New Telegraph

Booming Businesses At Kirikiri

  • I don’t want to leave prison –Inmate …says ‘I make so much money inside, take care of my family’
  • ’They serve us garri mixed with stones’

The Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison in Lagos is home to convicts and those awaiting trials. It is a world of emperors, who thrive on messy deals. Death is cheap for those Yorubas refer to as “elewon”. ISIOMA MADIKE, who got firsthand information from an insider, reports

Now known as a correctional centre, Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison, Lagos, is supposed to be home to the most hardened criminals. But not anymore! Lesser criminals and those awaiting trials are also kept there pending when their cases are determined and dispensed with. However, prison humbles both the rich and the poor. A source, who is awaiting trial for months now, tells our reporter the pitiable, disappointing and, in most cases, interesting stories of life inside Kirikiri Maximum Prison.

Life within the walls of that prison, our source added, is a struggle. Saturday Telegraph got this rare insight into the activities in the prison when it went as part of the entourage of a Christian group that visited to encourage the inmates. The source narrated the initiation of new inmates, torture chambers, as well as double-crossing activities that characterise the inmates’ daily lives. Of particular interest is a story of an inmate, who prefers the prison to the outside world.

“I do not want to leave the prison because it’s better than where I was coming from. My business is booming here and I’m making a lot of money which I use to take care of my family outside the prison. “If I leave now, where do I get a job that can put food on my family’s table? There’s no work outside, so I’m better off here,” he was quoted to have said. He said, indeed, there is a thriving business in the prison. The businesses, nonetheless, have every attribute of slave trade on the prison premises. When new inmates or awaiting trial inmates are brought in, the warders in charge would receive them and begin to sell and distribute them to the various cell leaders, usually known as provost marshals.

Every inmate, according to our source, is seen as a cash cow as warders use them for money-making. “One of such marshals in charge of my section is making a lot of money from other inmates that he does not want to leave the prison any- more; he is looking so fresh and has already established himself as a Lord in the prison yard. “He is also the head of what is known as the ‘Arrivals Cell’. From the arrival point, he, in conjunction with the warders, sends fresh inmates to ‘Welcome Cell’, and to other cells. “He is a Lord of some sort in some of those cells within the prison. He runs a food canteen independent of the general cafeteria provided by the authorities and has boys who are also inmates selling for him. He pays them salaries like normal workers.

“He is also in charge of selling hard drugs, Indian hemp, and heroin in the cells to condemned prisoners. “Just like this particular provost, others like him are equally comfortable. The marshals have the power to give other inmates under them access to use the telephone. “They smoke Indian hemp, use other hard drugs without control, and sell to other inmates who have money to buy. They usually smuggle them in with the help of the warders. “Some of the marshals have the privilege to go outside the prison to work and make money for themselves. For this category, some of them may have served more than half of their sentences and are now trusted by the warders not to run away.

“They use such privileges to smuggle in hard drugs. Some other people supply ‘things’ to them through the warders,” he said. He added: “They also sell other things, especially clothes inside the cell. For many of them that are engaged in these deals, they make a lot of money and they do not think there is any need to leave the prison again. “Unfortunately, some of them, who serve out their terms, would intentionally want to commit another crime that would bring them back to the prison the second time. They plan such things before leaving the prison because they want to continue with their businesses inside the prison. “Their reason is that there is no work outside. “It’s only a few that think about their families and usually look forward to reuniting with them.”

Generally, inmates get money by begging representatives of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and relatives that come to visit. “Also, so many of us sell items inside the prison. But when we are tortured for frivolous reasons, we bring out all the money. There are others who come into the prison to give us money too. Churches, NGOs, charity organisations and others who come for prison evangelism. “Smart inmates seize such opportunities to make contact with them and subsequently establish a relationship that would yield them some goodies.

But the warders often seize such goodies from them. “However, all the items seized from them by warders are sold back to them and others who can afford them at exorbitant fees. Items such as handsets, shoes and clothes, are mostly their targets,” our source further recounted. One interesting thing he told Saturday Telegraph is the fact that there is a prison inside the prison.

According to him, the prison’s prison or cell is a place where the worst of human beings are, mainly the condemned prisoners. “The bullies are kept there and would beat other inmates as if they are a piece of wood. That cell is small and compact,” he said. The stench from the cell, he said, is indescribably repulsive even with- in a few metres from the entrance.

The heat, he also said, is of such degree that even those walking past the cell entrance at some distance feel it. In tears, he narrated his experience in the inner prison. He said: “I was beaten from morning till night. They are tormentors. They have no mercy for any one. Some inmates are beaten to death in this cell. It’s called a punishment cell. “They bundle hungry inmates into it and when it is time for a general meal, the victims would not be allowed to go out. This is why most inmates die in that cell.

“They too made me pay before I could stretch my body due to my swollen and hurting neck. I had to pay N500, which was all I had left because I could not bear the punishment the cell leader gave me for 24 hours. “On my arrival in this inner cell, I was beaten mercilessly, not by the warders, but by the senior inmates in the cell, who were angry that I brought no money for them.” He said as a rule, fresh suspects are beaten to herald their arrival in the cell.

He added: “As soon as I was pushed into that cell, all the inmates started shouting ‘alejo, alejo’, which means visitor in Yoruba language. As the beating became unbearable, I begged them for some mercy and I was asked to pay the sum of N4,000. “I received severe beating because I had no money left on me to pay,” he further recounted. The senior inmates, according to our source, often assault juniors by splashing urine on them. When a junior rejected a rotten gift offered by the president of the cell, he, the source recalled, threatened to splash faeces on him from the toilet bucket.

Considering this a worse prospect than eating the spoilt food, he accepted the gift and ate it. He subsequently suffered stomach pains. Sadly, the case of our source is not an isolated one. Though others may not be as unfortunate as he, they nonetheless suffered debasement and dehumanisation as victims of inmates’ mis- treatment. Explaining what qualifies one to enter that kind of prison, he said it is the people who commit crime inside the prison that are thrown into the inner cell. Those in the inner cell, he said, are always angry and violent.

They tend to transfer their aggression to other inmates once they see them there. The head of this inner prison is called ‘governor’. His duty is to maintain order and spell out punishment for offenders. He alleged that warders often ask the governor to instruct his lieutenants to beat other inmates up for refusing to cooperate (those who refuse or have no money to give).

In the inner cell, an inmate is expected to bail himself. It is more trouble where he fails to do that. But, they are allowed to contact people outside for help, and with the help of the ‘Marshal’ of the prison, such inmates would get them to send money through prison officials. “You are only free from the punishment cell when your relatives outside meet the bail conditions, usually by sending specified money to the ‘judge’ through the prison officials to free you,” he said. As a general rule, he said, immediately one gets to the maximum security, “first thing is to take your record after which they move you to where they call the welcome cell. There they have the provost who is the oldest person in the cell. “He will read out all the rules and regulations guiding the cell. That’s for first comers.

“They search you and collect whatever money you have on you. You are, however, allowed to keep your money with the warders at the record point. Anytime you need petty cash you go there and collect it, although they would not allow you to have all your money at a go. They would only allow you to collect N500 at once. “You are expected to stay at the welcome cell for two to three days. The warders would move you to a permanent cell when the place gets congested. There is a bed but not for everyone, only those who have money to pay, get it. They pay good money.

There are small double decker beds in all the floors. They charge between N20,000 and N30,000 to get a place that is convenient. “Warders make endless financial demands on inmates, pretending to be helping them. They would ask the inmates to pay for letter-writing materials, delivery, searching and calling of the prisoner. “They know it’s illegal hence they are conscious of the possible implications of their actions and are always fearful of anything that they suspect could incriminate them.”

He added: There is ‘jankara’ for those who have no money; they are packed like sardines. Usually, it’s 36 people in a cell. The cell is opened early in the morning for inmates to go out and buy whatever they need under the watchful eyes of the warders. “However, the prison environment is far better than a police cell. Everyone returns to his cell once it is 4:30pm and a roll call is taken to ensure the inmates are complete. “We pray and hold services always, Christians and Muslims do their things separately.

An inmate has no choice but to align whether he likes it or not; worshiping is compulsory. There are serious consequences for violating the rules and regulations of the prison. “The punishment ranges from washing toilets to packing ‘shit’ in soakaways when they are full. “An inmate serving punishment could ‘bail’ up to 100 buckets full of ‘shit’ on the average per day and such was usually emptied inside a swamp on the premises. The ‘shit’ is packed until each of the holes is empty.

“Eaten is horrible in prison. In the morning, we are served beans that are half done, cooked with chemicals and ‘Akaun’. There is no oil in the food and that is the reason many prisoners are down with one disease or the order. “In the afternoon, we are given garri mixed with stones. It’s a miserable eba with egusi soup that looks like baby’s faeces. Rice is an essential commodity there. Even the beans have stones. In fact, prisoners eat rubbish.

“There is drug abuse, as the cell heads sell drugs without control, and smuggle in a lot of heroin and cocaine too. Death is common in the prison as people die on a daily basis. Half of the people in maximum security are awaiting trial. “Whenever the ‘big boys’ do not want to eat food served, they could prepare their own, as long as there is money. Your family or relatives have to be sending you money through the warders so that you can buy whatever you want to augment whatever you are given here. “One can be here for weeks without ‘manners falling from heaven’.

“With this money, you can eat whatever you feel like in the prison, having already secured with your money a cool portion in the cell. When a fresh inmate enters the prison for the first time, he can give the prison officials money for a good spot in the prison if he can afford it.” According to our source, one of the executive sections in the cell goes for as much as between N200,000, N400,000. Such a cell, he said, is the preserve of the high and mighty, particularly politicians, kidnappers and top businessmen that find themselves in prison.

“They are the ones who not only fancy such exclusive accommodation, but can afford them. The commoners are often abandoned in the ‘Corridor’ where other inmates pass through to the toilet. Such ‘nobodies’ usually sleep one-sided, known as ‘egbegbesue’, because there is no space to turn. “The general cell has a president and his adviser, vice president and the Chief Justice of the prison. All of them are inmates. Those who are able to grease the palm of the president would, immediately, be provided with a room in a better part of the cell.

“Such places are so comfortable that the inmates eat, bath and do virtually everything in the rooms. “Also, at the prison, you have a VIP lodge for one million naira. The one next to the VIP hostels goes for N300,000. Those are cells for Indians and Chinese serving different prison terms. Close to these executive cells is the condemned cell, along with the ones called ‘wifey’ for those serving life imprisonments. “For medicals, there is a clinic where only drugs are given.

They would give you malaria drugs, pain relief drugs and sometimes lagatin for all ailments. Lagatin is the drug that is administered on mad people. “Anyone with serious ailment is on his own, except for those coming down with TB; those ones are separated from others in a different cell because they believe it’s highly contagious. Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison is in Apapa, Lagos State, named after the rural Kirikiri community in which it is situated. It is a part of what is now known as the Nigerian Correctional Service.

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