THORNS IN MY BOOT 14

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14

 

They called it “Correction Centre” but it is actually a “Corruption centre”. I can authoritatively say that Prison administration in Nigeria is far from being a corrective institution. It is a den where greedy, demented and desperate men in uniform take advantage of helpless men that are under lock and key. I pray for you today as you read my story that you and your loved ones shall never be inmate to any prison anywhere. In prison, you are reduced to less than a human being! You have no rights, no privileges! You are at the mercy of the Warders. To survive in Prison, you have got to have strong outside connections. People die daily that we got tired of crying when anyone died.

Corruption starts from the entrance gate! It is all about money. Sometimes I wonder if these Warders do not receive salaries, or maybe all our Para-military services in Nigeria are just there to extort and exploit the helpless Civilians. The Warders will do anything for money! I cannot list all of the atrocities that go on in the Prison because it comes in varied forms; all you need to keep a Warder under your control is to buy him or her.

After spending six months at the Abakaliki Prison without a single Court appearance, I then understood why some of us had been there for years praying and waiting for Gods intervention. There were professionals of various fields convicted for varying offences in Prison. Fraudulent Bankers, negligent and fake Doctors, indicted Police and Military Officers, Advance fee fraudsters, Armed Robbers, Rapist, prostitutes that murdered, drug traffickers and politicians.

The list is endless. But in prison, we are all reduced to the same. We are all criminals according to the warders, either convicted or awaiting trial. Sometimes a convicted fellow brought to prison would serve his term and gain freedom while you are still on trial for an offence committed before the convicted fellow went to jail. Justice is severally delayed in Nigeria which always leads to justice denial.

I once called one of the Warders called “inside inside” he was called “inside” because he usually commands that an stubborn inmate or a new inmate be sent into the innermost cell, put am inside! Inside! He would command and that earned him the nick name “inside”.

Oga inside I beg I want to talk to you: I had requested one night when he was inspecting the sleeping inmates in their Cells.

Na wetin? He retorted

Oga! I beg na wetin be my fate now? I don dey here for six months now and nothing don happen! Not even a Court appearance! Abi una want make I die here? How someone go dey for ATL for six months without trial? I enquired.

Listen Yoruba man! He said: na only six months you don spend here and you dey hala! You no dey ask your fellow criminals how long them don stay here? Or you no meet many of them for here? Ehn? Answer me!

But Oga Inside! Is it fair? I asked; how una go just abandon us here like that without any hearing for Court?

Na me bring you here? He challenged; you dey craze? See as you dey talk to me sef! See me see trouble with this silly and criminal Yoruba Soldier o! Na me send you to go commit? In short why I dey waste my time dey talk to you sef? Ngwa! Go back to sleep, go inside! Inside! He began to hit the metal gates with his Baton furiously that other Prisoners woke up and started shouting at him to stop disturbing their sleep, I hurriedly laid down and pretended to be asleep while Oga Inside was still exchanging words with inmates hurling insults at him.
An inmate of mine, a former Banker told me that one really needs money to get anything he wants from inside the prison. I did not believe him at first until after I had spent one year.

February 1993, I was told by Oga Inside that my case will be heard in Court in two days. He told me to better be ready and I said I would. I did not understand.

I told my fellow inmates the good news and they were happy for me, our mindset in ATL was that it is better to die than anticipating death. So going to Court was a step in the right direction, at least I have been made to know that I cannot get a death sentence as the evidences against me were not substantive to nail my coffin. I would get a sentence for purchase of stolen property and the term would run concurrently.

Oga Inside and another Warder came to pick me up on the D day, along the Corridor of the Prison, Oga Inside asked me to settle him before we get to the waiting black Maria that would take us to Court. I told him I did not have money.

But you tell me say you go dey ready nah! He said

I no sabi say na money you day talk about nah! I think say you dey advise me to get ready for the Court appearance; I replied.

Advise you? I be your lawyer? Okay o! no wahala! You think say you get sense no be so? He asked

Oga Inside! I no understand you o! I don dey here for one year now, you don see me with money before? Even if I borrow, how I go take pay back? I asked him.

No worry nah! Yoruba People too dey claim like say na them sabi book pass everybody! Go come! I dey wait for you here! Agaracha must come back! He walked out on me and the other Warder.

On our way to the Court, the Warders collected money from every inmate in the Van; I did not have a dime so I was instantly blacklisted but I begged them and promised to make it up to them, how? I did not know.

You think the Government care about the Prison service? How do you think we fuel this Motor carrying you to the Court? Look let me tell you, you better change o, else you will rot here, one of the Armed Warder told me; let me tell you, he continued; call on anyone you know, any relative at all to help you get money! Without money, you will die in here! Money makes things happen here!

When we encountered traffic hold up along the way, we looked through the window of the Van and called out to Passersby for alms which many gave to us by sliding naira notes through the window, a certain woman ran after the van banging at the door, one of the Armed Guards opened the door to ask her what her problem was, having surveyed to see that she was alone, she threw in a wad of naira notes on the floor of the Van and stopped running after us. The monies collected were countered and shared amongst everybody including me even though I got the least amount. I tucked the money in my anus. Yes that was the only purse we kept our money.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Our files were brought up before the presiding Judge and one after the other we were called up for hearing except for me. I was the last person on the pew when the Judge looked up and asked for any pending file when she realized that no other file was presented to her and I was yet to be attended to.

Where is the case file of that young Man? She had asked the Court Clerk

The Clerk hurriedly left the Court and reappeared after ten minutes with my file.

My case was read but there was no defense Lawyer representing me, no witnesses were present, Sergeant Godwin was not present. Only the state prosecuting Lawyer was present so my case was postponed to April 8th 1993 while two of us were discharged and acquitted.
As we were being driven back to the Prison, I was told by fellow inmates that I should have been prepared, I should have discussed with my Lawyer before the day of the hearing, my lawyer would have being in Court to ensure my case file was brought up for hearing; all in all, it boils down to the importance of one major factor, money!

The Driver veered off the road to the back of a petrol Station along Ogoja road and parked, I knew they were up to something and I was curious. Five minutes later there was a whistle signal and two of the inmates removed their Prison Uniforms and gave them to the Warder, the back door of the Van opened and two young Lads entered, they pulled off their Clothes and gave to the two inmates who wore the clothes hurriedly and went out of the van while the new strangers were given the Prisoners Uniforms to wear, the Warder told them their names and was giving them a brief induction when the signal whistle went off again.

I peeked through the Window to see a sleek black car parking by our Van, the back door opened again and a Politician inmate went out and entered the Car, we waited for Fifteen minutes before he entered with a travelling bag, he thanked the Warders and gave each a fat envelope and he shared money to all the inmates in the Van. I was wowed but I was happy.

We stopped at a Market along Afikpo road and the Van parked again and one of the Warders asked if we want to buy anything, we all gave him money and he listed our demands on a piece of Paper, I requested for Garri and Groundnut. He was gone for an hour only to return with a “Ghana must Go” bag full of our supplies. When we got to the Prison, we had to settle all the Warders from the entrance gate to our Cell gate; they already knew we would return with goodies especially as the Politician had gone with us.

Having settled all parties, my bag of Garri of about fifty kilogram was brought into my Cell by Oga Inside at night, he told me to keep it covered with my Blanket. That was the first ray of light in my darkness.

To Be Continued

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