Investigative journalist, Fisayo Soyombo, went undercover to track corruption in Nigeria’s criminal justice system and spent two weeks in detention — five days in a Police cell and eight as an inmate in Ikoyi Prison.
To experience the workings of the system in its raw state, Soyombo — adopting the pseudonym Ojo Olajumoke — feigned an offence for which he was arrested and detained in police custody, arraigned in court and eventually remanded in Prison.
Beginning from the moment of arrest by the Police to the point of release from prison, he uncovers drug abuse, sodomy, bribery, pimping and other vices in Ikoyi Prisons.
Proceedings were well underway at Court III when we stepped into the Chief Magistrate Court, Yaba, Lagos, after my extrajudicial detention for five consecutive days at Pedro Police Station, Shomolu. It was a little after noon — or thereabouts. A funny but very contentious matter was ongoing. The protagonist, a woman, was being tried for, allegedly, illegally selling a piece of land belonging to a former associate of hers. This woman — ostensibly in her late 50s or early 60s — claimed, vehemently so, that the complainant indeed owed her millions of naira in accumulation of unpaid earnings for executed projects. She sold the land because she had been instructed to, to defray the cost of her service, she said. But the prosecutor insisted otherwise, arguing that the sale was fraudulent. The woman, irritated and incandescent, embraced and perhaps enjoyed
every window to have a go at the prosecutor. Once, the prosecutor got under her skin by scoffing at how two of her high-profile witnesses were deceased. “Excuse you!” the woman fired back in protest. “Are you suggesting I killed them? Is it my fault that you’ve been dragging me from one police station to another and from court to court for more than 10 years?”
The magistrate — a dark, soft-spoken, middle-aged man whose eyes often evaded the lens of his pair of glasses when talking — adjourned the matter, as expected. And after two or three other cases, mine was mentioned. His orders: remanded in prison custody, two sureties in like sum of N500,000 each, N150,000 to be paid into the Registrar’s account by each surety, sureties to be from father’s side of the family. Not long after, the court rose, to be followed by my preparations for a long and difficult journey to the prison.Before the authorities take my freedom away from me, the first thing they do is give me a final semblance of it by unfettering my hands from the handcuff, as is the custom. That was just before entering the dock. Minutes later, the same man who released the handcuff returns to hand me over to a policeman who, accompanied by Zainab Sodiq, the lady posing as my sister, leads me downstairs. First stop on the ground floor is the office of the prisons service. Manning it, comfortably sitting opposite the entrance, is a gun-wielding prison warder, legs waggling, whose shirt hangs loosely on the wall inside, leaving his trunk scantily covered by a singlet. Inside that office are three more warders. The next room is a holding cell — for momentarily detaining inmates until the arrival of the prisons bus that conveys them to Ikoyi. I expect to be led to the holding cell, but I am taken into the prisons office and encouraged to “take a seat”. What manner of magnanimity is this? I was wrong!
The three officers summon my sister. “You can have a look at that holding cell and see if it’s the kind of place a human being should stay,” one of them tells her with feigned sympathy. “Your brother can stay in our office but it will cost you N10,000.” My sister takes a moment to peep into the holding cell, then returns to bargain. The negotiating parties reach an agreement of N5,000, collected by the singlet-donning warder.
Money in the bag, the warders’ initial measured disposition turns happy-go-lucky; I notice the ease with which they regale one another with tales of similarly shady financial dealings. “The day Naira Marley was billed to be taken to prison, I was on this chair making cool money,” says one of them. “I made some good money, I won’t lie. Transfers were just going up and down.” Naira Marley, the hip hop artiste whose original name is Azeez Fashola, had been arraigned at a Federal High Court in Lagos on May 20 by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), on 11 counts of alleged Internet and credit card fraud.
A second warder describes how he facilitated the payment of N300,000 to a senior colleague of his in Abuja, by a man who wanted to ‘smuggle’ all his three children into the employ of the Nigerian Prisons Service (recently renamed the Nigerian Correctional Service) during a recruitment “some years ago”. Though unqualified, all three were eventually employed by the service. It suddenly dawns on the warder that an ongoing promotion exercise in the prisons service offers him fresh opportunity for corrupt enrichment. “Let me quickly call the man; he may be interested in a deal to facilitate his children’s promotion,” he adds, running his hand through his breast pocket for his phone.
Investigative Journalist Makes Shocking Revelations About Nigeria Prisons ServiceSeeing the lack of restraint with which they discuss acts of bribery and corruption, I approach them for guidance on the allocation of accommodation in prison. Apparently, it’s a high-wire fraud involving prison officials in court and those in the yard proper.