As part of the Christmas celebrations, some inmates of the Kuje Medium Security Prison, the Federal Capital Territory, were set free on grounds of prerogative of mercy. CALEB ONWE reports
For over two hours, the ministerial delegation and journalists were within the four walls of Kuje Medium Security Prison, located on the outskirt of Abuja.
They were there, not as prisoners or detainees but as harbingers of good news. On the entourage were the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Mohammad Bello; Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami; Chief Judge of FCT, Justices Ishaq Bello, and other legal minds. The delegation were on a journey to the ‘ land of loneliness’ where some Nigerian citizens who ran afoul of the law were kept behind the bars. One of the thought-provoking messages that must get glued to the mind of all visitors to prison facility is, that apart from the gifts of life and a healthy body, the next gift that every living being must crave for is the gift of freedom.
This understanding must have been the motivation behind the trip as the august visitors went to prison with the best gift anyone could offer the inmates at Christmas, which is freedom for 114 inmates.
As a popular saying goes, freedom does not come cheap, the FCT Minister, represented by the FCT Permanent Secretary, Christian Ohaa; coughed out over N1m to pay pending fines on behalf of these inmates who have been languishing behind bars for many months and even years.
Apart from the 114 inmates whose secret night sobbing and prayers, God used the Minister of FCT to answer, about 12 other inmates also got answers to their prayers, as the Chief Judge of FCT, a Civil Society Group, and other individuals, turned on the humanity in them to heed to the prodding of their inner minds to reach out to the inmates with freedom. The 114 inmates that were released by the FCT Minister after paying the fines were not physically present at the Kuje Prison, but at Suleja and Keffi prisons.
While the ceremony of their release was performed at Kuje, the Chief Judge of FCT, as the officiating ‘ Chief Priest’ in the temple of Justice, justified the action by saying that though Suleja and Keffi prisons were in Niger and Nasarawa states respectively, they are under the jurisdiction of Abuja. The Chief Judge, who also doubles as the Chairman, Presidential Committee on Prison Reforms and Decongestion, pointedly told the inmates who were set free to go home ” and sin no more”.
Inside Abuja also gathered that aside the Minister’s benevolence that got these inmates out of prisons, his administration has also allocated land for the building of a children and youths prison, as a way of providing a standard rehabilitation facility for delinquent youths in the society.
“We have concluded arrangements to build a world class Children and Youth Prison. We are also going to build a booster Institute that would serve as counselling and rehabilitation centre that would reshape our youths and children,” he said.
The fines paid for the freed inmates ranged between N50,000 to N250,00 for minor offences.. Bello said: “We are paying this court fines for these inmates as part of the FCT contributions to prison decongestion in the territory.
We are also using the gesture to assist the less privileged inmates to become free citizens as we know that they may be left in prison for longer times because they have no one to assist them’’.
Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Prison Reforms and Decongestion, Justice Ishaq Bello, who expressed gratitude for the gestures in bailing out the young and vulnerable persons from the prisons, stated that the proposed children and young people’s prison will go a long way to changing the attitude of the youths from being wayward and also help in reforming the society.
“It is not that the minister paid only for the people who could not pay fines for their release but he has also agreed to establish a children and youth centre in the FCT. We are happy to announce that this is only happening in the FCT among other states and that should be a very big rehabilitation centre. It will certainly be an extension of the prison and what we intend to achieve is to provide a sort of shelter to those who sleep under the bridges instead of allowing them to be loitering on the streets.
In the plan, we should be having psychologists, counsellors and other important child trainers, who will help reform these young people and thereafter, reintegrate them with their families”, he said. Lucky inmates Inside Abuja can confirm that the happiest of all the released inmates, was Musa Abdullahi, a 60-year-old man, who ran into the hook of the law when he allegedly entered a car that was being used by armed robbers.
The car was said to have been abandoned by the criminals when security agents engaged them in a gun duel. The man was very unlucky to have been found inside the car at the arrival of the security agents.
Since in the face of the law, the man was a suspect by circumstantial evidence, he was arrested and thrown in to the prison. He told the Chief Judge that he had spent more than four years in the prison without any legal representation in the court. Inside Abuja observed that when the man was asked to go home and ” sin no more”, even the prison warders, were in a jubilation mood. Some of the prison officials clapped and shouted in admiration of the uncommon gestures that broke the prison bands of the old man.
They may have seen the man’s innocence all these while, but had no power to release him. Another freed inmate, whose
show of appreciation to the Judge, elicited some emotional outbursts, was Abdulahi Salisu. He was 17-year-old when he was brought to the prison on the accusation that he killed someone.
Salisu was eventually convicted and sentenced to death by hanging and had spent 16 years behind bars, and have been transferred from one prison to another around the country, before coming to Kuje prison, where he met his saviour.
The young man, who was overwhelmed by the freedom he got unexpectedly, quickly went down on his knees and bowed his head on the ground to appreciate the gesture. Inside Abuja gathered that he was released by the Judge because he was convicted as a minor in the face of the law.
Hard luck While it was a day of salvation and freedom for some, it was not for the others, who were asked to wait for another opportunity, perhaps when ” the next Angel will come to stir the pool.”
One of such unlucky inmate was Jeddida Ezenwa, also known in the prison as Igwe, who on face value did not look like an inmate considering his pot belly, plump body and well groomed dress sense. However as the law is not ” a respecter of anyone”, Ezenwa has been in the confines of the prison yard, five years and eight months.
According to the man, who was so confident that the Judge’s human disposition was going to favour him, and break the prison bands off his neck, he was thrown into the prison by sheer conspiracy.
Ezenwa, whose testimony before the Judge did not differ from what the prison document read out, said about him, was disappointed when the Judge told him to wait for his case to be given an accelerated hearing as the court had decided. Inside Abuja saw signs of disappointment on his face when he was walking back to his prison cell, escorted by a prison warder.
One aspect of Ezenwa’s case that elicited interest was the revelation that his trouble with the law started when he bought a car worth N12.5million.
In the over five years he had spent behind the bars, he had only been taken to court to answer for his alleged crime, only once.
Another unlucky inmate was Segun Adejoro, who was said to have been brought to the prison because he was found with a vehicle that was conveying some substances suspected to be Cannabis. The consignment weighed 193.2kg. He was also told to wait for the court to decide on his matter that was already fixed for January 22, 2018.
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