, lessons and influences on you

I accepted to take up the role at Global Rights in 2021, even though I was already building Hope Behind Bars Africa.

There were three major reasons why I took the role. Aside from some volunteer experience, I worked at Hope Behind Bars Africa for about 3 years and wanted to deepen my expertise in other areas of human rights. Additionally, Abiodum Baiyewu, also known as Abi, is the CEO of Global Rights and one of Africa’s top experts in human rights and development. Abi is extremely brilliant and articulate, and I craved an opportunity to work with her. I needed the money. As of when I took the role, I was still bootstrapping Hope Behind Bars Africa. My savings were depleting, and the legal consultancies I was getting were not enough to meet my personal needs while still supporting Hope Behind Bars Africa.

My time at Global Rights was short, but I was able to give my best to the organisation and was visibly recognised as one of the finest program managers. Working there indeed expanded my appreciation for human rights as I got to work across issues of civic space strengthening, business and human rights, gender-based violence issues, and security and human rights. It also helped widen my network. Working with Abi reaffirmed to me the need to do good work, and as I returned to focus squarely on Hope Behind Bars Africa, I took that lesson with me.

In what ways have you engaged the upper chamber of Nigeria’s parliament on the Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020?

After about a month of working at Global Rights, my boss nominated me as a consultant for the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center (PLAC). They were doing major work on civic space strengthening that involved doing a thorough analysis of Part F of the Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020. I did the intended research and found that certain provisions of the CAMA that relate to incorporated trustees appeared to further shrink the civic space. I presented my findings before members of the civil society situation room and some members of the Senate, led by Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe, Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Diaspora and NGOs.

What needs to change in Nigeria’s legal system?

A lot needs to be done if we are to see changes in our legal system. I will list 5 things that I believe are important.

Strengthen the Rule of Law: This involves enhancing the independence of the judiciary, ensuring fair and efficient trial processes, and promoting transparency and accountability within the legal system.

Access to Justice: We need to enhance access to justice for all citizens, regardless of socioeconomic status, by establishing legal aid programs, simplifying court procedures, and encouraging the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.

Legal Reforms: Continuously review and update laws to align with international human rights standards, including areas such as criminal justice, freedom of expression, gender equality, and the protection of marginalised communities.

Anti-Corruption Measures: Strengthen anti-corruption efforts within the legal system, including implementing transparent procedures for appointing judges, prosecutors, and lawyers, as well as establishing effective mechanisms for reporting and addressing corruption-related issues.

Technology Integration: Technology can streamline and automate case management processes, reduce paperwork, minimise delays, and improve overall efficiency. Digital platforms can be utilised for filing, tracking, and accessing case information, making it easier for lawyers, judges, and litigants to navigate the legal system. It can also make legal information more accessible to both legal professionals and the general public. Additionally, technology can support online dispute resolution platforms that enable parties to resolve disputes through mediation or arbitration remotely, saving time and costs associated with traditional court proceedings.

You recently won Waislitz Global Citizen Choice Prize, what does this win mean to you?

I have given the best part of my last 5 years to building Hope Behind Bars Africa. This has not been an easy journey, even though it has been quite fulfilling. I have made lots of sacrifices to be here today. During the recruitment process of either volunteers or full-time staff, I would always share the vision of the organisation, and somewhere in my speech, I would ask them to join me in making an impact on a global scale and building a local organisation with global standards, among others. Every time I talk about the vision, I am reminded that I first have to become it because I cannot give what I do not have. So, winning this award in the midst of fierce competition is like the actualisation of a prophecy or vision. The fact that this is just the beginning excites and scares me. It excites me because my team and I are ready for the work. We have spent the past couple of months putting in the right structures in place for the kind of growth we want to see. It excites me because my team is beginning to see what I have been telling them behind closed doors come to reality. It scares me because there is going to be a lot of growth ahead, and growth never comes easy. It is also scary because a lot of lives are waiting for us, and I know we cannot afford to fail.

You participated in the Global Citizen Youth Leadership Award and didn’t win. You did not give up, same year, you applied for another, and you won. How important is it never to give up on one’s goal and dream irrespective of the challenges? What inspired your decision to try again?

One of my favourite quotes of all time is a line in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. “When you want something so bad, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it”. This is one reason why I do not take No for an answer, especially when I know that I stand a very good chance where there is a fair playing field. I would say it is important to first know what you want and why you want it. What is your dream, and why do you want it so much?

Understanding your why is a great driver of destiny because the road to the pursuit of purpose, our dreams, or our vision will be filled with diverse challenges that will have us questioning our choices. So, it is important that we get this right from the beginning because those challenges, the “nos,” are part of the process. It will make you stronger, it will make you innovative as you seek out other options, and when the “yes” finally comes, it will all be worth it.

I was inspired to try again because that is what I do. Tenacity is my superpower, and unless I no longer meet a requirement, I can keep on knocking on a door until I get in. If I don’t get in at first, I go back, recoup, and try again. Also, even though the application questions for the two prizes were similar, I went the extra mile with the Waislitz prize. When I was applying for the Youth Leadership Prize, I filled out the application, including the video submission alone. After I got a no, I worked with my team to produce the video submission for the Waislitz prize. In a year, I apply for nothing less than 100 opportunities for myself and my organisation, and only about 5% come with a yes. I strongly believe that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. I believe I owe it to the community I serve and my destiny to show up and take all the shots that come my way.

Regarding human rights, when it comes to Nigeria as a country and Nigerians as a people, where are we?

In Nigeria, efforts have been made to uphold human rights. We have a legal framework that recognizes and protects human rights, including the Nigerian constitution, regional human rights treaties, and domestic legislation. However, the actual implementation and enforcement of these rights can vary, and in reality, human rights violations occur in almost every sphere of our lives. They come in the form of extrajudicial killings, police brutality, arbitrary arrests, restrictions on freedom of expression and association, gender-based violence, forced evictions, and a lack of access to justice, among others. These challenges can be attributed to factors such as corruption, inadequate resources, weak enforcement mechanisms, a lack of political will, cultural barriers, and so on.

A lot of work still needs to be done before we can say that Nigerian citizens are indeed aware of their rights. There is a very wide socio-economic divide. More often, individuals in the upper class would have their rights respected and preserved, while the poor, marginalised minorities who have no one often have their rights violated without any consequence for the violators. To ensure the effective protection of human rights in Nigeria, continued efforts are needed to strengthen institutions, improve accountability, raise awareness of human rights among the citizenry, and provide meaningful remedies for victims of rights violations.

What is the Nigeria you hope for?

When it comes to Nigeria, I am an incurable optimist. There is no Nigerian slander permitted around me, and this has helped me see opportunities where others see problems. It definitely breaks my heart that several years after our independence and 24 years after our return to democratic rule, we are still struggling to reap the dividends of democracy. What further breaks me is the unequal distribution of resources and the lack of adequate representation of women in political leadership.

The Nigeria I want to see is one with very strong institutions, which are essential for promoting good governance, transparency, and accountability. Strong institutions help establish clear rules, procedures, and checks and balances that prevent abuse of power and ensure that public resources are utilised effectively and ethically. I desire a Nigeria where young people are allowed to contribute to the decision-making process and where women have equal opportunities, representation, and decision-making power in all aspects of society. A Nigeria with accessible and quality education at all levels, with a focus on equipping young people with the skills and knowledge needed for the rapidly changing world. I desire to see a Nigeria where the Rule of Law is respected, one with independent and efficient judicial systems that provide access to justice for all citizens, and finally, a Nigeria with strong institutions vital for driving economic development and attracting investments and a stable regulatory framework that fosters investor confidence, stimulates innovation, and promotes sustainable economic growth.

What are your personal and professional challenges?

On professional challenges, the first is capacity. We are largely a voluntary-based organisation and only recruited our first major set of full-time staff last year. What that means is that the majority of our access to justice work is done by kind-hearted individuals who have full-time jobs and diverse skill sets. In the beginning, this was not much of an issue, but as the organisation has grown, there has been a need for diverse skills and enhanced capacity.

The second one is government participation. None of our interventions can be implemented outside the government. At an earlier stage, it was a challenge for us to navigate through bureaucracy and the polarities that existed. In 2020, we had plans to implement a project within the prison, and for some reason, it took us months to get the government’s approval, even though the activity was of immense benefit to the correctional service. However, our relationship with government stakeholders has gotten better.

The third is resources. In the past 5 years, the highest amount of funds we received was $25,000, which was from the Unleash Plus Dragon’s Den Competition in December 2022. Other than that, the majority of the resources have come from bootstrapping, donations from friends and family, leveraging our strong volunteer pool, and engaging in partnerships with other organisations with mutual objectives. While we have been able to do a lot in spite of our very limited resources, there is a lot we could have done if we had more.

The major personal challenge I face is balancing work with my other commitments. I am learning to grow in work-life integration. There is so much demand on the value I give, and I am learning to ensure that my husband and kids get the best of me, before everyone else. As someone who loves to work and is passionate about her work, I need to get better at self-care.

What needs to change regarding Nigeria’s correctional service and inmates?

Nigeria’s criminal justice system has some very laudable legislations like the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, and the Anti-torture Act among others, but the challenge has been with implementation and the political will to implement.

With respect to corrections, I will focus on the recent step taken by the government.

Implementation of the new management of corrections. Prior to leaving office, President Buhari removed the management of corrections from exclusive to the concurrent list. Basically, the states now have the power to establish correctional and custodial facilities, and state assemblies have the power to legislate on such. This is laudable because based on statistics, there are more state offenders in prison than federal offenders. If this is properly implemented, it holds a lot of promise for many of the issues ailing the correctional service. From correctional administration to decongestion and rehabilitation. In reality, there is no conversation that can be had on correctional reforms outside of this discussion on federal or state prisons. My advice is for the government to set up a transition system where all stakeholders can engage towards developing a model that fits our local context. The next thing is to consider possible models to adopt. There are two basic models that may fit into our context. There is the true federalism model where the national correctional services administer and control the custodial centres within their purview as well as hold federal offenders. While the state also builds, controls and administers custodial centers for state-related offenses. The second model is a collaborative model between the state and the federal. They collaborate to determine the aspects of the system which will be controlled and funded by who. There is a need for standardisation and quality control across board, hence the government may want to consider creating or establishing an independent body or commission to regulate the affairs of the correctional service.

Implementation of non-custodial sanctions is also key. Not all cases have to end up in incarceration. The good thing is that we have laws that promotes alternatives to incarceration, all that is left is for structures and systems to be in place for the implementation of these alternative sanctions to be utilised properly.

What should the government do for released inmates, so they don’t go back to what brought them there?

One of the major objectives of the Correctional Service is rehabilitation and reintegration but frankly, this cannot be done by the government alone. Even the Nigerian Correctional Service Act calls for partnerships in this regard. In other to curb recidivism, the first place to begin is to ensure there is data. While it is often said that recidivism is high in some parts of the country, there is no data to back up this claim, without data it is near impossible to know how bad the situation is or to design the right solutions for addressing the problem. Data is also required for after-care. If rehabilitation and reintegration programmes are implemented, there needs to be follow-up on how many people are able to use such.

In addition to data, the government must seek out partnerships with the private sector and the third sector. It must also create an easy way for organisations seeking partnerships to get the necessary approval after vetting them. Intending partners should not be frustrated due to the bureaucracy in the system.

Counselling and mental health support are also crucial to address the underlying issues that contribute to criminal behaviour. Many individuals in the criminal justice system may struggle with mental health disorders or substance abuse issues. Proper assessment, treatment, and support can help reduce the risk of relapse into criminal behaviour.

Concluding Words

One of my favourite quotes is “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might”. As I reflect on my journey and what is ahead, I am grateful for the strength of those words because it set me on the path to purpose. While in Law School, I had listened to the founder of Covenant University when he said he researched the top 50 universities in the world prior to starting CU. When I was to start Hope Behind Bars Africa, I did the same. I researched the top non-profits in the world, Africa and Nigeria, the top non-profits in the human rights and criminal justice space, I also researched the professional backgrounds of individuals who looked like the future I saw for myself professional. I still do this till date. Reading about people’s journeys, biographies and so on. This is how I got to know about most of the opportunities I have taken hold of. Choosing to follow purpose has put me on different global stages. I just returned from the US on a leadership program fully funded by the US government -Mandela Washington Fellowship. By the fall of this year, I will commence my journey as a Commonwealth Scholar at the University of Oxford.

My advice is for young people to be very mindful of the people they give permission to influence them online and even offline because you eventually become what you behold. The books you read also matters. Also be mindful of the seeds that goes into your heart. I am not surprised that I won this award. I am very mindful of giving value and increasing my value, when I get a No, I always tell myself that it is only a matter of time because I surround myself with a lot of positive energy. I am also aware that this is the least for the organisation, my team and I. There are thousands of lives waiting for us. There is work to be done in reforming the criminal justice system and we are actively seeking out local and international allies that trust us and are willing to join us on this journey.


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