•Battles tuberculosis, misses family
Sunday Ani (firstname.lastname@example.org)
But for the magnanimity of the Oyo State Chief Judge, Justice Munta Abimbola, 46-year-old Ghanaian farmer, Daniel Kwame, would still be languishing inside Agodi Prison in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.
Kwame, a native of Nsaome in Adese Local Government Area, Southeast Ghana, said he was a victim of circumstance. The 46-year-old Ghanaian, who disclosed that he first came to Nigeria in 1981 and later travelled back to his country, said he settled in Ibadan as a farmer and palm wine tapper after he returned in December 2008. He had a flourishing palm wine business, which made him famous within Yeeosa village in the Olurunda-Aba area of Ibadan, before his ordeal.
He was arrested in December 2008 after a robbery and murder incident in his business area. He was subsequently charged with robbery and murder and later dumped at Agodi Prison, where he languished and battled tuberculosis, until December 22, 2017, when the state chief judge granted him freedom on health grounds.
Speaking about his farm and palm wine tapping business before his arrest, he said: “I was into farming. I cultivated and planted cassava, maize, yam and other crops. I also tapped palm wine and both businesses were doing well. So, I was preparing to travel back to Ghana to celebrate the Christmas with my family in December 2008, when I was arrested for an offence I knew nothing about. I was thrown into prison and abandoned to die there, but God intervened through the Oyo State Chief Judge, who set me free on December 22, 2017.”
Narrating what led to his nine years in the gulag to Daily Sun in Ibadan, he said: “I had a shop very close to the road, where I sold palm wine in cups, bottles and gallons. Very early in the morning, I would go into the bush to tap palm wine, which I sold to customers. I had so many customers.
“One day, in December 2008, six persons, comprising five men and a woman came into my shop and asked if I was Daniel Kwame, the palm wine tapper, and I said yes. They asked me to give them palm wine to taste and know if they would buy. I gave them and when they tasted it, they confirmed that it was good. Thereafter, they discussed in low tones for a few seconds and then told me that they actually came for me.
“They asked me to say the truth concerning what happened in the area the previous day, with a promise to set me free, if I said the truth, but threatened to deal with me if I said otherwise. I was confused because I didn’t understand what they were talking about. I asked them to explain to me what happened the previous day because I was kept in the dark. I usually went there in the morning to serve my customers fresh palm wine, after which I left. I did not stay there till night, so how was I supposed to know what happened there at night?
“But, they refused to tell me what happened. Instead, they accused me of selling palm wine to armed robbers. They said I knew all the armed robbers around the place because they were my customers. I protested that it was not my duty to ask my customers what they do for a living. I told them that my business was to sell palm wine to anybody who wanted to buy from me and collect my money from such a person and not to start asking the person what he does for a living. I told them it was difficult for me to know that some of the people that patronised me were armed robbers. But they insisted that I knew all of them and that I was not saying the truth. They argued that, even if I was not the person who committed the crime, I must definitely know the people involved because they were my customers. I asked them again what the crime was but they still kept mum.”
Journey to police station
Without being told what he was being arrested for, he was bundled into a waiting vehicle in handcuffs amid beatings.
“They took me to the Akobo Police Station, Ibadan. At the station, the divisional police officer (DPO) asked me the same question and I repeated what I had earlier said. He ordered my detention,” he said.
Welcome to SARS
Kwame said a day after he was arrested and detained at the police station, officers from the State Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), came to the station and whisked him away to the SARS office: “They said I was a criminal, who randomly robbed and killed people. I told them I was only a palm wine tapper and not an armed robber. They said I had a gun hidden somewhere in my house and they would conduct a search in my house. I spent two weeks in SARS before they took me to my house to search for the hidden gun.”
Continuing, he said: “When we got to my house, they searched everywhere but they didn’t see any gun. Still, they would not let me go. They saw a new motorcycle that I bought, new television set, telephone handset, family-sized foam and a big Ghana-must-go bag containing my clothes, N55,000 cash and my international passport. They asked how I managed to acquire all those things, but I told them I got them with the proceeds from my business. They took all the property to SARS office and up till today, they never returned them to me.
“They returned me to the SARS cell and dumped me there. After about one month, the investigating police officer (IPO), identified as Dauda, brought me out one night before two men standing in the dark. He asked me if I knew them. I looked at them closely and told him that I didn’t know them. He asked them if they knew me and they retorted, ‘Is that not Daniel that sells palm wine to us?’ At that point, the IPO asked me if I heard what they said. I told him that I had many customers and that I would not be able to recognise all of them, as they came from University of Ibadan, Ojo, Mokola and other areas to patronise me.
“He said they were my gang members, and alleged that I robbed and killed a man together with the two men. I told him it was not true but they took me back to the cell, hung me and tortured me to confess that the two men were my gang members and that we robbed and killed a man. But, I stood my ground. That was when and how I knew what actually happened.”
Appearance in court
Having been told why he was being held in detention, Kwame had no choice but to resort to prayers since none of his people knew his whereabouts.
“After about three months, the IPO came to me one morning with a paper and asked me to sign it, but I refused because I didn’t know the content of the paper. He threatened to kill me if I didn’t sign the papers. In the process, he hit me with the butt of his gun and I lost nine of my teeth – five up and four down. I had a complete set of teeth before. It was on that fateful May 3, 2009, that they removed my teeth and disfigured me.
“The next morning, May 4, 2009, they took me alongside those two men to court. When the charges against us were read out, I raised my hand and told the judge that I was not an armed robber, neither did I kill anybody. I told him that I was just a palm wine tapper and that I didn’t know the two men. I also told the judge that I didn’t know anything about what they just read out. That was how they took us to Agodi prison. Later that year, the other two men were released because their people came for them, but nobody came for me,” he said.
Kwame remained in prison until 2012 when he came in contact with some people, who visited the prison for Christian evangelism. As a lover of the gospel, he got closer and listened to their preaching. After the sermon, he braved all odds to approach the man of God, Pastor Hezekiah Olujobi, who led the evangelism team and narrated his predicament to him. That singular bold step changed the whole narrative, as Olujobi, who is the director of the Centre for Justice, Mercy and Reconciliation (CJMR), a Christian, non-governmental organisation based in Ibadan, empathised with him and promised to help him regain his freedom.
His meeting with Olujobi changed the game, leading to his eventual freedom.
He said: “I explained to him that I was falsely accused of a crime I knew nothing about and that was how I found myself in prison. I told him that neither my parents nor my wife and children knew my whereabouts. I also told him about my health situation, and he promised to help.”
Speaking about the man of God, he said: “Later, he came with his people and asked me several questions, after which he continued to visit me regularly, showering me with food items and clothing. He would bring tea, noodles, rice and other food items because the foods they served in the prison, like garri and beans, even worsened my health situation. We were quarantined in a cell reserved for sick people.”
Freedom at last
On how he finally regained his freedom, Kwame said: “On December 21, 2017, they announced to us that the state chief judge would be visiting the prison the next day and he would be meeting with us. So, the next day, December 22, the chief judge came and I was among the first set of people to meet with him. They didn’t even ask me any question. It was the Deputy Comptroller of Prisons who spoke for me. He told the chief judge that since 2009 when I was brought into the prison, it was only Olujobi that has been visiting me. He told him that I didn’t have anybody and that I was very sick. He also told him that there was no case against me and, as such, it would not be fair to allow me to die in prison.
“After he spoke, the chief judge said if that was the case, I was free to go, and that was how I was set free. The pronouncement was made around 9pm, so we were allowed to sleep in the prison but the following day, December 23, they brought us outside the prison gate and asked us to go. I looked left and right but I didn’t know where to go from there. At that point, I remembered Olujobi and since I had his number I begged people to help me call him. As soon as I called him, he came and, since that day, I have been living with him. He has been taking care of my recovery process because the day I was released, I could hardly stand up.”
Kwame left a wife and three children behind in Ghana. Speaking of his family, he said: “I have a wife and three children but they are in Ghana. I have two daughters and a son. As at 2008, when I left my country for Nigeria, my first daughter was 15 and the second was 12, while my only son was seven. So, now my first daughter should be 24, the second one 21 and my son 16. They do not know my whereabouts because, the day I was arrested, the officers seized my phone from me and never allowed me to contact anybody. As it is now, I don’t have their phone contact anymore. I miss them so much and I eagerly look forward to reuniting with them once again. I am very happy that God spared my life. Many people did not go through half of what I went through but they didn’t survive but here I am; I am grateful to God and to Olujobi whom God used to save me. But I want to see my family.”
His church disappoints
Kwame is happy that God spared his life all through the nine years, but he is not happy with the church he fellowshipped with while in prison. He narrated his ugly experience with the church, when he said: “The church that I used to fellowship with when I was in prison used to tell us that, whenever we need help, we should come to them. So, when I was released, I went there for financial assistance to enable me travel back to Ghana, but I was disappointed. After explaining that I needed financial assistance to aid my trip back to Ghana to let my people know that I am not dead, they told me that they had a farm and unless I worked in the farm for some time and earned my money, there was nothing they could do. I felt so bad but thank God for Olujobi who came to my rescue.”
Speaking about the role of CJMR on Kwame’s case, Olujobi narrated how his visit to Agodi prison in 2012 brought him in contact with Kwame.
He said: “In 2012, we went to the prison to conduct a research on the causes of trial delay. We met with those who had stayed up to two years in prison without trial and it was in the course of that visit that I encountered Daniel Kwame. We did that to decongest Agodi Prison and to identify those who were non-indigenes, those from outside Oyo and Nigeria at large, who were in prison. What attracted me to Kwame was his health condition. He is a tuberculosis patient and his health condition was deplorable. Secondly, he is not a Nigerian. Whether he told the truth or he lied to me, I just decided that I was going to help him. So, we first reached out to some Ghanaians around the place where he stayed before he was arrested. We had to do that because we wanted to know more about him. We got some Ghanaians who spoke glowing about his character, even though they said they only met here in Nigeria. They said, as foreigners, they were afraid of being arrested by officers from the SARS if they attempted to secure his bail and that was why none of them even visited him in prison. His landlord equally attested to his humility and good behaviour but also said he was afraid of the police. We understood their fears, so we took it as our responsibility to assist him with food, medicine and other things so that he would not die in prison. We also extended such assistance to other prisoners in such condition.”
On what the CJMR did to see to Kwame’s release, he said: “In 2016, I wrote to the court, the commissioners of justice and police, demanding that they should bring up his case and that if there was no evidence to imprison him he should be set free. We dragged it up to a point where the judge told me that it was not the fault of the court. I continued to put pressure on the judge until he promised that on January 17, 2018, he would hear the matter. That was High Court 7 under Justice Lagunji. He promised to hear the case on January 17 this year because of its nature.
“So, I was hoping that on January 17, 2018, I would meet Kwame in court but, surprisingly, on December 23, 2017, I received a call from him announcing that he had been released. They were two, Abdullahi Nasiru, from Adamawa State. He was charged for murder but they couldn’t even trace his case file in the ministry of justice. His matter was in the magistrate court for eight years. He too was released by Justice Abimbola based on health grounds.”
Efforts to contact Kwame’s family
Having regained his freedom, one would expect Kwame to go straight to his fatherland, Ghana, but Pastor Olujobi disclosed that it has not been that easy. And that is where CJMR’s Halfway Home came in handy.
He said: “Normally, the challenge that faces freed prisoners is where to go after they are released. I brought both of them to this place, Halfway Home. Abdullahi still had his relations’ contact, so we bought a phone for him and raised money for him and sent him back to Adamawa. He has arrived home safely and reunited with his people. They have even called me to express their appreciation and gratitude.
“But, for Kwame, his case is special. People have suggested that I should give him money and let him go back to his people. But, I know it is dangerous to just put him on the road to Ghana. He lost so much weight and he needed to recover. However, the challenge is that we have limited resources now. We only keep people who regained freedom from prison for a maximum of two days here. We want them to connect with their people under 48 hours, but in Kwame’s case, we saw that he needed to recover. Again, he was also supposed to have an appointment with his doctor at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, on January 22. He has attended to that appointment and is now free to go back, but I think he will not be able to tell the story to his people if he goes back alone. And if he is not able to tell the story, they may not believe him.
“So, he needs somebody who can speak for him before his people; somebody who will explain to them that he was a victim of circumstance. I think it should be good enough if I should go with him to Ghana to explain to his people why he was put in prison for nine years.
“I also feel that it will be an opportunity to visit Ghana’s prisons and look at the complaints on social media of Nigerians in detention there. I feel I should get there, visit the Nigerian Consulate, tell him the situation of Nigerians in Ghanaian prisons and see how we can assist to get them back home.”