By Abiose Adelaja Adams
Forty one year old Monday Ilade Prosper is, indeed, a lucky man. He walked free from the condemned persons’ cell of the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison in Lagos last Monday after spending 10 years on death row for armed robbery.
He was discharged and acquitted of the crime of armed robbery for which he was sentenced to death in 2004. Even after the court freed him he could not breathe the air of freedom due to strikes, bureaucratic bottlenecks and alleged demands for gratification by some state officials.
Prosper was arrested in Benin and remanded to the Okoh Prison in 2003 for pouring sand into his employer’s eyes in an attempt to forcefully collect the three-months salary owed him.
Then a suspect, he claimed that he was asked to pay bail by the police and when he or his family could not pay it, he was charged for armed robbery, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging in 2004.
The Legal Defense and Assistance Project, LEDAP, an NGO working for the protection of human rights, took up his case, appealed his conviction and got the death sentence lifted and the man discharged and acquitted about six months ago
When Prosper regained his freedom on Monday, February 16, 2015, LEDAP brought him to its Lagos office where he interacted with journalists.
Looking frail and tamed, he told the story of his journey to jail and his harrowing experience living on the fringes of life and death.
“I was working for one man in Benin as his driver. So the man owed me three months salary. One day I said he should pay me two months from my money he owes, but he was doing somehow,” he began.
Occasionally, the voice of the 41-year old, who now looks a decade older than his actual age, trails off as he spoke.
“So one morning, as I wanted to close the door of his car, he said I should open it. He used his walking stick to whip me and started calling me names. So we were arguing, so I took his briefcase (containing money and some documents).
“He said I should give him, but I did not, so we were dragging it. So out of annoyance, I packed sand from the ground and poured it on his face so I can distract him and run away with it. That was how I collected the bag from him and ran away,” he recounted.
According to him, his employer reported the matter to the police in Benin.
He continued: “So I travelled to Delta State. I did not know that the police had been looking for me. When I returned to Benin, that was how one day, some police just came to my house and arrested me. The next thing, they put me in cell. I was there for three days.”
Prosper claimed that while he was in detention in Benin, he was tortured and forced to sign a statement confessing to armed robbery.
“They asked me for bail, but I didn’t have money.” He said none of his family members knew what happened. He couldn’t reach because he did not have a phone. GSM technology was still very new in the country at the time, he observed.
“Then they changed my statement and asked me to sign.I refused to sign because I didn’t write any statement like that. And they started beating me, torturing me.They brought out cutlass, the back of it and used it to whip my back. Eventually, I signed the statement. By the time they went to court, they remanded me to Okoh Prison. I was there for one year.”
Prosper continues; “After that, they began my trial at High Court 3 in Benin. I was given a lawyer because I cannot afford one. But the judge was speaking in favour of the complainant (the employer) because they are close.”
In his defense, the lawyer argued that Prosper was being owed for three months and, more so, that he could not be charged with armed robbery because sand is not a dangerous weapon, particularly as the victim injured in any way.
“After several trials”, the ex-prisoner recalls, “one day, I was told at the court to go and die by hanging, I was destabilized. I was shattered. That day there was no one in the court. Even the complainant was not there.Then they handcuffed me and took me to the condemned cell in Benin.”
Waiting for the hangman
He recalled further: “Inside the condemned cell, they used to lock all of us inside. It is only if the warder iskind that he releases us to go out and play. And we are many, up to six people in one small room, very dark, no light there. Even the food they bring you can’t eat it. You will see cockroach inside eba. The beans will not have salt and it will not be well cooked.”
According to him, a lot of prisoners on death row die before they are even hanged. He said many of his mates ate poison, others fell sick and died of malnutrition, while some became homosexuals for lack of female partners. According to him, only Paracetamol is available in the prison hospital.
“Anytime we see the warder, we will be afraid, as per say we are condemned prisoners. So one day, they just come, and told all of us to go out. We thought whose turn is it today. I thought they want to kill someone. So that is how they divided all of us, some to Port Harcourt, Kano, and they brought me to Lagos in 2008.
After prison what next?
As he looked into the distance, trying to answer the poser about what he planned to do, it is obviously that Prosper is clueless as to what to do with the remaining part of his life. What he is sure of is that he would like to further his education and, perhaps, go to the university someday.
“I would like to further my education. I did WAEC, so I have my ‘O’ level school certificate. If I can get someone to sponsor me, I will like to go to the University,” he said. On the other hand he also wants to work for God somehow.
He was the pastor of the condemned persons’ cell in Kirikiri Prison. “I grew closer to God. He has told me that He will deliver me from here (prison) I will like to do the work of God, he said on the other hand,” he said.
Before his prison experience, he was an automobile mechanic, but doesn’t want to go back to that. He aspires to go to National Open University which some inmates have attended.
The campaign against death penalty
Prosper’s experience is suffered by many Nigerians who are sentenced to death, spend years, even decades on death row, only to be discharged and acquitted later, their productive years wasted and their lives shattered.
For several years, LEDAP has been championing the campaign to abolish death sentence and for the committal of such capital punishments to life imprisonments.
“We are not saying they shouldn’t be punished for their crimes. What we are saying is that a country that cannot give justice cannot take life,” said LEPAD’s executive programme manager of Adaobi Egboka.
“The criminal justice system is fraught with a lot of irregularities. We are saying that instead of one innocent man to be killed, it is better to set everyone free.”
Additionally, LEPAD’s national coordinator, Chino Obiagwu, explained that the organisation’s position on death penalty “is basically premised on high statistical data of wrongful convictions and sentences of innocent persons to death in Nigeria and around the world.”
For instance, thestatistics from the Nigeria law reports on deathpenalty cases compiled by LEDAP from 2006 –2011 show that 39 per cent of death sentences by trialcourts were quashed on appeal within the period,indicating a high risk of wrongful convictions andsentences.
Analysis of the total number of deathsentences passed by the various divisions of the highcourt in various states appealed between 2006and 2011 show that 69 out of the 113 appealcases got to the Supreme Court while 44 rested withthe various divisions of court of appeal. TheSupreme Court quashed 26 out of the 69 appealsthat came before it while confirming 43 of them.
Many human rights lawyers are worried that the execution of four death row prisoners -Chima Ejiofor, Daniel Nsofor, Osarenmwinda Aiguokhan and Richard Igagu – in Edo State in 2013, is a threat to the existing unofficial moratorium on death penalty in Nigeria.
“For a long time (up to 10 years) we have not had executions in Nigeria,until the Edo State governor acting on the President’s directive signed the execution warrant of death row inmates,” Obiagwu observed.
Nigeria is amongst countries like Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, Kuwait, et cetera, that still retain death penalty as a form of capital punishment in its laws. It would have been considered an abolitionist state in practice given that it had not practiced death sentence for the last ten years until on 2013 when the president, Goodluck Jonathan urged state governors to sign death warrants.
Apart from providing legal services to people like Prosper, LEPAD also has to worry about settling them meaningfully back into the society. It has found that this is difficult, particularly the task of getting them jobs.
“When they come out of prison like that, no rehabilitation or programmes to re-integrate them back into the society so they go back into crime and get re-arrested and into the prison again, Obiagwu observed.
.He lamented that only some few organizations, the Catholic church, for example, and some pastors, have plans for them.”
So LEPAD links them up to such groups where they can be followed up.
Egboka also observed that stigma is a main barrier to the reintegration of men like Prosper back into society.
“Who wants to employ an ex-prisoner. Everyone is suspicious. It is very difficult to survive, she laments. “Even family stigmatises them.”
According to her, they lost one of the released prisoners, Christopher Tobi, because the society rejected him after his release.
“He couldn’t cope with life anymore, he had lost his sight, he fell sick, and now no job outside prison, so he died.”
In Prosper’s case, he too had lost touch with his family. He was 30 at the time of arrest and so had no family to return to. But he still counts himself lucky. His story is better than that of many others who come out of prison experience maimed, blind or with permanent disabilities, result of torture suffered while in detention.
In a recent Amnesty International Report, “Welcome to Hell Fire”, Police torture in Nigeria is found to be routine, in spite of the fact the country is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
However, the spokesperson of the Lagos State Police Command Kenneth Nwosu, told the icirnigeria.org that torture is alien to Nigerian Constitution and as such the Nigerian Police does not condone it.
“If anybody tells you that a policeman tortured him, tell that person to call us,” he said. “Nigeria is signatory to a lot of international declarations against torture, so we believe in humane treatment. We don’t do it.”
“Ask anyone in detention, they will tell you they are there for the crime they committed. Our policy is 24-hour detention. If we detain anyone for more than that, its a maximum of 48 hours,” added Nwosu, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, DSP.
He said exceptional cases are only when the court is on strike.
However, LEDAP, which has litigated over 210cases of persons charged with capital offences in the last 10 years, disagreed with Nwosu.
“If the police in Nigeria can to do proper, detailed, investigation, these would not happen. The truth is that the real prisoners do not get to prison. This is the case with Prosper, it’s a minor issues that would have been settled with a bail, but he was coerced to make statements of what he didn’t do, and landed in jail,’ said Egboka: