On my first day at the Kaduna maximum prison, I was still in my South-South attire without any slippers on. My elder brother had gone to get one; as I won’t know what to get, he was to go home, get a toothbrush, Vaseline (since it was during harmattan), a couple of clothes including my hoody sweater, and anything I could use.
At about 4:30pm, they rang the big rim bell in the middle of the yard. I stood up from where I was sitted making ‘friends’ with the ‘smiling’ inmates I’d met. I handed them my food that my brother had bought me. I could not eat and they encouraged me, “eat, you’ll need it. You will not like the food they serve here.”
When I refused they said to me, “okay take it to the cell, if you get hungry later you can eat. In any case, just eat. You’re already here. Survive!”
So I walked into a cell with 63 other inmates, with different matters in court but all AT (awaiting trial).
Some for transporting cannabis, some for rape, others for Yahoo, 419, minor domestic clash, name it.
I coiled on the bed of the cell ’emir’. He beamed with smiles and said to me, “… whatever you need, just ask”. I nodded.
In my corner, I quickly settled and tried to rationalise what was happening…
“You alleged I insulted you and wrote somethings about your person and government. A crime according to law that is bailable and not even listed as a crime anywhere. Yet you asked I be remanded in prison not with the police because according to the prosecutor, “…he knows some people who’ll free him and he’ll tamper with evidence”.
It all didn’t make sense but I was determined to defend myself.
That night was cold and very unfriendly. The thought of my wife, my kids, my mother, my family flashed through my mind; they don’t deserve to suffer for my sake. How will they take this?
At 8pm sharp, the Moslems in the cell had their prayers facing one side where a half moon and star was drawn on the wall. A few minutes later, Christians faced the cross on the other side of the wall and sang, prayed and wailed.
At 9pm, it was lights out.
The cell had one room that served both as toilet and bathroom.
“You no go baff?” Bellowed the president of the cell. I said, “no”.
“Please feel free to ask for anything you need. We are one here and we respect both faith and persons. You’re an important inmate. You wey na governor dey fight you, you’re a big man sir!” And we all laughed. My first laugh for the day.
Another said to me, “no matter what, one day you’ll go out.” I replied amen.
That was when I turned to God and asked, “why am I here? What did I do to deserve this?”
It was time to sleep. The floor boys prepared the mats and laid them according to ‘when you come’.
We laid 2 person per mat and I was put close to the main ‘naked’ door where there was nothing cover. The hamattan hit hard that night, I tossed & turned. I curled and shivered. So many thoughts running through my head. My mind was heavy and I would suddenly wake up, look around and try to sleep again. I did that for hours until I suddenly slept off.
By 5am, the cell mates had already started moving around, some to fetch water for different cells, some to warm the reminants of food from the previous night, some to wash the toilet, pray, etc. I joined in the morning devotion. Afterwards, the ’emir’ spared me his bed to sleep.
Every time I tried to close my eyes, I get bitten by bed bugs.
“Dem plenty here o! If you manage sleep, you try”, said a lawyer who was at the top bunk.
We both chatted and shared experiences.
“You’ll survive. You’re an important person here. My only advice, don’t trust anyone with what you eat or drink. They may try to poison you. Then again, mind what you say and to whom. Most folks here are paid pipers.”
Gates where opened at 7am and a few inmates called out to go perform chores and others under some privilege, to go do sports, sun burn, et al. I was offered a ‘go out’, I turned it down, prefering to remain indoor to think.
By this time, I had not eaten any meal and only survived on water. I had made up my mind and said to myself, “Segun, no matter what, this is the time to toughen up, embrace your situation and make the best out of it. You no go die here. It may be long but you’ll not die here”.
By noon, my brother had come, made arrangements to move me to a ‘special cell’. Where you’ll have a 6 inches bed to yourself, few people in a room, a ceiling fan, they also cook meals with special arrangement. You’re kind of free and allowed some privilege. I loved it.
I quickly familiarised myself with the new place. A soldier who’s also awaiting trial welcomed me. They spelt out the rules and asked, “do you have clothes to change into?” I answered, “yes”.
He took my South-South attire and soaked them in hot water while he pointed me to the bathroom where I had my first birth as an inmate. It was warm, friendly and I are afterwards, familiarised myself with each in mate, profiled character quickly and mounted my bunk.
That night, I prayed quietly and the sleep was different… It was peaceful.
The next morning, from when I stepped out of bed till sun down, except for when I surveyed the yard and see the activities I could join in. Like playing volleyball, football and ultimately scrabble where I beat every opponent, from top to the champ called ‘Charmo’ in the condemned cell (CC), the wardens and their ogas- I kpokpo dem all- visitors poured in. Some in awe and wanted to see if it’s true. They came in hundreds, men and women with message of good will.
I had 2 weddings to anchor that Saturday, since I was remanded on Friday. The celebrants didn’t get to know about my ordeal until some friends saw the posts in social media.
The traffic at the prison made the management change me from the common visitors room to a room with their ‘intelligence officers’. They’ll sit there and listen to every conversation. To each visitor, I smiled widely and shared jokes. Those visits lifted my spirit and helped a great deal to help me stabilise.
All that time, my aged mother didn’t know what happened. She’d asked my brothers, “why has he not called me? You people should tell me what happened to my son”.
I felt for her.
She had just lost her husband my father in 2013, my sister in 2015 and must have thought I’d died. I laughed.
“Bring her to me I told them. Let her see me, she’ll calm down”.
She came, she hugged me, was crying. I told her, “you have nothing to cry about but to rejoice. God has decided to make your sin famous over a lie they told against him”. I laughed all through even as my heart was heavy.
In a few days it’ll be 1 year that I had my first taste of brutality over nothing. 23rd November is that date.
My full memoir on my experience, the rot in prisons, the truth about everything I saw will be brought to fore.
It’s an experience you must read and one that will make you stand firm if you’re a patriot and if you truly love humanity.
I return all the glory and adoration to my maker, my Lord and God Jesus Christ for strength and safety. Anything could have happened to me but He stood in for me. He defended me and even though the case is still on, my persecutors yet to prove I did anything, I know God will free me and every other persons like me.
It’s not an experience I wish for my enemy. But I know too, what man becomes great without an experience to sharpen him?
Thank you all for your time and let’s continue to stand by each other and most importantly, be prayerful…
‘God may delay but He’s never wrong or late. Trust Him, completely.’
My name is Segun Onibiyo. I’m out.