For Musa Mohammed, a detainee released from prison recently, there is no better time for him to die than now, as according to him, his being alive today is of no use to him or anyone.
Physically and psychologically tortured and battered by his unpalatable experience while behind bars, Mohammed has almost lost touch with the full story of how he spent time at the Ikoyi Maximum Prisons in Lagos.
Spotting a tattered vest that barely covers his navel, he sprawls on the pedestrian walkway at Kodeso under- bridge in Ikeja, Lagos, looking unkempt with patches of sores all over his body.
The foul odour oozing out of his festering sores is no less nauseating. His gaunt look presents a picture of a man whose future has been cunningly poisoned by the system.
His pitiable condition daily attracts a crowd of passersby, who intermittently show mercy on him by donating cash, which they drop into a black polythene bag serving as his wallet.
Attracted by the crowd around the bedraggled man sprawling on the ground, our correspondent decided to prod into the matter. Almost in an inaudible voice, Mohammed told the story of his life, punctuated by his eight-year sojourn behind the high walls of the maximum prison in Ikoyi. His story is, indeed, that of frustration, anger and injustice.
Of course, Mohammed looks every inch like a living corpse. With the little energy left in him, most of the time, he expresses himself by gesturing, a proof that he’s not only hungry but also urgently in need of medical attention. His story could melt a heart of stone.
There is no gain-saying the fact that Mohammed is an ex-jailbird. He had a brush with the law and earned a punishment for the alleged infraction that saw him behind prison walls for eight years.
Explaining how he landed in prison, Mohammed said, “The police came calling that day. I was with one of my friends known as Abubakar at Abule-Oja area of Yaba. We were arrested and taken to the station at Panti, armed robbery section. Initially, the police said we were thieves who had waylaid a trader before dispossessing her of her belongings.
“But I know that I am not a thief and that I did not waylay anybody. I thought that my explanation would be taken by the police for the sake of it. I was arrested in a bar with my friends because, I had a job selling second-hand clothes at Yaba. When others “settled” the police and had their bail granted, I held on to my statement that I am not a thief”.
Narrating further, the Borno State-born exprisoner said, “I thought it was a joke but the joke soon became a yoke. It only dawned on me when the police changed my story from being a petty thief suspect to an armed robbery suspect. I spent over three months in their cell at Yaba. That was when my people became agitated. They decided to look for a lawyer for me. The very day that the lawyer came for my bail was the day the police arraigned me on a charge of armed robbery.
“The charges were read and I was taken to Ikoyi prison on Awaiting Trial. I was in the prison for so long a time. At a point, my Investigating Police Officer stopped coming to take me to the court. Thereafter, everything became bleak.”
“You could imagine a man confined to a place for over six years. Now, I cannot stand erect again. I squat all the time. Only Allah can judge the Nigeria Police. If they see white, they will say it is black. They lie with both sides of their mouth”
Responding to a question asked him by our correspondent, Mohammed said, “I made more than 20 appearances in court before I lost touch with my IPO. I was just within the prison, vegetating. They would give us food that could barely feed a dayold baby. In the beginning, I was crying whenever I remembered my family members and colleagues alike. I would cry in the night whenever I remembered my age groups. The only consolation I had there was in the Christian brothers, though I am a practicing Muslim. They would come to preach to us, counsel and console us. And in most cases, the free food donations from some Non-Governmental Organisations would not be given to us alone but shared with us by the greedy warders”
How did he regain his freedom? “I cannot say for sure how I was set free. I told you they stopped taking me to court. I was just there, not as a human being but as a statistics. You could imagine a man confined to a place for over six y e a r s . Now, I c a n – not stand erect again. I squat all the time. I crawl because my two legs are just there for the sake of it. I have been crippled by my ordeal in prison.
“About four weeks ago, some very important personalities came to inspect the prison. Maybe they are lawyers or government officials. They saw me crawling and came to ask me few questions. I would not know for sure what transpired. Days after, the warders’ came to my cell and said, man, congratulations, you are leaving us today. The people just put me in their waiting vehicle and dumped me here”. Now that Mohammed, who is obviously in his early 40s, has regained his freedom, what next would he like to do to get re-integrated into the larger society?
“I have no place to go. I do not know anywhere. I do not know anybody. I lost my accommodation and all that I possessed long ago. It will take a miracle to talk about what next for a man who is clutching to the wing of death .Unless I get help from good Nigerians. I need medical attention. I need food. I need proper care. Where would I even start my life from? I think to die would even be better. My bones are weak. I cannot even recognize anybody around. My own is finished. Come rain, come shine, I am here. There is nowhere to lay my head. Am tired of this world. I think graveyard would be a better place for me,” he said.
Does Mohammed have any grouse against the police that arrested him in the first place? “I leave everything to Allah. Only Allah can judge the Nigeria Police. If they see white, they will say it is black. They lie with both sides of their mouth. Even the warders too, are not better off. They maltreat prisoners. They treat us as if we are not human beings. They see us as wild animals meant to be tamed. There are hundreds of people like me in the prisons, languishing for offences they did not commit. May Allah forgive those who daily inflict injuries on the innocent,“ the ex-prisoner said.
Any word for the government? “They should do more to overhaul the prisons. They should always delegate people to pay periodic visits because there are many innocent people there, dying every day. Eight years in the prison for an offence I did not commit is very painful. Now they have let me off the hook without compensation. The government should not allow people to be detained unjustly… [Sheds tears]. I still see myself as an innocent man, who was unjustly punished. Our society is bad. They have killed me through the machinery of the bad system,” Mohammed said.