Fifty-five-year-old Monruf Bolanle would have been a dead man but for God’s providence he walks as a free man today. He actually came face to face with death, dined and wined with it, but defied it, through God’s mercy.
A native of Ido Local Government Area of Oyo State, Bolanle miraculously escaped the hangman’s noose. He was arrested on October 23, 1996, for robbery and sentenced to death by hanging on January 23, 2002. He spent 10 years waiting for death to come, but God intervened through the Oyo State governor, Abiola Ajimobi, who commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment.
Bolanle was still basking in the euphoria of the miraculous news when the same Governor Ajimobi, in 2017, again, commuted the life imprisonment to 30 years’ jail term. To complete the divine plan in his life, he was inexplicably transferred from Agodi Prison, Ibadan, Oyo State, to Olokuta Prison in Akure, Ondo State, where the state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, eventually granted him total freedom.
Bolanle’s 22-year journey through the valley of death and back to the land of the living revolved around five prisons across three states, Ogun, Oyo and Ondo. He started as a condemned inmate at Ibara Prison, Abeokuta, Ogun State. He also served in Oba Prison, in Abeokuta. He was later transferred to Igbeba Prison in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, and then to Agodi Prison, before going to Olokuta Prison, from where he was finally set free.
In all, he spent four years and three months in the ‘Awaiting Trial’ cell, 10 years on death row as a condemned inmate, six years on life sentence, and five months into the 30-year jail term before he was eventually set free.
Narrating how it all started, he said: “I was at Sango Garage that day when my good friends sent for me to meet them in Ijokodo area of Ibadan. When I got there, they greeted and hailed me. I didn’t know there were plain clothes police detectives seated there too. As soon as I sat down, they grabbed me and said I was under arrest. I demanded to know what I did but they were not willing to offer any explanation; all they wanted was to arrest me. So, I resisted the arrest because I didn’t know what I did. I struggled with them for almost 40 minutes before they overpowered me and handcuffed me. I later found out that somebody reported me to the police and, as I got there, the person pointed at me without my knowledge and that was when the policemen swooped on me.
“When we got to Iyagankun Police Station, I was tortured to an unconscious state. I fainted that night but, luckily, I woke up at midnight. Early in the morning the following day, they took me upstairs to the statement room and that was where I got the shocker. They asked me to give them my gun. I was surprised. I told them that I didn’t have any gun and that I don’t deal in guns. They said I and my gang members robbed some people in Oke Tunu area of Ibadan. I told them they might be making a mistake because I was not a robber. In fact, that was how another round of torture that led to the loss of some of my teeth started. They tortured me to a point that I lost hope of survival. I thought I was going to die because, actually, their intention was to kill me, but God spared my life.
“Meanwhile, they didn’t tell me what I was accused of stealing. They beat me for several days, asking me to confess to a crime I never committed. I knew they wanted me dead but God said, no. At a point, I told them that if I die in their hands, my blood would torment them for the rest of their lives because they would just have killed an innocent man. That was when I felt that if I was not rescued in the next five minutes, I would give up; so I gave them that last statement. At that point, it was blood and water that were oozing out of my body. My people were outside but they were not allowed to come in. They even thought that I was dead because, after some time, I stopped talking; that was when I had no energy left in me to speak anymore.”
After some days in detention, he was paraded for identification by victims of the robbery alongside other suspects. He alleged that the victim exonerated him but he was charged to court eventually.
“After about one week of torture in police detention, I was paraded alongside other suspects for identification. One Alhaji Adetunji was the victim, whose house was raided that very day. I heard they robbed him of N500,000 and some goats. He was the first to come during the identification parade. After looking through all of us that were on parade, he said none of us was among the people that robbed him that night. He said he would know them if he saw them.
“I was not the only person that was arrested in connection with the robbery, but I can say that it was only me they needed to implicate. I say so because they arrested many people, only four persons were identified at the parade and only me ended up being convicted; others were set free. When the case file went to the Department of Public Prosecution’s office, the legal advice was that two out of the four identified persons had no case to answer, and they were released, leaving two of us. Two of us were charged to court on the allegation and during the trial, the second accused person, who was also identified during the parade, was also discharged and acquitted, leaving only me. I was finally sentenced to death on January 23, 2002, by Atilade Ojo, the then presiding judge of High Court 11, Ibadan,” he said.
Journey to death
Though he fought against the death sentence up to the Supreme Court, the judgements of the lower courts were upheld, hence his journey to prison. “After the Supreme Court judgement, I was taken to Ibara Prison in Abeokuta. I was there till December 23, 2011, when the Oyo State governor, Abiola Ajimobi commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment. This happened one month before I clocked 10 years on death row; so, I can say I spent 10 years on death row. This was made possible through a letter from Pastor Hezekiah Olujobi, the director of the Centre for Justice, Mercy and Reconciliation (CJMR), a Christian, non-governmental organisation based in Ibadan, to the governor, pleading that I was innocent of the offence,” he said.
On his journey to freedom, Bolanle continued: “After my death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, I was moved to a new prison, Oba Prison, still in Abeokuta. I told the prison controller that I could not stay there, so we were taken to Igbeba Prison in Ijebu-Ode. It was from there I was move down to Agodi Prison in Ibadan on July 9, 2013.
“In 2017, CJMR prevailed on the governor, and, again, the life sentence was reduced to a 30-year jail term. It was also stated that the 30 years would start counting from the day of conviction. By that calculation, I would have regained my freedom on January 23, 2022.”
Freedom at last
“In 2018, I was taken to Olokuta Prison in Akure, Ondo State, where I was finally set free on January 8, 2019, by the Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN). I would have completed my sentence in three years’ time,” he explained.
Bolanle said he had uncountable experiences, insisting that so many innocent people languish and die in prison all the time. He equally revealed that very many people in prison, including those on death row, were innocent
On his experience on death row, he said: “Anybody that is condemned doesn’t have any privilege anymore. You are bound to die any time. As I waited for death, six persons were taken to the gallows on January 18, 2003. It was a terrible day for me because some of them could have been innocent just like me.
“Each time they wanted to kill, the prison officers normally came for those to be killed in the morning hours, about 10am. They didn’t come in the afternoon or night, it was always in the morning. You would know that people were going to die because the signs would always be there. The five western states of Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Osun and Ekiti had their condemned prisoners there; so we might not know exactly the state had signed the death warrant but signs that some would die on a particular day would always be obvious: there is this trumpet during parade that they used to blow each day they wanted to take some condemned prisoners to the gallows.
“Once we heard such sounds, everybody would go to the toilet. Another sign was that some prisoners would go and clean the place where the hangman carried out the job. The officer that came to take those to be hanged always came with a baton.”
As condemned inmates, one would expect that they would be starved of food. But Bolanle said: “They feed us very well. All of us wore blue clothes, whether you were condemned or not; the only difference was that there would an inscription ‘condemned’ on the clothes of the condemned inmates. Every day, we expected death, but once morning was over, we would be sure that we would live for that day because, like I said earlier, they killed only in the morning; afternoon and night were out of it.”
Thoughts of suicide, hope of survival
Although he was condemned to death by hanging, Bolanle said he had always believed that he would not die because, when he remembered how he got there, he knew he was innocent and would come out alive: “At a point, I even thought of suicide. I thought of killing myself on several occasions, but each time I thought of that God would remind me that I would be free and I would quickly cancel the thoughts. When I was removed from the condemned list to life imprisonment list, I heaved a big sigh of relief, and renewed my hope of walking out a free man some day.”
long awaited D-day
“Even though I already knew I was not going to die as, I was looking forward to January 2022, when I would finally regain my freedom, I never expected to be released in January 2019. I was surprised to hear the news that I had been granted freedom. My joy knew no bounds. Since I was born, I have never experienced the kind of joy and happiness that enveloped me that day. I felt like trekking from Akure to Ibadan; I didn’t feel like entering any vehicle. That was how happy I was. It was not as if people did not struggle to get me out, but God had his own plans. Even before my conviction, Olujobi and his group were there for me, and after the conviction they followed up till my release,” he said.
He described Olokuta Prison, Akure, as the worst of all the prisons he served in. “And it was like the people that sent me to Olokuta Prison wanted me to suffer, but God had a different plan,” he added.
Advice to free people
“I want people to know that government exists; anybody who wants to do anything should think twice. Every Nigerian prison is filled up. Before 10 persons are released, about 100 persons are already into the prison. People should try and stay out of trouble at all times,” he advised.
How family received the news
Bolanle was already married with two daughters before his arrest. Asked how his family received the news of his freedom, he said: “They were very excited. Since I got into the mess, my family never abandoned me. They never abandoned me, as they kept visiting until I regained my freedom. They stood by me all through and even up till now. My two daughters are now married with children in their respective homes. My wife is elated that we have reunited once again. My mother feels like staying with me at all times.”
How CJMR came into the picture
Going down memory lane, Pastor Olujobi said: “We used to visit prisons and listen to stories of those who we felt were unjustly abandoned there. We mapped out intervention strategies by forwarding their complaints to the ministry of justice to hasten their legal advice. For those who have no case file, we try to push their case files from the police to the ministry of justice so that justice can be delivered speedily.
“So, in one of such visits, I came across his case-mate, Bolagade Alawode, who pleaded with me to help him, maintaining that he didn’t commit the offence for which he was dumped in the cell. He said his case-mate also didn’t know anything about the crime. I asked for his case-mate and that was how I came to know Bolanle. He also explained his innocence but, unfortunately, the legal advice had implicated two of them. So, they had a case to answer. Along the line, I procured the services of our partner lawyers who rendered free legal service to him. We monitored the proceedings until he was sentenced to death. The same lawyer took up the case to the Appeal Court, but the court affirmed the decision of the High Court. So, another lawyer took up the case to the Supreme Court and the judgements of the lower courts were still reaffirmed by the Supreme Court.”
Olujobi lamented that Bolanle’s case was not critically examined by the courts, hence his organisation’s resolve to explore other avenues. He said: “But from the layman’s point of view and the evidence of the complainant, you could see that there were lots of inconsistent evidence from the prosecution and you could see a lot of contradictions. A situation where two people were arraigned for the same offence and the second accused was set free based on the same evidence for which the first accused was sentenced to death calls for a serious rethink. But, it was like the court had determined their stand,” he said.
Continuing in the same line of argument, he said: “Again, another thing we pointed out in that trial was that during the identification parade, only Bolanle was in leg chains. Many persons were paraded for identification. Some were released at the police station, while others were released by the ministry of justice, leaving only two people to face trial. So, the question was, if about 10 people were identified at the parade and during the trial only two of them were arraigned, what happened to the rest? If the police could conclude that those released were wrongly identified, how could we conclude that the two who faced trial were not also misidentified?
“So, those were some the things that made us believe that Bolanle was innocent, and in the court premises that day, he told the judge that if he was guilty of the offence, he would die, but if he was innocent, he would come back alive. And, to God be the glory, he came back alive, meaning he was innocent after all.
“After he was condemned, we approached the Oyo State Board of Prerogative of Mercy, headed by the governor, with reasons why Bolanle should not die. In his own case, we forwarded the appeal and the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment but we pressed on, insisting that he deserved total freedom.
“He almost ran mad when his death sentence was commuted to 30 years, and that why he was taken to Olokuta Prison in Akure, and thank God, he didn’t spend five months there before Governor Rotimi Akeredolu granted him total freedom.”
He expressed happiness that Bolanle, whom he described as a victim of circumstance, was finally let off the hook, and attributed his freedom to divine intervention: “It was a big surprise when he called to inform me that he had been released. It’s God’s intervention. It can only be God.
“Based on our investigation, Monruf Bolanle was not a thief; he was not an armed robber. He was just a victim of circumstance. There are a lot of such victims still languishing in prison, and all hands must be on deck to ensure that many of them equally regain their freedom.”