Friday, 8 May 2020

IT TAKES GOD’S GRACE TO WITHSTAND THE EARLY SHOCK OF BEING SENT TO PRISON

Chief Anayo Nwosu
Chief Anayo Nwosu
I was shocked to notice that only the accused persons pronounced guilty, his friends and relations in court are saddened. In my own case, there were other parties like the prosecution lawyers and those watching brief for the complainant. They were joyously shouting as "the court pleases" so loudly and comical enough to provoke or make someone with murderous tendencies pounce on them. They bore the mocking face of Lucifer around the Calvary as the innocent one was being crucified. The involuntary shrieks if my boss, also sentenced to 5 years in prison, that "I'm innocent ooo, I was just doing my job" humoured them the more. At that moment, I was being distracted by the vision of Mama Obiora, my late mum urging me to trust God.

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"This way", a uniformed prison warder in court motioned us to leave the dock. They are always invited on the day of judgment of criminal matters. With that motioning of hand, we had lost our freedom. But my wife wouldn't be shoved aside. She kept on telling me "Baby m, we are in it together, the God I serve shall vindicate you". She was like Virgin Mary so distraught by the sentence passed on her son but remained passionate.

My mind went to my kids who were and still are at their prime and need me now to guide them as they navigate their teenage maze. I wondered how they would cope with the new normal; how they would survive the taunts of their classmates who would abuse and tell them that their father was a convicted criminal. I also was wondering how my wife would cope without me for five whole years. What would happen to our sex lives? Would she, out of physiological need, give devil a chance? I had a retinue of issues running riot in my head. But I masked it all.

I could read the faces of the three managers and other junior colleagues working with me. They were not only sad, they were weeping. We all could see my banking career go up in flames. The regulatory authorities are clear that no convict or ex-convict would ever work or continue to work in any financial institution. I saw their pains. I too didn’t want to end up like that. I wanted to retire from banking without blemish. I pulled myself together and looked intently at my colleagues and told them “don’t lose hope, I shall be vindicated on appeal.” I couldn’t tell whether they believed me or not. They were just inconsolable and I know why. We worked like a family, cross-fertilizing ourselves with requisite skills and general knowledge. I didn’t boss them. We prided ourselves as the best performing team. I had recommended all of them for promotion and here I was going to jail about the time it mattered most. Their father “hen” in the bank, in the industry was gone by an act of a court.

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Outside the court, the prosecution had assembled a score of print and electronic media people to photograph or catch us on video on our way out of court into a waiting Black Maria but they had to contend with Okey, my cousin and Maryrose, my sister who beat them to their own game. We denied them the photo opportunities. They should make do with their news without showing the world our sorrows.

My office colleagues in court contributed their jackets which were used to hood me like Onede masquerade or Ojuju Calabar as I was being whisked out of the court surrounded by an army of sympathizers. We didn’t go to the Black Maria but to another location to wait for a VIP vehicle to take us to the prison.

The Swiss-India man, my case mate, had told Jide and I that he learned from the Internet that Kirikiri Maximum had better facilities than Ikoyi prison. I started wondering whether the man had a premonition that we would be convicted. And I was to later ask him why he had to research on prisons and he told me that any criminal trial in Nigeria could go either way.

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I was to understand that not everyone is transported in Black Maria. You could be taken to the prison in a more comfort air-conditioned vehicle if you can "fuel it." The prosecution and their media party had to disperse after waiting unending for me and my case mates to be brought to board the Black Maria.

The journey from Igbosere Lagos Island to Kirikiri Maximum Prison, Apapa Lagos was longer than a period of conception to birth. It was a journey of a new birth. My mind was on riot. I kept getting spiritual aspirin that it would end in my favour but the reality was so pronounced when we got to the gate of the prison. My wife, Okey and other family members had followed the prison vehicle conveying my case mates and I nyash-by-nyash in their own vehicles.

The prison gate was huge and iron cast. It is like a border between freedom and incarceration. It was built is such way that those inside would have no doubt that they are imprisoned. It's really the Nigeria's most secured prison. My wife had to collect my wrist watch, wedding ring, phones and personal effects after which they were asked to go and a part of me went with them.

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"You're welcome sirs", said the chief warder as we were being on-boarded. The chief warder is the prison official in charge of placement of new prison inmates into their cells. He governs the cells and is like the caretaker. He is a kind of general house master in secondary school boarding house system.

"We have many types of cells namely: Banana Island, Old Ikoyi, Magodo, Surulere, Agege and Ajegunle kinds. They all come with varying privileges and comfort. It's your choice. But by mere looking, I think you people would like the Banana Island. I will advise you pass this night in Banana Island cell, then we can conclude our discussion the next morning by 10 am", he concluded with respect garnished with positional authority.

Could it be that Hell Fire is also segregated as the prisons? Would there be apartments differentiated by Satan-set criteria. Jesus had already revealed that Heaven is arranged in hierarchy when he was talking about the ranking of John the Baptist in the Bible. In Matthew 11:11 Jesus said “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is!”

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It was about 7pm that same December 9, 2019 that we were taken to the Banana Island block of cells. Upon arrival, we were introduced to the Kodo also called the chairman of chairmen as the chairman of the Banana Island is regarded as the Supreme Chairman or Kodo of the entire prison. The chairman, a lawyer jailed for 5 years for dud cheque presentation was very nice. He gave us a well-furnished room belonging to an inmate on hospital admission to pass the night. Three of us were cramped in a 8ft by 6ft room. But before we were getting ready to sleep, I noticed that the chairman had summoned a meeting of other inmates which I later learnt was to determine how much enrolment fee we were to pay. They were to ask us to join them in the meeting.

"Hello guys, sorry for your ordeal. You're welcome to our block. You are required to tell us your offence, your sentence, your nativity and profession", the chairman said with a business face. When it was my turn to talk, I started by saying that I was innocent, that "I only sold a product approved by my employers only for one of the investors to complain to the anti-corruption agency who took us to court and I was surprised to find myself here".

Just before I was about to finish my presentation, one of the inmates laughed out loud and said that "everybody is innocent here". And I didn’t find that funny. He was mocking me. I then just made my presentation brief and started licking my wound agonizingly in private.

"Any of you that doesn't want to pay the amount we have just told you as the joining fee would have to leave in the morning for another cell he can afford. We use the funds we collect to maintain the amenities here. You must indicate your interest to stay or to leave tomorrow. When you choose to stay, you must pay up before three days grace elapses. We shall show you vacant rooms in the morning. I must warn you that the rooms need some works to make them comfortable. We have in-house electricians, tilers and carpenters. I advise you carry me along in price negotiation otherwise they will fleece you because they know that you are new and desperate. I also enjoin you to meet your obligations to the chief warder for posting you here otherwise you will be in soup. You could ask for little time to perform. He would understand", the chairman said without ambiguity.

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The amounts required by the two parties are enough to buy a good tokunbo car. Back to our holding room, I shared the bed with Ashok, the Swiss-Indian man while Jide laid on a matrass on the floor. While Jide and I were having a sleepless night, the 68 years old Ashok was sleeping like a baby. I was enranged. I had to wake him up. He was the owner of the company the bank raised the capital for. The raised funds were transferred to his company’s account. I didn't ask for, receive or retain any proceed of the offer. I felt that I was in the prison because I sold his company’s shares to someone who could not tolerate losses.

"Ashok, you can't be sleeping while I'm awake", told him with a mild nudge with my elbow. And he woke saying "Mr. Anayo, please allow me to sleep a little". I pitied him. He is an old man. I just left the bed and went to ask the Kodo or the chairman to show me the vacant rooms available and he did. I made a choice. I was to learn that many notable Nigerians including a past head of state and a vice-president stayed in that room I chose. I didn’t have this inkling when I made my choice. I begged the chairman to engage all the artisans to fix the room for me. I needed a space to pray, read and write. I wanted my privacy too. And that was achieved in two days and I became a full inmate with an address.

The next morning, the news broke that three rich and powerful inmates had joined the prison community. Everyone, from warder to the very poor prisoners, who form themselves into unrelenting begging party that determined to have a bite from the stolen money. On my way to see my visitors the next day, I noticed two dozens of poor prisoners, many of who must have forgotten how the outside world looked like, besieged and surrounded me asking that I help them exactly the way Lagos Island area boys besiege a man whose car had stopped in Eko Bridge.

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"Palle, please help us na", they kept shouting. "You will never die in prison, if you help us God will help you, your children will never enter prison", they kept on buzzing into my ears until I entered the admin block to receive my guests. They would wait patiently and follow me or anyone else from my cell saying the same thing. Give them money and watch the kind of fight I last saw when I was feeding my brother's poultry.

On one occasion, I couldn't give the begging party money and I got what I didn't expect. "Palle Anayo, what we are begging you is chopping money nothing more. You think we don't know how much you stole? It's ₦855million for your information", a brave boy named Hakeem said. I quickly dashed to my block and narrated my embarrassing encounter to my fellow privileged inmates. The head of boys or hardened criminals was invited and he fished out the boy who insulted me to flog him to my pleasure but I had to stop him. I explained to the now calmed boy that I didn't steal any ₦855million. I gifted him ₦200 and begged that he be set free. I later became friendly with the guy who told me that his hand was disfigured as he attempted to steal an electric transformer when suddenly NEPA brought light. I ensured that Hakeem never lacked any provision till I was released.

I was wondering how Hakeem found out how much he accused me of stealing. I didn't have to wait for so long. JB, a fellow Banana Island inmate told me that once a prisoner was received into Kirikiri that older inmates would use their phones to launch into Internet for news on their offences and judgment. Phones are forbidden in the prisons in Nigeria but almost 5 out of 10 prison inmates have a phone. If you ask me how the phones enter the prisons then I will ask you how contrabands cross our Nigerian borders.

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Few days after I packed into my room, in the night and after praying my Rosary and Prayer to Guardian Angel, I had a dream. I dreamt that God sent a drone operated by angels to Kirikiri Prison. The drone landed in front of my cell block. The angel of the Lord called me out and led me into the passenger drone and lifted me swiftly up to 30,000 metres above the ground and we were about to fly out, a team of prison armed squad raised their guns to shoot down the drone, I heard the angel issue a loud warning, “touch not my anointed and do my prophet no harm”, and I was flown to my house.

I told this dream to my fellow inmates and to the DCP or the man in charge of the prison who became my personal friend and they all laughed it off. Dee Sam, a fellow inmate and a friend I made in the prison, would sometimes jokingly say to me “touch not my anointed” and would jokingly ask him “why not tap into my impeding miracle” and he would say “you cannot leave here without me”.

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Dee Sam, my friend that believed plus two of my case mates: Ashok the Swiss-Indian and Jide and I were freed the same day. Co-incidentally, four of us were admitted to the prison the same day. Dee Sam had arrived the prison three days earlier but could not be formerly admitted until few days later. Who says that miracles are not real?

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