DCP Lizzie Ekpendu: Humanitarian with a difference

Many walk the paths of life m e r e l y a s spectators. Their walk is often tentative, dragging on meaninglessly. But few take those ordinary steps and turn the scale of things in the existential psycho-drama for the common good. DCP Ekpendu Lizzie chose quite early in life to be an active caregiver instead of being a docile observer of the swift currents of life.

Imagine the streak of light from a heart that shines forth and banishes darkness in an inmate’s consciousness behind steel bars. Imagine light so rare and brilliant remaining ever potent in the hearts of recipients even for those on death-row. Imagine a woman that is gloriously humane,
diligent and goodnatured, with the touch of a virtuoso, who turns the gale of tears of inmates and widows into springs of joy and hope for better dawns.

DCP Lizzie Ekpendu’s story is the stuff only heard of in movie scripts. Talk about enduring imageries of an analytical mind that sees the problems of Prison inmates and widows and strives to solve them at all cost. Talk about bowels of c o m p a s s i o n f o r t h e downtrodden. Talk about a humanitarian with a difference, whose painstaking and prayerful stead is simply to put smiles on the faces of the lessprivileged through a creative spirit that is boundless, selfless and restless. These are the glimpses that curry the mythical significance of Deputy Controller of P r i s o n , EkpenduVihishimaOgugua Lizzie, one of Nigeria’s finest humanitarians and high-profile consciences of our time.

These are the reasons the scripts of her purpose-driven life are as fresh as morning dew. Same reason the memories of her many humanitarian gestures will always enliven human hearts with their meaning as worthy of emulation. And because we are privileged as witnesses of her brilliant career, family values and principled life, we cannot help but beam our searchlight on her peculiar persona and the underpinning philosophy that makes her such a rare breed. DCP Lizzie Ekpendu’s Philosophical Persuasion: DCP Ekpendu Lizzie’s prime motivation that translates to a winning streak as a firebrand humanitarian and as a leader in her own patch of the earth, specifically in the Prisons spheres, is impelled by the thread that kneads our common humanity as children of the Most High God, by whose standards and dictates we are indivisible, and by whose grace and love we live.

This mindset borne of a sterner Christian orientation where love pervades without boundaries on daily basis, served to focus her energies in learning and mastering the art of care-giving which is synonymous with the exemplary life of Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior. The refining furnace through which her emergent personality was modeled was indeed the ‘Jesus lifestyle’, the whole practice of being like Jesus in all things – that intrinsic nature of the Lord that she found herself emulating as a child by singing and dancing in the junior choir and the dint of always ‘giving special numbers in church,’ was the turning point.

So Ekpendu’s ability to continually extend love to others comes seeded in a holistic package, which is a reflection of the qualities of God as the giver of divine love. Her selfless instincts and outcomes are natural consequences of this reality since God is the source of her inspiration. “The life of Christ inspires me; his simplicity, his humility, everything that Jesus did is inspirational to me, because it has to do with selfless service and Jesus actually came to serve,” she quips.

Proclaiming God’s immanent love to humanity wherever practicable, answering the ‘divine call’ in the Prisons Service through humanitarian gestures and steering the reins of her great dream – which is to see the day the Prison will become ‘a home to the misguided’ – are the cornerstones of DCP Ekpendu Lizzie’s manifest destiny.

Ekpendu’s Candles in the Darkness:

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness” is a worn-out cliche, but one befitting of DCP Ekpendu’s reformist tendencies in the Prisons Service.

Though the lining of her consciousness has always been tinted with compassion for others, the actual journey into the realm of philanthropy began in earnest from 19961997 during the mandatory one year National Youth Service Corps Programme in Owerri, Imo State. The deplorable conditions she met in the Owerri Prison as a Corper challenged her Christian conscience and invoked in her the burning desire to practically alleviate the suffering of both inmates and Prison personnel.

Mr. I. C. Abiakam, Controller of Prisons in-charge, Imo State Prisons Commands (Retd), in a letter of recommendation on behalf of Corper Vihishima Lizzie to the Director of NYSC, Imo State for both National and State Merit Awards, eloquently x-rayed the plethora of her exploits and contributions to the growth of Owerri Prisons. “I am yet to see such a young person with such talents, interest, dedication and love for the depressed as exhibited by this Youth Corper – Vihishima Lizzie,” he wrote.

He went a notch higher with his praise song thus: “Having
approached me as the Controller of Prisons i/c Imo State Prison in September of 1996 with a package of proposals for the spiritual, psychological and physical improvement of the welfare of the prison inmates of Owerri Prison, Lizzie has within this short period proved herself a genius with more talents yet to be explored…”

As CP Abiakam (Retd) highlights in same letter of recommendation, Lizzie’s humanitarian achievements within the timeframe includes, “effectively rehabilitating some inmates, re-establishing in the inmates of Owerri Prison self confidence and sense of belonging to this planet through psycho-drama, donating single-handedly drugs, foodstuffs, and clothing worth thousands of Naira to the inmates, pulling hundreds of personalities including Her E x c e l l e n c y , M r s . MaimunaZubairu to witness the psycho-drama presentation put together within the period on the 23rd of December 1996 and organized a launching to aid finish the prison chapel on the 10th of April 1997.”

According to CP Abiakam (Retd), “Finally she constructed and donated standing water tanks worth about N80, 000.00 (then) to Owerri Prison to alleviate the perennial water crisis. This is something unseen and unheard of in the history of Owerri Prison. I am short for words; words are not enough to express how I feel of this little girl. I ponder on.”

Lizzie’s use of drama as an effective tool to rehabilitate ‘criminals’ in the society via the prison, anchors on creating scenarios of crime and through rehearsals and performance, totally reclaim aberrational tendencies of criminals.

She sums it up as “get together” instead of the generic term “party”. It usually involves drama activities, singing and dancing. “This aids to stabilize the inmates physically, spiritually, psychologically and even emotionally. Better called Psycho-drama, it is the use of dance drama as a therapy. It is an action method that we teachers of Psycho-drama use as a Psychotherapy in which inmates’ use spontaneous dramatization role playing and dramatic self-presentation to investigate and gain insight into their lives,” she says.

The essence of the get together is to bring both inmates and staff together, thereby establishing a sense of oneness in the prison. As our expositions herein will show, ever since that debut in Owerri Prison, Ekpendu Lizzie’s psycho-drama has become a recurring decimal with profound impact on inmates in all the prisons she has been posted to till date.

A gold fish they say has no hiding place. Ekpendu is not an exception to this rule of thumb. Beside CP Abiakam (Rtd) who noticed her ingenuity and milk of human kindness while a Corper in Owerri Prison, the late Right Rev. Bishop Benjamin Nwankiti, the then Anglican Bishop of Owerri diocese, under the auspices of The Nigerian Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO), Imo State branch, also wrote that “Lizzie is another Saint Francis of Assisi,” noting as well that “Her analytical mind sees the problems of inmates whole. Punctilious, painstaking and prayerful, she has been gloriously human…”

Lizzie’s date with destiny finally beckoned on her towards the end of her NYSC Programme. In November 2003, Compass quarterly magazine reports that, “by the time Lizzie finished her NYSC Programme, encomiums and recommendations were pouring into NYSC secretariat from everywhere including government high places, insisting that she deserves a national merit award. An obviously overwhelmed Nigerian Prisons Service was making plans to snatch Lizzie. Obviously she won the best Corper merit award in 1997. The NPS broke their four year ’employment embargo’ rule for the young lady of substance and employed Lizzie as the only ASP for that year and within an 8 year gap.”

For Vihishima Lizzie, that was a great launching pad that complemented her childhood upbringing and which led to an indelible trajectory of compassion and charity from one Nigerian Prisons Service station to the other across the country. In each place of posting, starting with the Prisons Staff College Kaduna where as a rookie student she undertook the ASP Basic Course, she brought uncommon elements of her sensitivity to the fore through concerted efforts at alleviating the plight of inmates and staff. Through the financial support of her father, for instance, she bought chemicals and other materials and rehabilitated and made functional an abandoned well in the NPS staff college. She also bought three Gee Pee Tanks for the college.

This was against the backdrop of students being asked to fetch water daily. Saddled with the responsibility of monitoring those who complied and those who disobeyed the order, she felt the safest way out of the dilemma of witch-hunting offenders was to provide the means for sustained adequate water supply. Hence, her recourse to rehabilitating the well and providing three water tanks that spared students of the college the ordeal of fetching water daily.

Lizzie’s reward for that sterling performance and burst of benevolence during the ASP Basic course was the Commandant’s award as the best student in community development in August, 1999.

In her march towards leaving indelible marks on the sand of time, she is driven all the time by something finer than her selfinterests. This,as she puts it, is “working with emotional intelligence and simply putting other people’s physical, psychological and spiritual needs before mine.” This much is evident in the humanitarian trail she left behind during her brief stint at the Keffi Prison in 2000.

Keen observers of Ekpendu Lizzie’s exploits during this period are quick to ascribe it as a repeat scenario of her largesse during the ASP Basic course: here she donated 3 water tanks shared between the ATM cell, Female cell and one for general use. Alongside these, she donated one clinic cupboard for drug storage, ludo, draughts, playing cards, church drums and instruments for inmates use at Keffi Prison.

At the Kuje Prison, FCT Command the same year, the story was not entirely different as she carried out similar projects to critical acclaim. On Thursday, July 17, 2003 the New Age newspaper reports that “while at the Kuje Prisons in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, Ekpendu organized a drama programme and gave the money realized from it to the inmates” with the caveat “sort out your problems with it.” She taught for 6 years at the Prison Training School Enugu.

While there Lizzie complemented the efforts of the leadership vis-à-vis a donation of five Gee Pee water storage tanks to each of the student’s hostels and the kitchen. But that was not the most remarkable of her feats at Enugu. The toilet project undertaken in 2003 in Enugu Prison barracks was the high point.

Some starling discoveries she made in the Prison barracks included the old-fashioned use of bucket latrines in many homes and the littering of the barracks with feaces as a result which posed health hazards to the barracks community. Bent on solving this knotty problem of bucket latrines and its rebounding effects, Lizzie embarked on an inspection of the barracks alongside the Head of Nursing at the state Prison headquarters and the then Officer-in-Charge Enugu Prison.

But it required financial commitment which she lacked as a Civil Servant. So she sought the assistance of the two people she could rely on, her husband and father who readily came to her aid financially. Coupled with her savings, the rest is now history.

Ekpendu Lizzie undertook the construction of 10 toilets (5 each for men and women) and 8 bathrooms (4 each for men and women), which were linked to a 20ft by 12ft septic tank and 12ft by 10ft suck-away pit fully completed for the use and comfort of families in the thbar racks. On 24 June, 2003 this monumental project was commissioned by the CGP represented by the then Zonal Coordinator Zone G, Mr. O.C. Nnodi.

DCP Ekpendu who wants to be remembered after she’s gone from this shore as “the Mother General of Prisons, the mother of the helpless and down trodden, because I love Prisoners,” became the chairperson of the Prisons Officers Wives Association (PROWA), Enugu State during the period in review. Under PROWA she tried to mainstream the strategic development plans of the body in the state through the headquarters of the Prisons Service via proposals for financial support in carrying out its cardinal objectives. This was necessitated by the magnitude of projects already earmarked by PROWA and Lizzie’s perception of the plight of the wives of fellow officers who could hardly offset their monthly dues.

The projects on completion, amongst other things, were fundamentally targeted as financial traction for the execution of the organization’s numerous programmes and activities.

Fortunately, the proposals got the approval of the then CGP, Mr. Olusola Ogundipe (Retd), and with the support of his resourceful, forward-looking and amiable wife, Mrs. Tola Ogundipe, Ekpendu Lizzie went on to construct one hundred and thirty one shops and a mega filling station for PROWA Enugu State, which by conservative estimates, was to provide the body on the average, an income of 2.5 million Naira. Sadly, though Mrs. Ogundipe commissioned and handed over the project to P R O W A E n u g u o n completion, it did not see the light of day because of Enugu State government’s demolition of the entire block of shops due to policy changes.

Also as chairperson PROWA Enugu State, Ekpendu Lizzie synergized with a pipelines filling station company to construct a PROWA/Pipelines filling station that has 34 pumps which is akin to an NNPC mega station at No. 55 Kingsway Way Road, Enugu.

Mrs. Ekpendu was the National PRO of the Prisons Officers’ Wives Association (PROWA) with remarkable successes for nine years. She also worked in consonance consonance with the past three national PROWA Presidents and had just handed over as the National President of the Prisons Officers’ Wives Association (PROWA), the first of its kind in which a serving prisons officer plays the role of the National President of PROWA.

With new vision and flair, DCP Ekpendu Lizzie turned the annual AUGUST MEETING for the Oganiru Ndom Ibeku for indigenes both at home and in the Diaspora in her husband’s place , Ibeku Okwuato Mbaise, into a pageant of colours and care giving.

For three consecutive years she organized lectures on family health, community development and the role of women in contemporary Nigeria. She also organized and dedicated the 2010 August Meeting to Widows in which food items, wrappers, sewing machines, grinders and other items of trade were given to them as a means of empowering them for self reliance. A stickler for friendship, DCP Ekpendu knows the best way to harness her social network towards contributing meaningfully to projects that help the rural women and the less privilege in the community. Always outstretching open arms to all, always ready to assist, she is fondly referred to by all as” Mother General.” Beyond the precincts of the Prisons, DCP Ekpendu Lizzie has elaborate plans to upscale women associations such as the Ibeku Women Community Development. Her target objective is the construction of a woman development and skills acquisition centre at AforIbeku in Aboh Mbaise LGA of Imo State. The assistance of her husband, of course, will come to play in actualizing this dream. In relation to this, a land for the construction of the permanent site of the centre at IbekuMbaise has been procured by her.

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