My Country, 6 Gates Behind: A Prison Memoir ( Part 2).

 

My Country, 6 Gates Behind: A Prison Memoir.

 

By: Luka Binniyat

. . . continuation………. from Part 1

All eyes were on me as I made my way to the frontal side of the congested room jammed with  people who each was  a ‘scoop’ for news and features as my reporter minds told me.

Surprisingly, were I was told to sit has more room than from here I was coming from. The fellow with the loud voice came over and shook my hands.

“Welcome to the home of men,” he said, “after the dinner and prayers, we shall have a lot of talks sir,” he said looking happy with himself as he made his way back to end side of the classroom-size cell holding 97 of us.

I was ensconced by two young men, who murmured  greetings at me. The one on my left soon started to scratch bum irritatingly in response to what must the biting of lice or ticks or maybe some itching rashes.

I felt I could breathe a bit better here, because it was bit roomy.

Beside the wall was a double deck six spring bed served with mosquito  nets  and foams .

A fellow lay on the top bed, smoking a cigarette  and looking unperturbed about what was going on.

Underneath the lower bed, I saw assorted  ramshackle looking stuff: Dirty plastic plates, small opened cans of milks containing palm oil, charcoal in a dirty small sack, pots, rubber shoes, leather bags containing God knows what.

The fellow on the bed would pass for anything around 25, but was already balding and also spotted a goatee. He seemed to be an important man, because once a while an inmate would come over and whisper something into his ear, in which he would stretch erect on the bed, survey the room and nod approvingly. Another guy came and whispered and he deep his hand in his pocket, produced a packet of cigarette and offered him a stick.

“This would be your last for the night, you bastard!,” he playfully cursed the guy. The guy crossed his two hands in the air, and thank him, saying, “long live my IG”  (Inspector General).

Now it had gotten dark outside, but the cell was lit by a single electricity bulb.

The ‘service’ again came back with several very dirty looking plastic bowls on a large tray. He made about three trips of these. The bowls contained Tuwon Masara – a swallow made from powered maize. The plates were kept on top  a rectangular table of concrete.

Soon, the Muslims picked some kettle and went to the door  to perform ablution. A man came over to where we were sitting and told us squeeze back into the crowd to make room for those who would pray. He then called the Muslim prayers to mean that it was something around 7pm.

In no time, six rows were formed with what an Iman in front ready to lead the prayers.

Just before then, the man with the booming voice warned against disrespecting or interrupting the prayer session with any kind of noise or distraction.

“We take the issue of God very serious here. If  you try to break this rule, even during Chriatin prayers,  you will discover that you are fool after we are done with you,” he warned.

And if by magic the cell became eerily silent. Those that were smoking put off their content of nicotine.

As soon as the Muslim prayer session was over  some activities stared again. The plates of tuwo were shared and a greenish soup, which was miyan kukah was fetched in a dirty cup and poured over the tuwo.

Newcomers were told that they had no ration yet; that they had to wait for breakfast. I was grateful that I was not partaking  in that kind of meal. I saw some people bring out  different brands of  seasoning cubes and sprang over the food and ate barehand.  How someone could open his mouth and eat in that repulsive stench in the cell, worried me as much as how I could survive the odorous night and probably more nights and days.  But they ate comfortably, poking fun at each other and carrying on without a worry.

The important  guy on the bed was not part of that dinner. As a VIP, he had his arrangement. A boy  with exaggerated bow legs came over to his bed after his meal and asked if the boss wanted to eat rice or beans.

“Cook rice,” he said, “Make it for four,” he instructed, “the Judge, Police Commissioner and the Iman will eat with me,” he told the boy, who was obviously his private  valet.

The boy said, “consider it done, IG” and went into work.

Underneath the bed, the boy produced a stove creatively made from an aluminium  dish cut by the side. The top was a mesh of iron wire. He poured Charcoal over the mesh.  A single burning coal that had been by on a wood by the side of the bed was dropped into the dry charcoal and the boy started fanning the coal rigorously  with a large hand  fan I later learnt was called pakapaka.

Again from under the bed, the boy brought out a pot, added some  water into it then poured an already cooked plain rice fetched from a polythene  bag under the bed. He poured oil and added salt and seasoning and kept fanning. Soon food was ready.

The important man sprang down from his bed. He patted the boy on the back and told him to retire to his position. He then called out at his ‘guest’  who promptly found their ways to the steaming pot, each with a plastic spoon in hand. They sat in a circle and started eating the fire hot food  directly from the pot.

As they ate, they made a lot of jokes, some very bawdy and used swear words with ease. But, they could also be rational too.

“He went to rob and then he raped. That’s very dumb and wicked,” the Commissioner of Police (CP), who was fully bearded and wore a blue T-shirt, mentioned of a certain robber probably in another cell in the prison.

“Why must you rape a woman that you robbed when you can use the money and buy the same thing from a willing, more young and beautiful woman,” he asked.

After condemning the immorality of the act,  they bandits agreed that it was cruel to rape a robbery victim. They also concluded that were finer and noble gangsters than the said ‘demon’ robber.

But I also eavesdropped on discussions on religion, politics and  day-to-day happing in the prisons from those within my earshot.

I also noticed that there was always a small queue at the entrant to the single toilet. It was as if at every second someone was using the loo. Even from afar i could hardly bear the smell, I then shudder at the thought of going there to relieve myself. That was the home of the cockroaches that had been impudently moving all over the cell. I had shoved aside a few who had crawled up to my blazer.

Again, it was time for the second Muslim Prayers and the same ritual was observed. I then sensed that it was somewhere around 8pm.  After the Muslims have prayed, the same area was cleared, and I heard the man with the voice of a gong announce, “it is time for Christian brothers”

Silence again fell over the room again.

A stream of the strayed flocks of The Lord came forward. The itchy man besides me told me to join since he didn’t see me at the Muslims Prayer session. I found it hard to discern whether it was a command or suggestion.

The import man happened to be a Christian. He was the man who played the ‘drum’ which was an empty gallon. His gallon, an empty dish and gravels in an empty bottle water for rattles were  all that was need. Gently played, they managed to produce a mellifluous sound upon which we sand and praised the Lord.

Among the song sang was “Who has the final say/Jehovah has the final say. . . “ It  was to later  become my favourite prison song, especially when I was to lapse into depression. The song is truly a wonder on my soul till date.

The Pastor of the cell, a tall, huge man with clean shave could have excelled as an athlete. He spoke in very bad English, but his message was clear.

“The Lord is talk to us to thinking about why he bring us to prisoners,” I remembered his say.

“But some here no have common sense to beg God to forgive us and remove us people from this condition, eh!”

He preached about hope and Faith and the need to show remorse for the wrongs that brought us to prison. After that, a hot prayer session ensured. It was raucous session as a riot of voices rent the air. Being a catholic, I did not close my eyes, though there was nothing wrong in shutting my eyes also. I saw the big man quavering and shivering as he  prayed lost in delirium. He sweated as he prayed as if he was holding the garment of Jesus, asking him for mercy.  There was indeed  ‘casting and binding’  . . . We stood throughout the period.

After the final prayers, we went back to our positions around 8:30pm.

The important man climbed his bed, roamed under his pillow and brought out a wrap.

To my horror, it was   marijuana!

He put a portion of the weed on  some a small papers and made a fat wrap of the stuff. He lit it and inhaled deeply. Thick fumes of smokes blasted out through his nostril like from the silencer of an ailing car, after which he cough a little. Then he inhaled again. I watched agape.

How could a man who displayed so much fervour to the Almighty return so fast to kiss the devil?

What is the nature of the relationship between our Creator and such kinds of creatures? Could he have been mocking God? But, I saw his total devotion to Him. He wasn’t making a show of it.

I was in that thought when from the end of the cell, the announcer-in-chief  coughed loudly to clear his voice and grab attention.

“If you a new comer to this cell please stand up and move to the front of the cell,” he said in his thundering voice.

“This is Introduction time,” he said.

It was around 9pm, from guess.

 

. . . . to be continued . . . .

My Country, 6 Gates Behind: A Prison Memoir( Part 1).

My Country, 6 Gates Behind: A Prison Memoir.

By: Luka Binniyat.

As about seven of us made our ways to the front, close to the bed of the important man who was puffing thick fumes of marijuana, we were greeted by both cheers and jeers from the older inmates in the manner good and dull actors are welcomed to a stage.

We were made to stand in a single row facing the little man with the deafening  voice. Someone came and gave us a thorough search but nothing of note was found.

As the little  man loudly coughed to clear his voice to speak, the noise in the cell  reduced to the level of murmuring.

“Keep quiet, every bastard!”  the booming voice hollered at the cell.

There was pin drop silence.

“Now, you the new comers,”  he said facing us, “though some of you may have been to prison before, I still want to welcome you to this great cell,” he said and we responded, “thank you.”

“As you can see, this cell is congested and you may say it is dirty and smelly,” he went on, “but I want to assure you that you are lucky to be brought here,” he said. “Some of  you who are very accomplished crooks and have been to various prisons will attest to this fact in this part of northern Nigeria,” he said, scanning our faces as if to identify the person(s) he was referring to. I could not help imagine how bad other cells looked, if we were that lucky.

He praised the big man for the ‘feat’ the way bootlickers inflate the ego of  big men.

“He is the master of this cell and everyone must obey him,” he said.

“The day the devil wants to fool you or the Almighty wants to punish you, you will offend this man, and you will understand what I am saying,” he said.

“Folks,”, he said, “by your right is the boss, our master and Inspector General (IG) of this cell,” pointing  at the important man puffing weed.

The master didn’t as much as looked in our direction. He merely waved at us uninterestingly. Then as if jolted by a thought, he asked, “Who is the journalist?”

I raised my hand and when he saw it, he said, “Baba, hmmmmmm! anyway, we shall talk, carry on Kakaaki” (trumpeter or announcer).

“As the IG pleases,” the kakaaki responded with an obsequies bow.

“The IG has no Deputy. He only has an AIG as next,” and a tall man by the left side of wall immediately stood up and shouted, “Hey, look at me here,” and  sat down immediately.

“We have our Chief Judge,” a man perhaps in his early forties  with greying beards stood up by the end of the cell and  said, “ welcome” and sat back.

The Pastor, Iman, our two cleaners were  introduced to us.

“And finally, the real men!” the kakaaki said, “let me introduced the men that you must do everything while in this cell to avoid getting into their hands.

“These men are the men who enforce the law. They have with full authority to execute the law, 97 of these laws in this cell. I shall read the laws to you before you sleep.

“Police!” he screamed.

One by one they rose to their feet from different points in the cell. They were twelve in numbers. They had truly mean features. Many had scares on their faces, necks and heads, arms and more and one of them was wearing  dark glasses that night. I was later to learn that he lost an eye after a gun duel with a rival gang and a bullet graced past his right eye side shattering the bones and leaving him with just a hole in the socket. They left him for death. Then the police got him. He was from River state.

The ‘policemen’ looked huge,  muscular and unhappy They were young and carried all the imagine attributes of gangsters.

“This people you are seeing are the real men, not only in this cell, but in the entire prison here,” he announced.

“They may be your friends one day, smoke with you and even pop drugs with you in this cell. They may even share a meal with you and even pray and play with you,” he went on, “but since none of you have wronged me,  there is no reason to deceive you by giving you a wrong impression about them,” he said, “I swear by the Almighty God, these men are evil – undiluted evil as pure as it can come.

“Depending on the extend of your ‘sentence’ by the judge with the permission of the boss, these men can kill you, drink your blood, eat your flesh and bones and nothing will be heard of you in and out of this cell,” he said.

Though I had no doubt that the Kakaaki was hyping their wickedness and that no one could  so harm any inmate to the extent of death and go scot free, when I once again looked into the cold faces and barrel chests of these men, I thought I felt my kneels shaking.  It must have been so, because even in that harmattan, a drop of perspiration dropped  from my forehead. A man next to me was uttering a prayer almost inaudibly in Arabic. Yet, these were the men that just had prayed with all the  earnestness any religious person. What a place!

“Police!” the little man roared, “sit!,” he commanded and they started dropping down one after the other just as they had stood up.

Turning at us, he said, “now, people, who are you and what are your offences?” the little man who was now Kakaaki,  asked , “starting from you”,  he  pointed at the first man in the row. “Tell us your name, your state of origin, your offence and tell us if you are convicted or  you are ATM” (Awaiting Trails Inmate) in prison parlance.

In a quavering voice, the man said his name, which I cannot remember now. He was from Taraba state and was accused of raping a girl at a party. He was brought to prison for failing to meet his bail conditions, he told the cell. The incident took place in Zaria a week earlier.

“How old is she?”

“She about 25 years. And I am 32.”

“Bastard! . . . that’s not too bad,” the announcer said, grinning,   “you will have a place to sleep here. Get to that side and sit before the sleeping arrangement later,” he said and the cell clapped happily for the rapist.

The next guy said his offence was ‘Jack and Booth” which in the crime world, as I later learnt, was burgling  the booth of carsful. He was sentenced to  3 years imprisonment with an option of fine. He was  from Bauchi State. His crime excited the inmates and they clapped for him too. The Kakaaki assured him of a place to sleep.

The next guy was from Kaduna state and was in his thirties. He was dark, had full hair which was well barbed and he looked neat in jeans and sweater. He could pass for any harmless person. He said that his gang was ambushed by soldiers after they went to rob a retired General’s  house in Unguwan Rimmi  GRA area of Kaduna where some of the richest men in Nigeria have homes.  According to him, after they had successfully disarmed a soldiers at the gate, some of his gang members broke into the house but could not enter the master bedroom. Soldiers from outside in way he could not explained  stealthily  came and surrounded the house. After exchange of fire three of the thieves were killed, and four surrendered. Two of them managed to escape, but were later caught in Lagos a month later. He said he was charged to court just that afternoon and sounded confident he was going to get bail through his lawyers, as that was not his first time to be brought before the law for the same crime.

The inmates came shot of giving him a standing ovation. There was jubilation.

The story seemed to excite the important man too. This time he had finished smoking. He was sitting on his bed and watching us.

“What kind of gun do you handle,” he asked the robber.

“Kala, Pump Action, and all kinds of pistols, boss,” the robber said.

“That’s good. I though you have handled Uzi, G3, or AR1 and . . . “or words that sounded like that if I remember clearly.

“Yes, boss. I have handled even RPGs when we did jobs in the Niger Delta” the guy said.

“If you are from Kaduna and have been to Niger Delta then you must know Stoney. Stoney the Jumper!”

“The devil!” the robber exclaimed and beamed a smile at the IG, then he shake his head regretfully, “I know him”, he said.  “They killed him last year. Those rogues – SARS” – Special Anti-Robbery Squad –  he said with sadness. “We did a few jobs together around Warri with some  boys back then. He made money, got Yar’adua’s  amnesty  with the militants, came back, got married . . . “

“You know him, guy!”, the IG said, “we started this work together. . .  come over and get a cigarette. You are my man tonight,” he said.

The cell clapped and whistled and cheered and called the robber the names of  dangerous animals in his praise as walked to the boss, shook hands and hugged. Then he got a cigarette from the IG, lit it and  was told to move and relax close to the bed of the big man.

Then it was my turn.

“I am from Kaduna state. I wrote a story in Vanguard newspaper and government is not happy with the story so they took me to court and brought me here,” I told them.

“Is that all?” the kakaaki asked.

“That’s all.”

“And they brought you here!”

There was loud murmuring in the cell.

Again, the big man indicated interest and started raining unprintable abuses and curses against government.

“Baba, this is not the place for you. We are sorry. I will make the AIG to vacate his bed for you. They should have taken you to the Special Class cell. Habba! “ he yelled.

I was not ready to discomfort an important man and court enmity of a powerful man, so I politely declined the offer and pleaded that I should be allowed to sleep on the smelly floor like any other person. My wish was granted.

The next guy was a light skinned fellow of probably 22. He was averagely build and wore an ash colour captan and a skull cap.  The fellow had been unusually nervous since he came up, visibly trembling at a time.

“I am from Kano state. I was brought here because of a fight between, eh, eh. . . eh, eh”, he stammered, “and one person died”

“Please can you upon your mouth?” the Kakaaki shouted, “who did you kill? Speak!!!!”

“A thief” he said.

There was an eerie silence in the cell.

“Are you . . . a thief, kidnapper, soldier,  police, security guard,  vigilante. . . ?”, the kakaaki asked in a cold voice that sent a  chilling filling down my soul, and I saw the murderers kneels wobbling very badly.

“Vigilante,” the man answered very nervously.

What happened was the most unexpected occurrence I have ever witnessed in my life: All hell broke loose at once. The boss, the Kakaaki,  the AIG, the police and what look like the half of cell yelled  murderously,  “Vigillante!!!!!!!!!!!!”

At once, as if by instinct, they  rushed at him from all corners, trampling over us.

“Kill him! . . . slaughter him!!!. . . Strangle him!!! . . . No! lets hang him . . . lets feed him with our faeces first!!!” they suggested as they eclipsed  him in total beating, kicking, tearing at  him and pounding him in the worse possible way you could treat a most hated and most wanted enemy who happened to just walked into your  hands helpless.

I jumped to one side and watched in total trepidation what they were doing to the man. I saw blood on the floor and they were still covering him in beating as he pleaded for mercy. Those who had not reached him, were pulling away those who had the ‘luck’  they could also partake. At a point I did not hear his plea again, but he was still moving, he was still alive.

What kinds of beasts were these? The more the hapless man was groaning, the more it stabs my heart. The more they seemed determined to kill him.

I  then decided I was not going to watch a man  get killed right in my front and not do something about it. No matter the risk.

There was no sign of a single prison official despite the loud uproar. The Prison authority seemed to have just handed us over to a more diabolical authority and left us to our device. The warning of the kakaaki then became clear to me. I however, managed to force my way into the fray and grabbed the armed of the IG and then put my arms round his waist and began to pull him out. He was now sweating from the macabre exercise.

Irritated at the obstruction, he turned sharply to land the person dragging him away a slap, then saw it was me.
“Ohhhh!! Baba Journalist, leave me alone. And leave here. These guys will injure you”, he barked at me, trying to pull away back into the killer mob. The whole cell was now on its feet making all kinds of exclamations.

“In the name of your loving and caring mother, please tell them to stop. . . If you respect her, put me in her position  and please tell them to stop,” I shouted and stuck to him as if it was my son that was being lynched.

As a man, I know that mothers occupy a soft place in heart of even the most hardened criminal – even if she was bad mother, and thankfully there are few of bad mothers.

I saw some calm return to him. I kept my arms over him firmly.

He sighed heavily , then told me, “It is ok sir. . . it is ok,” he assured me. Turning to the mad hyenas, he thundered, “enough!!!. . . I say, enough!!!”  he decreed  as I loosen my grip on him.

The mob stopped and moved from their victim. His dress was in shreds and soaked in blood.  He crawled and attempted to stand up, but fell prostrate to the ground. He gathered himself and tried standing but landed back and he remained that way. He was bleeding from his  head, eyes, nose and ears and his face looked so damaged you  would think he survived fatal fall from, say Kufena hills.

“Get back to your spots and leave the police here,” the boss  commanded, and they dispersed to their corners, mumbling menacingly  that the vigilante must be killed that night no matter what the Journalist saw.

I was to later learn the reason for the morbid hate bandits and thieves have for vigilante even far above their hate for police –  their eternal foes, though at times, facilitators.

But could I have not also created trouble for myself too?

Could there also not be a conspiracy to eliminate me should this man die? Will the man truly survive the night as he bled that way and with more threats?

Can people really be killed in prison cells and nothing happens?

Is it true that other weird things happen in prison cells such as forceful sodomy of new comers?

Yet, it was just around 9:30 pm; and it was my first night in Kaduna Central Prison

 

. . . . . . to be continued. . . .