I AM INNOCENT BUT I SPENT THE LAST 13 YEARS OF MY LIFE IN PRISON

The encounter that will live with me for a long time

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It was a sunny afternoon in Lagos and I had just boarded a bus from CMS when a man in a blue polo shirt and black trouser, who looked emaciated and a bit unkempt, stood up to speak. He introduced himself as Daniel and was quick to point out that he was not a madman neither was he a beggar; he just wanted to share his experience.

The man regained his freedom on Wednesday 13th March, 2013 after spending 13 years behind bars. He was arrested in 1995 alongside 708 other people by General Sani Abacha’s operative as part of a suppressive measure against anti-government crusaders following the mass protests that greeted the cancellation of the June 12, 1993 election and Abacha’s rise to power. These indiscriminate arrests were known in the Southwest as “Won ko #Roga” and more often than not innocent people were usually the victims.

After his arrest, Brother Daniel was remanded in Ilesha Prison where he was until 1998 when a riot broke out and some inmates escaped following the news of Abiola’s death. The escapees we later recaptured and the prison authorities decided to relocate them. The prisoners were transported under inhumane conditions, a great number of them were squeezed into a Black Maria, they could not sit or stand comfortably coupled with very poor ventilation. Brother Daniel thought his end had come.  They were scattered all over Lagos –Kirikiri, Ikoyi and Badagry – and the prisoners believed that it was in a bid to frustrate their friends and families who might want to locate them. He was remanded in Kirikiri.

During his 13 years stay in Prison, Brother Daniel only had two court dates that did not yield into anything meaningful. They were fed twice daily – Half cooked beans in the morning and Eba with terrible soup in the night. Often time they spiced their food with ajinomoto that had been smuggled in to enable the swallow the food. The only access they had to information was through the radios wardens brought with them when they made rounds. The living condition is unfit even for animals and they had very little going for them in the way of care from the wardens. The little respite they had was from RCCG, other church missions and Major Al-Mustapha who provided food, medical supplies and assistance to pregnant inmates.

More on prisoner welfare in Nigerian Prisons

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There he was in the bus, fully given his life to Jesus – the only thing that sustained him all through his time in confinement. Fresh out of prison with no money in his pocket, no idea where to start from, no assurances about his welfare and security, no guarantees on how the society will react to him and no compensation for the years he had lost and for the pains he had suffered. After addressing us, he was lost in thoughts every now and then, interrupted by commuters offering him money, some N20, some N50, others N100 and he expressed heartfelt gratitude to each of the donors. As he was about to alight, I squeezed N1,000 note into his palm, he was too stunned to say thank you and was almost moved to tears. My only prayer was that he could find meaning in life again…. And joy!

A COUPLE OF QUESTIONS

–          How many innocent Nigerians are currently rotting in Jail?

–          How many of them have dreams, aspirations, loved ones and desire to live like you and I?

–          Why is the standard of living so poor? Is the point of incarceration to debase their minds or to correct them?

–          Why would you release an inmate without making adequate plans for his welfare and security at least to help him find his feet and adjust back into society?

–          Why do the billionaire thieves get pardons and national awards while common ones/innocent people rot in Jail?

–          What is wrong with our (in)Justice system?

–          Is there hope for Nigeria?