Exposed: How Inmates Buy Luxury in Nigerian Prisons

prison

Akolade Arowolo. For most Nigerians, that name didn’t quite ring a bell until the 32-year-old man made the headlines for stabbing Titilayo, his banker wife to death at their Isolo, Lagos residence on June 24, 2011.

Although he insisted that he didn’t commit the crime, a Lagos High Court presided over by Justice Lateefat Okunnu, neither shared his views nor bought his arguments. He was therefore handed a death sentence in February 2014.

Arowolo has since been kept at the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prisons, Lagos awaiting execution. By virtue of the court pronouncement on him, Arowolo was kept in the condemned cell blocks of the maximum security prisons.

But that is as far as his deprivations go. UNTOLD investigations reveal that Arowolo is actually having a ball at Kirikiri. He is one of the privileged prisoners who live large in the prison. To start with, UNTOLD sources say Arowolo occupies the privileged section of the condemned cell area of the Maximum security prisons.

In this section, inmates pay as much as N500,000 for accommodation and get to enjoy privileges including living in en suite rooms with shower curtains, standby power generating sets, television sets, internet access and unhindered use of mobile telephones.

In such sections of the prison, UNTOLD learnt that inmates get to have the privilege of sharing their cell room with just one other occupant. In some instances, they even have just one inmate per room.

That is not all. UNTOLD sources, including former inmates of the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prisons and warders who pleaded anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue, say Arowolo is a member of the lawn tennis club in the prisons and has access to an almost unending stream of female visitors who ensure that he is kept comfortable in the prison. “To be a member of the lawn tennis club, you need to pay a sum of N100,000. So that goes to show you how comfortable he is in the prison,” UNTOLD source says about Arowolo.

UNTOLD learnt that the privileged section of the condemned cell at Kirikiri Maximum Security Prisons which Arowolo now occupies was actually made that comfortable when Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, former Chief Security Officer, CSO, to late General Sani Abacha was also an inmate at the prison.

Arowolo is however not the only one living large at the prisons. UNTOLD investigations show that the average prisoner in Nigeria can afford to live a very good life while in prison as long as he can afford to pay. “It all starts from the point where you are either convicted or ordered to be remanded in prisons custody at the court,” said a source who was just recently released from the Kirikiri Maximum Security prisons.

The source added that “what usually happens is that the prison authorities would have a representative more like a spy in court who would have assessed the details of your case and determined if you were wealthy or otherwise.”

He added that, “Once they have determined that you are averagely well to do, the prison officials immediately approach you to offer the different levels of comfort you could buy for yourself in the prisons.”

“For instance, right from the court premises, they offer to help you hold your phones and ensure that they are brought into the prison cell for you. But you have to pay. Such a service could cost as much as N5,000 depending on the type of phone you are holding. Somebody I know was even taken home from the Ikeja High Court so that he could pick clothes and other materials that he may need to make himself comfortable before he was then taken to the prison.”

At the Kirikiri Maximum security prisons, UNTOLD learnt that there are different cell units going by names like “First timer”, “Ogbologbo”, “Old block,” “new building,” “condemned cells” and “1004.” Each of these cell units, with the exception of old block, comes at varying costs determined by the level of comfort they offer.

The 1004 cells, for instance, go for between N400,000 and N500,000 and houses the really big boys in the prison who individually also hire other less privileged prisoners that provide them services including washing and ironing their clothes, cooking their meals and even acting as a gateman at the entrance of the 1004 block of cells. The gateman’s job includes going to confirm if any of the “big men” in the 1004 cell blocks would like to see any other prisoner from other less privileged blocks who may have approached the gate of that section wanting to see them.

This class of privileged prisoners pay their “domestic staff” an average of N4,000 per week for the services they enjoy while they also feed their “staff.” Those who are not working as domestic staff of the privileged prisoners, engage in other activities including selling drinks ranging from fruit juice to alcoholic wines. Some others run a full-fledged canteen while yet some others sell items like biscuits, bread and tea.

There are those who also run a viewing center where inmates get to see sports channels and Africa Magic channels for movies. To gain access to the viewing center, UNTOLD learnt that the inmate has to pay a fee of N50. “In fact, everything is monetized. For instance, I paid N5,000 to stay in the low class Ogbologbo section of the prison. To also get a bed space by the window side, I paid yet another N2,000. That is aside from the fact that I bought my own mattress, buy my own food and also pay another inmate who help me wash my clothes. I even had to pay N200 just to be allowed to see what the gallows look like,” said another source who had stayed at the Kirikiri maximum security prison.

Current and former inmates of the prisons who spoke to UNTOLD say it is near impossible to stay in the prison and not buy things on your own. “The person would simply die or run mad. Only the people in the popular side of the condemned cell even get to receive any food ration from the prison service. And even at that, they are given half cooked beans and palm oil measured in a small empty tin tomatoes can which they then have to properly cook on their own before eating,” a source said. The source added that this is why even those poor, condemned prisoners, whose relations may either have abandoned or may not even know their whereabouts, often result to working as “domestic staff” to the privileged prisoners for survival.

So what happens to the food that the government was supposed to provide for them? “We often see them bring in the food with trucks during the day time and at night, those food items are loaded and taken out of the prison complex just as they came,” a former inmate of the Kirikiri Maximum Security prison said. He added that “even gift items donated by churches and charitable organizations like the Red Cross are also taken away in similar manners at night. “

But those who are rich enough to provide for their own upkeep need not bother about such things. “Once you can pay, there is virtually nothing you can’t do. We often go out at night to neighbouring clubs where we drink, take pepper soup and generally entertain our guests in the company of a prison warder,” said one inmate.

Another inmate recalls the case of a cell mate who in fact runs his transport business right from the prison. “He has a bus plying some routes within Lagos and the driver comes to deliver proceeds of the business to him in prison. Then recently, the driver wanted to play a fast one on him by lying that the bus got burnt. My friend simply paid the warders who allowed him to go out of the prison and trace the driver until he found him with the bus and discovered that he was only lying to him,” he said.

There are also instances where for a fee that could go as high as N30,000 or as low as N500, an inmate can be allowed to go out of the prisons to contract a prostitute for a quick sex session.

As it is in Kirikiri Maximum Security prison, so it is in Ikoyi and Badagry both in Lagos as well as Abeokuta prison in Ogun State, Enugu prisons, Uyo prisons, Akwa Ibom and other prisons spread across the country.

Jamiu Idris, an ex-inmate, who spent 10 years in Abeokuta prison, said the story is the same all over the country. “I was in Abeokuta for 10 years and in a better position to tell you what is obtainable. It is not new, I was once in Ikoyi prisons and I know the same thing is obtainable over there.”

He added that, “Some of us were able to enter the privileged section because of what we can afford. Initially, it was meant for the big boys or politicians who have contacts in government. Nobody touches them or dares to disturb them.”

As far as Idris is concerned, there is no illegal item that could be smuggled into the prison by the inmates without the knowledge and active connivance of the warders. “They should stop deceiving Nigerians. Indian hemp, generators, phones and so many other things are supplied by prison warders. As soon as they realise that almost everybody in the cell that can afford a phone has one, they will suddenly come and search and take back all the phones.

“They will still sell those phones back to the inmates. That is not all. There are also chalets where women are kept every night to service in­mates that can afford it. At the medium prison, you can get N4,000 every night and N50,000 per month. If you go to Kirikiri Maximum Prison, you will get a chalet for N50,000 a night. It is also in Enugu prisons. You cannot just stop it,” he said.

The Nigerian Prison Service has however repeatedly denied these allegations. Reacting to similar allegations after a riot broke out at the Kirikiri Maximum Security prison, Lagos last year, Ope Fatinikun, spokesman of the Service argued that there was nothing like super prisoners or privileged cells. “What we have that the law allows us to do is to imprison people according to their status in the society. It is accepted all over the world,” he said.

He also debunked claims about the existence of chalets in prisons where inmates could even bring in women of easy virtues. “There is no hotel or chalet in the prisons. We don’t have that kind of law in Nigeria. Conjugal visits are not allowed in Nigerian prison laws,” Fatinikun insisted.

However, with the lifestyle of the likes of Arowolo, Fred Ajudua, a notorious advance fee fraudster or a certain inmate simply identified by UNTOLD sources as Otunba who was said to have gotten married last year while in Kirikiri maximum security prison and also got his wife pregnant, Fatinikun may have a tough time convincing Nigerians about the true state of affairs behind the iron curtains of the prisons.