By Femi Akintunde-Johnson
Investigative journalist ‘Fisayo Soyombo has thrown (frankly, more like smashed) on the face of the nation the rotten bone of one of its pillars of civilization. The rotten bone of its criminal justice system, its functionaries, parallel systems and depravity is laid bare in a three-part hauntingly depressing and disturbing spectacle.
The young reporter with The Cable online newspaper “spent two weeks in detention – five days in a Police cell and eight as an inmate in Ikoyi Prison – to track corruption in Nigeria’s criminal justice system, beginning from the moment of arrest by the Police to the point of release from 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.”
Going through Soyombo’s trilogy of pains, severe beatings, exposure to deadly diseases from crappy living conditions in police cells and Ikoyi Prison, emotional and physical torture… evokes in the reader, alternately, a sense of loss, sadness and shame. There exists this soul-wrenching foreboding that this nation and her people may have missed the bus to sanity, order, discipline, organisation, sanctity of human lives and mutual sensitivity.
The grimy details of our deterioration into sub-human, capricious, self-hating cesspit of disorganized madness are piled layers upon layers in free-flowing recklessness that you are forgiven if you assumed the stories were a fiction wrapped as weekend entertainment. The reporter’s rendition was copious, varied, brutal and painstakingly robust. Let us skim over some of the “delicacies” and idiosyncrasies of our law enforcers reportedly forced down our throats in the confines of “institutions” sponsored by tax-payers’ funds.
Soyombo reveals: “It cost only N500 for a policeman to arrest me, and N1,000 for another to hurl me into a cell. Of course they didn’t know I was a journalist; I had assumed a pseudonym (Ojo Olajumoke) and grown my hair long enough – for 10 months – to blend with artificial dreads. My locks were tinted in gold and almost all my facial hair removed. I cut the profile of the kind of youth the Police indiscriminately railroad into their notoriously ramshackle vans for no reason, for onward transfer to their cells. One look at me and the typical policeman would have mistaken me for a compulsive hemp smoker, an incorrigible internet fraudster or a serial drug abuser.”
Many Nigerians are ill-fated witnesses to the notorious fact that people with powers of coercion are themselves the wilful perpetrators of unlawful and disreputable acts. Soyombo’s first-hand experience in the grip of the police is the reason thousands of prison inmates awaiting trials have been wickedly kept in limbo for several years. He laments: “I was first shoved behind the counter; and after half-an-hour, the Crime Officer (CO), Inspector Badmus, fetched me into a back office where I was grilled for close to two hours, culminating in a written statement from me that represented his thoughts more than mine. He asked me questions but only allowed me to write the answers that suited him; if the answers didn’t, he cut me short halfway.”
A document that is meant to sink or save you before a judge or magistrate is designed and written in your own words but with the superior framing capacity of your captors. Another sore point which, from the Cable undercover investigation, has ballooned to an underground industry fetching ridiculous millions of naira to few unconscionable and degenerate uniformed men is the so-called bailing system. The undercover reporter tells us: “The Police have always insisted bail is free, but this has got to be the most barefaced lie of the century! In 2015, and again in 2017, the Police embarked on a nationwide bail-is-free campaign; apparently, it has been a futile experiment. Coincidentally, while I was in that cell, Zubairu Muazu, the Lagos State Police Commissioner, was busy saying “any policeman who collects money for bail is not different from a kidnapper; the only difference is that everyone knows where you keep the suspects”.”
Yet, the atrocities of our men in uniform have the capacity to escalate such that a simple mind is unable to grasp the depth and pathos of their monstrous disregard or disdain for the sanctity of lives, much less the rule of law and the rights of others.
Soyombo’s shock and disappointment was palpable as he narrates the reality of our systemic depravity: “On Wednesday, I discover, in the crudest of ways, how the Police often exaggerate the allegations against suspects – to drive up their bail. It is evening and I have not had a bath all day, so I politely ask a policewoman, fresh from assuming duties, to open the cell so I can draw water from the tap servicing the cells.
“What is your name?” she first asks me, before shifting her gaze to a whiteboard detailing the offences of each suspect in the cell. “Ojo Olajumoke? Your offence doesn’t warrant you having a bath. Cell no be for enjoyment, abeg.”
Crestfallen and unable to read the board from afar, I beckon a cellmate over for help. “Your offence reads ‘stealing and hijacking of car,’” he tells me. “Did you actually hijack a car?”
I hadn’t. The original complaint against me was that I’d bought a car worth N2.8million, paid only N300,000 and defaulted on the balance. Car hijacking? Stealing? By framing me, the Police violated Section 340 (f) of the Police Act 2004, which compels them to exhibit “strict truthfulness in the handling of investigations, and in the giving of evidence”.”
Quickly, let us note that it is heartwarming the report of the latest reaction of the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Prison Service (now renamed Correctional Service), contrary to an earlier determination to arrest, “interview” and prosecute the undercover interloper. Now, we understand Controller General Ja’afaru Ahmed is more interested in weaning and purging his dysfunctional Service of vestiges of lamentable and atrocious acts and conducts illustrated in Soyombo’s revelations. In fact, he is said to crave more revelations and genuine contributions which could deepen the assignments of a “high powered panel” he has just set up in the wake of this undercover snafu. The panel’s brief is quite simple: “to immediately commence full investigations into the matter in order to establish the authenticity of the report, identify and bring the culprits to book if found guilty of the allegations”.”
Well, many Nigerians will freely tell the Comptroller General and his panel what have been experienced by legions of Nigerians unfortunate to fall into the hands of the prevailing soul-scorching criminal justice system, and millions of column inches of media coverage that have long passed the stage of “authenticity”… Oga Ahmed, you need more than a panel o…. You need an army of upright, motivated and committed personnel to subject the present crop to brutal, dispassionate and dynamic re-programming, uprooting of incorrigible deadwoods, and flushing out of corrosive elements. Any cosmetic change will produce nothing but more pains, losses and distress in a country badly in need of reformation and wholesomeness.
The nation owes Fisayo Soyombo a wreath of gratitude and duty of care for his unquestionable sacrifice, courage and adroitness in the pursuit of the higher goals of responsible, ennobling and enlightened nation building. He suffered brutalities, beatings, and deprivations at the hands of the police and warders. He risked his life in dire craving to challenge, expose and unshackle one of the important cogs that diminish and threaten our claim to membership of the human race. His tribe, and few others in diverse occupations, are sorely needed in a country forever racked by insidious corruption, blatant avarice and compulsive greed.
The biggest shame is when nothing good and enduring comes out of Soyombo’s sufferings and sojourn – God forbid?!