Reminiscences: My Journey to Kirikiri Prisons – 4

Femi Akintunde-Johnson

Huge disappointment hung around the courtroom – for those who were for us. Soon, we became ‘Special Persons’. From free men to prison-bound; the court’s police orderly, Ken Idehen, ‘cleared’ a bench for us; moved it a step in the front of the rest and declared it a “no-go zone” to all but the three of us.

Our people, now out of the daze, started making moves to see that the week’s production work did not falter. One look at my wife assured me that a fresh hunger strike had begun. Plans were on between us to change the kids’ school. In fact, we were to see the new school’s proprietress for a short interview, on our way from the court! And many other things I had boasted would be completed that weekend, after weeks of postponement. No bail. No home. 

Between us (my partner and I), and our ‘regents’ – the General Editor, Dayo Asaju (aka Clear Leader) and his deputy, Mike Effiong, notes passed repeatedly and silently, giving details and instructions on how to keep the production machine going. 

 Much later, we all stood, curtsied, so that the judge could make her exit. Thereafter, open discussion ensued. The prosecutor, Mrs. I. O. Rotimi, with a head full of wavy curls, was assailed with queries from her professional colleagues. Her explanations did not register in my mind. 

Her attitude, comportment and (we were told later) utterances made many to believe that perhaps our two-week cover stories on the (Gov. Ahmed Bola) Tinubu affair (his first term as Lagos governor was rocked by an alleged certificate scandal) must have complicated the bail matter. And others mentally searched through their brain files if we had ever done any story on the Judge. All sorts of prognoses were raised and bandied about on the real reason we were going to take a momentary residence at Kirikiri Prisons.

 However, I could not be bothered. The only Real issue to me was the certainty of not seeing my kids and wife at home that evening. As the crowd in the courtroom thinned out, we were evacuated to the holding-cell next to the courts’ main gate, opposite the Police College’s football field. Three policemen (one a Yoruba, the second an Akwa Ibomite, and then an Iboman), were in jovial attendance. In a few minutes, the rot and intrigues of our national politics had played itself out before our very presence. Jonathan, the first accused, was initially very uncomfortable in our company (I am not sure if he would ever be unworried). Yet, securing some modicum of fair treatment, and avoiding unnecessary indignities that the Nigerian law enforcers were capable of throwing at you, there was a need to pool resources, and speak in one voice. We had had a very bitter relationship; occasioned by what we considered as his condemnable behaviour: betrayal, blatantly implicating lies, falsification… Well, I’d not be a judge now.

 In any case, I had much earlier in the year been instructed, in the spirit, to forgive him for all the troubles he had put me through; and the pains and needless  deprivations he had wittingly subjected my family and me to. I was not cold nor belligerent towards him. And I was not friendly either. One is still a human being, after all. But my partner was a full-fledged human, who, I suspect, would not know how to stand the guy for an hour; except, of course, he confessed publicly and carried his cross fully.

That, in a nutshell, may crudely describe the tension in the holding-cell – with the three of us in close proximity for the first time after the crisis blew open over two years earlier – in May, 1997. 


An unhealthy-looking obese police Inspector, who roughly introduced himself as the head of the holding-cell and the driver of the Black Maria (he’s Edo from his tongue), made a dramatic entrance.  He instructed his subordinates to get us ready for the trip to Apapa within twenty minutes.

  We had been pleading for time to give our colleagues an opportunity to get across to some of our friends in influential quarters – at least to put them on notice. Much earlier, the Judge had promised to hear our “written bail application” as quickly as the following Monday, if the papers on both sides were in her file. She was disposed, we thought she hinted, to grant the bail on that Monday, even when her criminal proceedings were limited to Thursdays. We feared that the prosecutor might play some pranks: and we wanted to forestall that. Or confirm the rumours going around.

  About 4:30 pm, the Inspector’s patience grew cold, and we were ushered into the Black Maria. I was excited at the prospect; but I dare not let my wife see the excitement. By the  Inspector’s grace, some 20 motley assemblage of okada riders, no-jobbers, and other unfortunate souls arrested for menial offences, were herded into the main section of the Black Maria, while the three of us and two luckless fellows (who had been granted bail, but could not get sureties, and could not afford the services of professional sureties around the court premises), were kept inside the smaller, outer section meant for female suspects. Thank God, there was no female among the motley. Considering that it was less than three feet in width, plenty of air was available on that sunny Lagos day. 

I found out that climbing into the Black Maria was not as easy as I saw it on television. Surrounded by friends and family, whose bold faces had receded into gloom, the urge not to fumble was high. But the short ladder at the tail of the lorry was a retractable three-rung piece that dangled as you stretched your hands to hold the sides of the doorway. No iron-handle to aid your ascent; and the ladder tucked in as soon as you stepped on it… Yet, it could easily withstand a 250kg Sumo wrestler.

As I lunged up towards the entrance of the Black Maria, I turned to look at my wife acting brave, she turned aimlessly around looking at some object somewhere. Poor woman… I thought – I had wished she would stay away. But she could not be stopped. Poor soul. She married a journalist.

(To Continue)

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