…As 71 detainees receive WAEC certificates
By ROMANUS UGWU
History recently repeat itself behind the high walls of the Kuje Medium Prison, Abuja, when over 71 inmates were presented with the originals of their West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) certificates.
It was really a day of jubilation, singing, dancing and boundless joy. It was a time that happiness eclipsed the excruciating pains and agonies the convicted or awaiting trial inmates have been going through for years.
However, the occasion was not only for merrymaking as one inmate after the other retrospectively gave narratives of how their journey behind the high perimeter fenced prison walls started, their ordeals, the neglects and the bleak and hopeless future awaiting them.
In reality, they all have touching tear-jerking stories that encapsulated the failure of the legal and criminal justice administration system in Nigeria, the urgent need for total reforms and overhaul of the prison system which encourages several of the inmates to spend four to 11 years as awaiting trial inmates without prosecution.
While some of the inmates maximised every opportunity at their disposal by either engaging in skill acquisition or academic pursuits, others seem to have resigned to fate having been abandoned according to them by God and man.
The anger and pains boldly written on the faces of some of them are understandable having been constricted for years, missing not only their life targets but also going through the pains of their spouses abandoning them. For some of them, the world has come to an end.
My case file got missing for four years –Pastor George
Unlike others, Pastor George Ikechukwu’s prison experience was an admixture of joy and sadness. Although he has miraculously regained freedom, according to him, he still nurses the wound of spending over four years out of nine years as an inmate without trial due to missing case file.
While bringing message of hope to his former inmates and friends, Pastor George whose encounter with God freed him from imprisonment after nine years at Kuje Prisons, however, described his experiences as traumatic and frustrating:
“I have every reason to be grateful to God. I came into Kuje Prisons and left healthy after nine years as awaiting trial inmate. My family abandoned me while I was in prison because of the circumstances surrounding my imprisonment.
“I resigned to fate when my case file was nowhere to be found for four years. My case was not given any attention or was I even taken to court for the hearing because of the missing case file. It was a hopeless situation but things turned around for the better when I truly gave my life to Jesus Christ. Divine intervention came from churches and more importantly from my brother, Pastor Hillary Chukwuma, owner of an NGO, NUGA BEST.
“They were very much instrumental and helpful to my regaining freedom and I urge you my former inmates to worship God in truth and spirit. I urge you to promise God that if you leave the prison walls, you will continue to worship Him and not return to whatever was responsible for your journey into the prison.”
In a country where only few care to know the plights of prison inmates, NUGA BEST took up the challenge. Chukwuma, has invested time and money to create awareness and improve the welfare and reformation of prison inmates. He told Daily Sun:
“I have never been imprisoned. What I am doing was an inspiration from God. We are instrumental to the inmates preparing and writing WAEC and NECO examinations in prison. It is a programme we started since 2010 and I am happy that the programme has changed the lives of many inmates.
“We also facilitated enrolment of many of them into the NOUN where many have equally graduated. We are currently building a facility in Gwagwalada where the inmates would acquire skills in carpentry, soup making and many others. It is a massive structure comprising workshops and hostels for the inmates. We have resolved to ensure that the inmates will never remain the same after leaving prison.”
I’ve spent 11 years without prosecutor –Eze
For middle-aged Chinedu Eze, it was a crime that took him into the high walls of the Kuje prison sometime in 2005. Refusing to either explain the nature of the crime or admit guilty of it, Eze lamented that he has been abandoned for 11 years without anybody pressing charges against him:
“Sometimes, I wonder why I should be kept here indefinitely without any prosecutor. It was criminal offence that brought me to Kuje Prisons. But I have spent 11 years now as an awaiting trial inmate. For those years, my case has not been tried because there is no prosecutor. Sometimes, I wonder why they still keep in prison when no one is bringing charges against me.
“I want to believe that I am a victim of the criminal justice system in Nigeria which is hostile to the poor. I know my case would have ended since if I were from a wealthy family. We have done everything within our limit to reopen my case but nothing positive came out of it. In fact, my family members are frustrated because they don’t know what to do again to bring me out of this prison.
“It is not just possible to quantify what I have lost. Will I start with the lady I was almost concluding marriage with and even picked the wedding date before I was arrested who has abandoned me to marry another man? Should I quantify what I have lost in my blossoming ethanol chemical business or how much I have missed my family?
“I don’t blame my would-be wife for dumping me because having waited from weeks to months and years, hoping to see me regain freedom without success; she had to leave me because age is not always on the side of women. I bear no grudge against her because in fairness to her, she was visiting me at the initial stage of imprisonment but got tired and frustrated when it stretched endlessly.”
However, spending 11 years behind prison walls was not about sorrow and agony as he would be taking his final year examination with the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) to graduate in Peace and Conflict Resolutions.
For Eze, it was a case of misfortune to fortune, a case of recovering what locusts have eaten from him, a case of waking the sleeping giant in him and a case of blessing in disguise:
“I am a living example of how God can turn misfortune to fortune. After waiting for years to regain my freedom, I decided to take WAEC examination. The result was not impressive because I did not actually prepare very well.
“I sat again after adequate preparations and made an impressive result, getting six distinctions and three credits. The result encouraged me to explore more academic opportunities and that was how I gained admission into the NOUN to study Peace and Conflict Resolution. I give God the glory for supporting because I will be writing my final year examination before the end of this year.
“Perhaps, I will graduate before I leave this prison. My education was a case of opportunity meeting preparation. But I have to say that if I had this academic opportunity while I was outside, I would not have been a prison inmate today.
“The positive side of the crime that brought me to this prison has made me what I am today. I will ever remain grateful to an NGO, NUGA BEST and the churches that supported and made this achievement possible. My education would have perished as a dream if they have not intervened.”
My wife left with my child –Cletus
A clean looking Peter Cletus may have spent four years as an inmate at Kuje Prisons, but those years of imprisonment have been agonising and tormenting. Cletus did not only suffer divorce from his three-year-old marriage but also a victim of circumstances:
“I have spent four years as an awaiting trial inmate for a case I know that I am innocent. I had treated one man at my chemist shop in Kabusa, an outskirt of FCT, after fighting with somebody. But when he died thereafter police arrested me on the charge that the drug and treatment I administered on him was responsible for his death not the beating he received during the fighting.
“The police did not visit Gwagwalada General Hospital where he died or conduct autopsy to ascertain the cause of his death. The biggest problem I faced since then was the stringent bail conditions given to me.
“How do they expect me to meet bail conditions like N50 million, a house worth N100 million with the original documents and two sureties ready to summit their traveling passports? They were all very tough bail conditions for a case I know that I am innocent.
“I spent over N500,000 to set up the chemist shop. The expenditure profile includes registration licence, renting of the shop and stocking it with drugs. The police locked the shop after my arrest till today and allowed the drugs to expire. Today, I don’t know whether to worry for my investment that have gone down the drain or the possibility of regaining freedom with the tough bail condition they gave to me.
“My wife has equally left me with my baby girl. I am still in shock over her behaviour even though we were not legally or traditionally married. Yes, it was Abuja marriage, but she would have waited for me as confirmation of her claim that she loved me.
“My imprisonment has denied me the opportunity of graduating as a medical doctor. It has been four years of frustration and I am only hanging on the hope of divine intervention and words of God.”