hey pay N50,000 for special cells, own generators for power supply■ Sleep with women for a fee, hire others as domestic servants■ Our laws allow separate cells for the rich –Prison authority
As Nigerians await the outcome of the investigation panel inaugurated to look into what led to the recent riot in Kirikiri Medium Security prison, more facts have continued to emerge on what really transpired in the incident which claimed at least three lives and more than 15 others injured.
Coming to limelight are fresh claims by inmates and ex-inmates that there are privileged or super prisoners in Nigerian prisons, thus confirming the popular quote in George Orwell’s Animal Farm that all animals are equal but some are more equal than the others. The Prison authorities, however, deny this insisting that no such thing happens in their custody.
Investigations revealed that the prison riot was caused by a move by the newly posted Deputy Comptroller of Immigration, Kayode Odeyemi to strip some privileged prisoners of their privileges. Some inmates also accused the prison warders of diverting gifts meant for them for their personal use, adding that most of the materials seized from them by the DCP were in turn sold to them secretly by the same officials. They insisted that preference was always given to some inmates who are referred to as super or privileged prisoners.
In a bid to authenticate claims by the inmates, Saturday Sun spoke to some ex-inmates most of whom were re-arrested by the police while allegedly committing another crime. One of such is Obinna Enyinnaya who spent two years and eight months in Kirikiri Medium prison. Obinna was recently rearrested by operatives of the Special Anti Robbery Squad, Lagos police command two months after he was released from prison. He was picked up alongside seven others after raiding a house in Lagos. He insists that there are cells known as privileged cells.
In a chat with Saturday Sun, Obinna recalled that while in prison, those privileged cells were meant for those who could pay N50,000 and above to secure a space. “Those are meant for the big boys who can buy the space for N50,000. They are expected to be dropping money regularly or lose the space. If I have money, I can also secure one. They are the ones who are allowed to use their private generators, cook their food and make use of table fans in their cells .
“Our rooms are just like school dormitory where everyone is entitled to a bed space. It is manageable especially if you are seriously attached to a church. I belong to the Pentecostal and was an usher. Since I am worker in the church, I do not need to serve any of the big boys to become okay. Although the food is not wonderful, I have other alternatives.
“They give us food every Sunday, and toiletries. We hardly get supply from the prison officials because we are awaiting trial. They also bring in good clothes for us. It was there I learnt how to sing and even wrote some songs”, Obinna narrated.
Another ex-inmate Henry Adebanjo, who was also re-arrested by the police, confirmed that there are special cells and that he was a beneficiary. “I stayed there for two months before I ran out of cash. Then I paid N40,000 to secure a space and was dropping N10,000 per month. It was a good experience, that was why I was able to leave the prison on time. I met the big boys who assisted me in getting a lawyer. Once in a while when they smuggle in women, we will share from the remnants. Some women do sleep in the private cells with inmates,” he said.
Another ex-inmate, Kayode Dada, who spent 10 years in Abeokuta prison, claimed that he served Otunba Gani Adams, National Co-ordinator of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) while he was in prison in 2003.
According to him, the OPC leader was one of those referred to as super prisoners. “These are big men in the society and due to one reason or the other found themselves behind the bar. When these people come to prison, they find it difficult to cope with the situation. They can’t fetch water to bathe. They also find it difficult to do other certain things. When they are confronted with such situations, they now give money to warders and prison officials to pick some of us to help them carry out these chores. During my time at Abeokuta prison, Otunba Gani Adams was brought to the prison. This was in 2003, I was among other inmates that were assigned to be assisting him. I was in the prison for 10 years, between 1995 and 2005 when Otunba Gbenga Daniel, the then Ogun State governor, granted me clemency”, he added.
An inmate, who is still in the medium prison, told Saturday Sun that until life is made better, no one should be forced to live in the hell hole called prison. “I have been here for the past 10 years and in a better position to tell you what is obtainable. It is not new, I was once in Ikoyi prisons and I know what is obtainable over there. Try and visit most of the prisons, it’s common with the Medium prison, so the new management there should stop pretending. They are only finding a way to re-negotiate for a higher price and normally, if a new comptroller is posted to the prisons, he has to wait for about two months before payments will be made to him. He should stop pretending not to know that some of these privileges were granted us even while he was the PRO.
“Some of us were able to enter the privileged section because of what we can afford. Initially, it was meant for the big boys or politicians who have contacts in government. Nobody touches them or dares to disturb them. The only difference is that they are inside the prison. I was awaiting trial for the past 10 years, therefore, am not a convict and no one should treat me as such.”
On rumours of free access for women into the prison, he said laughing: “We are not monks and besides, gay practice in Nigeria is now a crime. How do you want people like us to survive for 10 years without sex. It is impossible but that is not the matter in contention. There is no way they can completely erase those privileges unless they build a separate prison for the big boys. Don’t tell me that you are not aware that some inmates spend their sentence in a private ward in the hospital. They leave the prison and are supposedly moved to the hospital as soon as their lawyer buys a court order from a judge. Some of us prefer to remain inside the prison, it’s cheaper especially if you have spent so many years like me.”
Yet another inmate, who is in Ikoyi prison, also confirmed that there are special prisoners and that there are so many of them in Ikoyi. “Most of the cases here are big time cases and the inmates are mostly big time suspected criminals and even armed robbers. They have the money and any comptroller that is posted to Ikoyi prisons must be an anointed one and does everything humanly possible to remain in that position for long. Riots don’t happen here because we are all mature and have an understanding with the authorities”, he said.
He claimed that there are reserved quarters in the prison where an inmate is entitled to a room and parlour, allowed to cook his food inside the prison. “Am currently serving two masters and they have assisted me financially especially in providing for my young family that I left behind”, he added.
A social worker, who spoke with Saturday Sun on the cause of the recent riot in Kirikiri prison, accused the prison officials of stealing from the prisoners while he gave a different version of what caused the incident.“Government has refused to rehabilitate the prisons, and to make it worse, the prison warders are busy stealing the little money and gifts that inmates receive from outside.
“When individuals and religious bodies bring in food for inmates, the warders do not allow it to be given to the inmates directly. Normally, they will collect and share it among themselves. On the recent riot, there was a religious body that brought food for the inmates and kept it at the gate. A Christian leader, who is an inmate, went to the man in-charge to beg for those things. When he was not given the stuff, he complained and was locked up in the punishment room. The DCP gave orders that the inmate should be released and those things should be given back to the inmates. When he was released, the inmates started jubilating, it went out of hand that some of them were not willing to enter the cell again. Instead of trying to calm them down, they brought in the arms squad with the dogs and used teargas to drive them away. In fact, more than one inmate died as reported.
“It wasn’t actually a case of riot and someone trying to escape. The real reason was that the food brought for the inmates was confiscated by the warders. There was a case where a church brought more than 1,700 packs of food, the warders diverted 900 and gave them 800 packs. It did not go round the inmates and most of them were punished. Even the one I led, we donated 115 bags of pure water, before we knew what was happening, all we saw left was just less than 70 bags. It’s just that this time round the inmates could not bear it any longer and decided to protest.”
He further alleged that most of the illegal things in the prison were brought in by prison warders. “They should stop deceiving Nigerians. Indian Hemp, generators, phones and so many other things are supplied by prison warders. As soon as they realise that almost everybody in the cell that can afford a phone has one, they will suddenly come and search and take back all the phones.
“They will still sell those phones back to the inmates. That is not all, there are also chalets where women are kept every night to service inmates that can afford it. At the medium prison, you can get N4,000 every night and N50,000 per month. If you go to Kirikiri Maximum Prison, you will get a chalet for N50,000 a night. It is also in Enugu prisons. You cannot just stop it, just as you cannot stop certain things happening in Aso Rock. The presidency cannot come out to say that these things are not there”, the source added.
Not left out in the stunning revelation are prison officials who argued that the system can never be changed. A prison warder, who pleaded anonymity, said that special prisoners are the ones augmenting their meagre salaries. “Naturally, there are designated areas for important personalities in the prison. They have relatives that determine who is posted to which command. They control things while in prison. It’s just that some other inmates that are not known but still rich are given the opportunity to enjoy these privileges. It’s our own way of surviving that does not mean that other inmates are being maltreated.
“The generators, phones and others are brought into the prison on special arrangement. These things have been in existence and cannot be changed as long as government has failed to renovate the prisons. Most of the inmates are here because as soon as Nigerians get to know that they are outside while they were supposed to be inside, hell will be let loose.
“It is not only common in Nigeria, it’s a universal thing that in prison some are given preferential treatment. Even in American prisons, it’s the same thing. I have heard of experiences from some of our brothers who were remanded in prison. I even know a man who smoked weed in American prison and those, who after returning from jail, kept going back to the same crime, therefore, it is not a Nigerian thing.”
On alleged stealing of items meant for inmates by warders, he said laughing sarcastically: “We are all prisoners. There is nothing wrong if we share a little bit of what is brought by outsiders. The truth is that they always get enough.”
Another prison official, who also spoke with Saturday Sun, opined that working in the prison is a privilege. According to him: “This is the only place where you have the opportunity of getting extra pay apart from your salary. It is true that they are not owing us again but no one who has a family can make any meaningful progress by just depending on our salaries. It’s just that the approach our boss took was too harsh unlike the others. He is very strict but he forgot that most of the persons in the prison are highly connected.
The reason there was a protest was that he made a new rule and exempted some of the privileged ones. He did not seize all the generators and phones. They know who they attack and it is not fair. We have had peace in the prisons for sometime now before he came. If you want to pass a rule, do it across the board, no one should be exempted.”
In his reaction, Nigerian Prisons Service spokesman, Ope Fatinikun said that investigation into the riot was still on going and that the outcome will be made public.
According to him, the acting Comptroller General of Prisons has set up an investigation panel which, he said, was still sitting. “A lot of interested parties have come up with their complaints. Don’t let us pre-empt the panel’s outcome. The outcome of the panel will be made public at the end of the day.”’
He said that there is nothing like super prisoners or privileged cells. His words: “What we have that the law allows us to do is to imprison people according to their status in the society. Someone, who has contributed his quota to the society and is well known is brought in for stealing and we have all these area boys that their offence is also stealing. We cannot lock up the two of them in the same cell. We have to provide extra guard, because they (area boys) might threaten you (the rich) and force you to send money to their families. It is accepted all over the world.”
On claims that there are chalets in the prisons, Fatinikun said that such claim is false. “There is no hotel or chalet in the prisons, we don’t have that kind of law in Nigeria. Try and visit any inmate in the prison, you will know that you will not have close contact with them. The visit is conducted in an open place where all other inmates will see you.
Conjugal visits are not allowed in Nigerian prison laws.”
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