CHIMA NWOKOJI isn’t your everyday swashbuckling journalist but the passion to do the incredible is always obvious. He got into the heart of the Kirikiri Medium Prison where Awaiting Trial inMates (ATMs) are seen as easy cash machines. It is a world of empires and emperors, thriving “dirty” deals, deceit, deprivation and cheap death.
Nigerian singer, Asa, in one of her tracks, says that a jailer is also a prisoner. But at Kirikiri Medium Prison, a jailer goes about his duty in the similitude of a modern slave merchant. He is described by inmates as a treacherous business mogul who has acquired choice properties and exotic cars by torturing them. In this undercover report, Saturday Tribune was granted a rare insight into the underground businesses, prisoners’ currency, torture chamber, prisoners’ Bible, how much a new inmate costs on arrival and other double-crossing activities that characterise daily life as a prisoner or Awaiting Trial Mate (ATM) in Kirikiri Medium Prison.
The Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison in Lagos is home to some of the most hardened criminals in the city. The facility is categorised into medium and maximum prisons. After a visit to two inmates in June this year, our correspondent became curious because the atmosphere of freedom within the premises of Kirikiri Medium Prison did not represent the picture of suffering and death being painted outside by those who had once been remanded there.
This curiosity paid off as our correspondent, posing as a friend, handed his phone number to an inmate with a promise to send him airtime (popularly called recharge card) from time to time. The inmate who preferred not to be mentioned for fear of being killed, called from the prison yard to ask for his recharge card. It was a hidden transaction because visitors are not allowed to enter the premises with any writing material or electronic gadget. Glad that he was getting airtime from time to time, which he sold, as it was later found out, very cheaply, he introduced Saturday Tribune’s correspondent to his friend. The two new friends from prison yard let the cat out of the bag telling pitiable, disappointing and, in most cases, interesting stories of life inside Kirikiri Medium Prison. Saturday Tribune gives a blow-by-blow account of the encounter.
Visiting an inmate
It requires good mental and financial preparation to visit an inmate at Kirikiri Prison. First, the visitor is required to write application to see the inmate so that identity can be verified. The visitor, who may come with delicacies, waits for the offender/remand detainee to be located. After a while, a prison warder comes to take the visitor in. Possibly for security reasons, he or she is searched twice and required to drop every gadget at the entrance and as this is done, some sums of Naira are unofficially parted with, “for the boys”. All visits are subject to monitoring and must take place within sight and earshot of an official.
The newfound friends in the prison yard are aware of what people pass through to visit them. To visit somebody in the prison, the second inmate narrates, “warders will make endless financial demands on you, telling you they will buy this and that. They will ask you to pay for letter-writing materials, delivery, searching and calling of the prisoner”. He alleged that the warders know what they are doing and the possible implication of it. Hence they are always apprehensive of anything that they suspect could implicate them.
Selling of new inmates (alejo)
There is a thriving business that has every attribute of slave trade within the prison premises. When new inmates, or Awaiting Trial Mates (ATMs), are brought in, the ‘baba yard’ would receive them and begin sale and distribution. Each ATM is sold to provost marshals of various cells. A good-looking ATM seen as a potential money spinner goes for N1,000 (less than $3) and above because when he is tortured, he could call his people and they would send a huge amount of money. The hungry-looking ATMs hardly sell for N1,000. They go for N500 (less than $2) because no matter how much they are tortured, they would not call anybody and could not fetch much money. It is usually sorrow all the way for those whose relations refuse to send money. The ATMs are first taken to welcome cell where they receive initial beating to vomit or bring out all that they brought into the prison. Toilet (soakaway) is their swimming pool or, as the Provost Marshal of 01 Cell in (Zero) ‘O’ Beat usually calls it, their national stadium. They would continue to evacuate feaces (carry shit) and receive beating until an incident that could set them free happens.
The prison Bible
Recognising the prison yard as a reformation centre, understanding the truth in God’s word is critical for prisoners seeking to lead redeemed, restored and reconciled lives. This is why a special Bible was designed for prisoners by the Bible League International. Through some ministries like the Restorative Justice Ministry and Texas Baptist Men, the easy-to-read-version prison Bible is distributed free to inmates through the umbrella body, Inmate Discipler Fellowship. The Bible, seen by our correspondent, contains separate and vital lessons from 1 to 52 before Genesis and Word list after Revelation.
In lesson 19, “exploring past relationship with authority,” there is an advice for inmates to think about the reasons they are in prison. It says that “we must all take responsibility for our individual actions.”
Other topics are: Watch out for Road Blocks, Worshiping God even when You Don’t Feel Like It, Relating to Fellow Inmates, Dealing With Danger and Threats, Controlling Anger, Coping With Mental Health Issues, Becoming a Person who Doesn’t Steal, Sharing Your Testimony, among others.
During their conversation with Saturday Tribune, the two inmates were emphatic about the lessons in sections 3 and 4 of the appendixes on the prison Bible. Under the topic, Preparing for Release, the book reads in part: “As the time for your release from prison grows near, you will have many questions about life on the outside. Will you make it? Where will you live? Will you be able to find a job? Will your family accept you back home again? Do your spouse and children still love you? What has changed on the outside? Will you fall into old habits and return to prison like so many others have done? These and similar questions may haunt your days and cause you to soak your pillow with tears at night. Some of these concerns are real. But the devil also likes to play tricks on your mind.”
According to the inmates, the additional materials in the prison Bible are provided to help them prepare to leave prison. Indeed, a closer look at some verses of the prison Bible revealed that there is no difference with other recommended Christian Bibles except in the simplified English. For example, in John Chapter 3 verse 16, the New King James version reads as follows: “For God so loved the world, that he gave he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish but have everlasting life.” The entry in the prison Bible reads: “Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him would not be lost but have eternal life.”
An Amnesty International report stated that in Nigeria, only one in seven inmates awaiting trial and one in five convicted inmates have legal representation. Of those awaiting trial, 25 per cent have legal representation from the Legal Aid Council and other non-governmental bodies offering pro bono services. So, having no lawyer automatically leads to years in prison while awaiting trial. The inmates also alleged that so many lawyers come to the prison, take up cases which they know are bad, claiming that they would secure release for gullible inmates. After collecting money, the lawyers would hide under legal technicalities to delay cases, knowing that the inmate is helpless and continue to extort money from relatives of the inmate. Some rich inmates send warders to get money from their accounts which they use to pay for legal representation.
Awaiting Trial Inmates (ATMs) as cash machines
Every inmate or ATM is likened to the cash dispensing machine used by deposit money banks called Automated Teller Machine. The two inmates, in separate narratives, alleged that warders see inmates as money-spinning machines.
In the words of inmate one: “For you to remain alive till your adjournment day, you have to be spending money for light, for fuelling vehicle that is taking you to court. We pay for the repair of the Black Maria. We pay for the repair of the pumping machine. We pay for the treatment of fellow inmates that go to hospital. In fact, we spend money even more than most people that are living in Lagos”.
Asked where else inmates got money, he said: “We get money by begging representatives of NGOs and relatives that come to visit. Also, so many of us sell items inside prison here. But when we are tortured for frivolous reasons, we vomit all the money”.
He said people that come into the prison usually give them money. Churches, NGOs, charity organisations and others do embark on prison evangelism and along the line we have contact with them.
Sometimes, the inmates claim, prison officials seize mattresses from the prisoners. They also allegedly seize handsets but after a while, the same are sold back to inmates. It is difficult to keep accurate account of the number of mattresses in the prison. According to them, inmates can help warders pack 1,000 pieces now, search again the next day and you will find 2,000 or more mattresses that were sold again to inmates.
What else do the prison officials do with the mattresses? Our correspondent sought to know. “Sometimes they burn some of them or give them to their relatives and girlfriends and they may sell them to some inmates who can afford them. Once inmates pay for anything, their request would be smuggled inside the prison for them”, Inmate One alleged.
Both inmates explained that if a warder sees an inmate with a phone, garri or whatever when such a person is not allowed, they would collect the item and such a person would then “bail” himself out. Where he is unable to so do, the prison officials would take him to Angola – a lion’s cell. It is a prison inside prison. The ‘comptroller’ of the Angola prison is called Alhaji (a non-Hausa Muslim, in conjunction with a soldier called Ahua).
Rental of accommodation
The two inmates, in separate accounts, disclosed that Kirikiri Medium Prison, which boasts several rental accommodations, was built shortly before independence.
According to the inmates, there is a place in the cell that goes for N120,000, N60,000 and so on. Politicians and top businessmen that find themselves there would fancy such exclusive accommodation. Often, they use it because they can afford it.
Those who have nothing to pay are abandoned in ‘Corridor’ (where other inmates pass through to the toilet) and that person sleeps one-sided, known as ‘gbegbesue’, because there is no space to turn.
It is a general cell with a president and his adviser, vice president and the CJ (Chief Justice of the prison). All of them are inmates. Any inmate that greases the palm of the president would, immediately, make out a room for the person in the cell. But when “you are entering the prison for the first time, you can give the prison officials money for a cool spot in the prison there,” inmate two explained.
The average number of people in a cell, according to the inmates, ranges between 80 and 95. Most times, they do not get water to bath. The room is so suffocating that people die from suffocation. And when that happens, the living ones use the dead as pillow, at least for the duration of the night. Saturday Tribune learnt that such corpses are evacuated by the prison officials in the morning.
Where do you pass out faeces? Saturday Tribune sought to know and inmate one provided the answer. “It is the same place you take as a room. That is the same place you eat, bath and do virtually everything.”
According to him, there are two sections only. “In the robbery section, beds cost N50,000 while in the stealing section, they cost N30,000 and below. We have only two sections. Such spaces are secured with money, not by fighting; money talks. It is also by the strength of your voice. In all, if you know your way and find yourself in the good books of the authorities, you can be given some privileges/comfort that others don’t have. Obviously, prison in Nigeria is money. Some business areas where people own shops do not witness the kind of money that goes through the Kirikiri Prison yard every day”, the tell-all inmate one revealed.
A different country called ‘Country no ves, Ajamgbadi last bus stop’
The medium prison is described as a republic of its own, referred to as a place where there is no anger (country no ves – no anger) where ants rule elephants. It is said that whatever you are, it is in your pocket, for as long as you are inside medium prison, you are nobody. The country has its own currency called ‘Kwii’, which is stronger than the Naira. When a relation sends N1,500 recharge card, it would be sold at the rate of 600 Kwii.
Prison inside prison
According to the inmates, ‘Angola’ cell is a place where the worst of human beings are. If you enter, the brutes there will beat you as if you are a piece of wood. They can beat you from morning to night. The people there are bullies. They have no milk of human kindness. It is here that that the Igbo man was beaten to death.
That cell is also called punishment cell. Therefore, they bundle hungry inmates into it and when it is time for general meal, the victim will not be allowed to go out. This is why people usually die in it. The cell is small and compact. Inside it, “if you find yourself in it and are pressed to urinate, you do all that there,” inmate two revealed.
Explaining what qualifies one to enter that kind of prison, he said it is the people who commit crime inside the prison that go there. The people there are always angry and violent. They tend to transfer their aggression to other inmates once they see them there. Those in Angola cell have a governor, whose work is to maintain order.
He is an inmate. The inmates alleged that warders most times ask the governor to instruct his boys to beat other inmates up. Where an inmate fails to bail himself out of there, there is more trouble. But if such an inmate has well-to-do people outside, with the help of the ‘Marshal’ of the prison, the inmates would get them to send money through prison officials. “You are brought out of the punishment cell when your relatives outside have sent money to the prison authorities for your bail,” one of them volunteered.
Taking what belongs to inmates
Gifts brought by NGOs, churches and other charity organisations for the prisoners always end up in the hands of prison officials, the Saturday Tribune’s prison sources claimed. In other words, the gifts, allegedly, don’t always reach the people they are meant for. They seize them and use them the way they like. Inmate one said there was a time a philanthropist brought 800 plastic chairs for prisoners. The prison authorities allegedly took, or cornered, over 300 of them. What did they do with the chairs? Saturday Tribune asked. The prison officials shared them among themselves, inmates claimed.
They also claimed that about three months ago, the owner of a popular Lagos lottery bought an 18-seater coaster bus for the prison. In the words of Inmate One: “I heard it was worth N18 million. The bus was meant to carry inmates to the courts for speedy and accelerated hearing. We have not seen the bus. A generator worth millions of naira was brought to the prison some time ago. The inmates were made to contribute some amount in the range of seventy or eighty something thousand naira every Friday, to give light to the prison.
“And each person was asked to pay N100. Imagine when all convicts, including the Awaiting Trial Mates who are up to 3000 in number, pay up. The prison authorities collect N100 from every prisoner on Friday. How much do you think that would amount to every Friday?”
Power tussle among officers
A story to buttress the claim of a power tussle among senior officers in the management of the prison was told to Saturday Tribune. “The Deputy Comptroller of Prisons does not know some secret deals going on in the prison yard. Though he was recently transferred, the DCP is a good man. He was good to all the inmates”, inmates revealed. According to the inmates, he directed prison officials to open the prison gate so that convicted prisoners could come out, walk around and chat around. But the chief warder and other officers in the prison are not happy with him, and were reluctant at some point to carry out the order.
Chief Warder is next in rank to the DCP. Basically, he is the one in charge of the prison. The DCP is just a figure head. The chief warder is the chief operating officer of the prison. He sees to the day-to-day activities of the prison, wielding the real power, as far as the prison is concerned. In fact, he determines what happens in the prison.
How much is feeding per day?
The inmates alleged that prison officials sell their food stuff. Total daily ration in naira terms is N750. It is N250 in the morning, afternoon and night. But the truth, according to them, is that each meal is not worth N50.
“For example, you can count the number of beans seeds in the beans meal you are served. The kitchen department doesn’t filter or use good water to wash the beans before they cook it. The beans which inmates eat in the morning are cooked the night before with potash. The following day, they would serve it to the inmates in takeaway packs. I would not know whether they do this deliberately: you will see about 25 stones in the smelling and unhygienic beans they serve us.
The two inmates said whenever they do not want to eat food served, they could prepare their own, as long as there is money. “Your family or relations have to be sending you money through the warders so that you can buy whatever you want to eat. Sometimes they send you per week, N10,000 or N20,000, as the case may be. With this money, you can eat whatever you feel like in the prison, having already secured with your money a cool portion in the cell,” the inmates narrated.
‘Government no know us’
The ‘boys’ said government is completely unaware of the plight of prisoners. That is why the prison is called another country. They have their own government. When they get wind of the visit to the prison of an important person or top government officer, for fear that inmates might expose their evil deeds, prison authorities, Saturday Tribune gathered, would lock everybody up in their respective cells so that the visiting officials would not see any inmate to ask questions. The inmates, therefore, urged the authorities to check the activities of corrupt police officers who congest the prisons by making unlawful arrests.
ATMs and convicts
There are about 80 to 100 convicts and about 2,700 ATMs occupying different cells. The convicts are the people who wear blue and blue uniform, while the Awaiting Trials are always in mufti. In Yoruba, a convict is called ‘elewon’.
ATMs say that the convicts suffer less. They reportedly work hand in hand with the prison authorities because their case has been established. The ATMs are called ‘lodgers’ because they can go any day, hence the alleged act of the authorities doing everything to squeeze out all money they can from them before they leave.
“It is only the convicted that are allowed to go near the gate. Of course, you and I know they go outside to work for people, on their farm, clear their bushes for money, among other jobs”. For the ATMs, Inmate Two said, “who dash monkey banana?” If he is sighted anywhere around the gate, he might be shot. When the attention of the inmate is needed at the office, it is the convicted that the warders send to fetch him.
Any of the convicts can be called an elewon, ‘marshal’ or ‘provost’. It is one of the duties of the ‘marshal’ to import things from outside and in turn sell them to inmates who have the money to buy.
Also, the ‘marshal’ is in control of a cell called Welcome Cell. This is the first port of call for an inmate. Even if they are 100 in number, the welcome cell can accommodate them. He can make huge amount from that; that is, if they play ball with him. If they pay him some cash, he will allot them some space in that cell. “And if you settle him very well he will not allow you to go where bed bugs would feast on you,” he explained.
According to the inmate, the first time he entered the prison, he suffered a great deal. “I packed faeces. Indeed, I swam the pool without complaint because this is ‘country no ves, Ajamgbadi last bus-stop, where ants rule elephant, I played in that stadium. We were subjected to evacuating a chop full soakaway. As people swim in a swimming pool, so did I along with others, in this soakaway. Some people pack up to 200 buckets of ‘shit’ every day,” he recalled.
He explained further that 200 buckets full of shit was the average per day, and such was usually emptied inside a swamp within the premises. They packed the shit until each of the holes was empty. Should anyone fall ill in the course of that hard task or have his body covered with rashes and need to take care of it, what happens? Saturday Tribune asked.
“If you go to the clinic for a drug, you are finished. They would give you lagatin for all ailments. It is the drug that is administered on mad people.