It was a moment of joy recently for the mother of a prison inmate that had been awaiting trial since 2005. Mrs. Maria Emmanuel danced and shouted with joy on the court premises of the Lagos High Court, sitting in Igbosere when Justice Deborah Oluwayemi released her son, Paul Samuel.
Five other awaiting trial inmates were also released by the court. They included Fatai Amidu, Adebayo Owuade, Gabriel Samuel, Mike Ofoje and Lawal Karimu.
Speaking with Daily Sun, Mrs. Samuel, a police corporal at Egbe Idimu Local Government Area (and whose husband is a retired soldier), said she had tried all efforts to cause her son to be released from prison – all to no avail. She noted that her son was not arraigned since he was arrested at Maryland, Lagos, in 2005 and had been awaiting advice from Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) since then.
According to her, she pleaded with her colleagues at the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Panti, Yaba where her son was first taken but regretted that nobody, including her senior colleagues, was able to help her.
“When I went to Alagbon Police Station, no one could help me. They said it is because he was an armed robbery suspect. I did not go to any senior police officer to help me.
“These past eight years have been terrible for me. I was fat before but if you now look at me today, you will see that I am thin. I could not eat or sleep; I was worried, thinking and crying even in the office. I was running around for my son’s release.
“This was compounded by the retirement of my husband from the Nigerian Army due to his legs, which were affected during the January 2002 bomb blast at Ikeja Cantonment in Lagos. He can’t work anymore and he has gone to stay in Bayelsa where we hail from. I am the only one struggling for everything,” she said.
She stated that all her efforts to get her son out of prison were futile until she met a lawyer, Ahmed Kazeem-Adetola from a non-governmental organisation, Prisoners Right Advocacy Initiative.
Unable to contain her happiness over the new developments on the court premises, she enthused: “I am so happy. I have not started to dance. I want to praise my God. This is the eighth year that I have been fighting for my son’s freedom. I will call my husband to tell him the good news.”
Her son, who was 17 years old when he was arrested was to be arraigned over a charge for armed robbery in the name of another suspect, who also bears Paul Samuel but who had been arrested in 2010.
Fortunately, his lawyer was present in court. His lawyer was able to clarify issues to the court. The court released him on the ground that he had been in prison without trial over the alleged offence of armed robbery for eight years.
Reliving the incidents that led to his imprisonment, Paul vowed to be careful about his choice of friends. According to him, all he did was to greet a friend and he ended up in prison. He noted that the ‘friend’ bailed himself out without looking back to see how he fared.
“On a Sunday morning, I was on my way to Maryland when I saw a friend and we greeted. I shook his hands and suddenly, the police came to raid the place and they arrested everyone they saw. They took everyone to Panti.
“I could not contact my family to come and bail me out and I didn’t have money. Many of those people I was detained with bailed themselves out with money. But those of us that didn’t have money were left and they charged us before a magistrate court for robbery.
“They dumped us at Kirikiri Prison and later I was transferred to Ikoyi Prisons where I was taken to Maximum Prisons.
“It is saddening to know that I was in prison for eight years over a charge of robbery without any trial or anybody showing up as complainant in the case. One of the things I have learnt now is that I will be careful of who I choose to be my friend,” he said.
However, Paul is hopeful that life after imprisonment would be better because he learnt how to make shoes and sandals in prison. He says he wants to make use of that knowledge and to also organise seminars for people to know how to make shoes.
“At least, I learnt how to make leather shoes, slippers and sandals during those eight years. I want to be making shoes and I will be lecturing people on how to make them.
“When I was there, as a devout Catholic, I attached myself to the church. That was where I was able to get good food and clothes. Prison food is horrible. It isn’t easy to be in that place for eight years without freedom, good food, clothes and even sex!”
Reacting to the development, Paul’s lawyer, Kazeem-Adetola, noted that the problem of prison congestion stemmed from the Federal Government, Ministry of Justice and the Nigerian police. He said his organisation had been working hard in the past two years for the release of inmates, who had been awaiting trial for many years without trial.
“We have filed fundamental human rights applications, press releases, letters to the Inspector-General of Police and the Ministry of Justice but these are not enough. We could try Habeas Corpus but the government, the police and the justice ministry need to sit up and do the right things.
“For instance, in this particular case, Paul Samuel’s file was mistaken for another’s with the same name. If they had done a thorough job, they would have seen that this Paul was arrested in 2005 while the other one was in 2010.
“Filing applications takes time and the court may award paltry sums as compensation so we filed an application for 106 inmates and we can safely say today that 90 people have been released.
“Filing fundamental rights application may be misconstrued as an avenue to get money, so we have decided not to file such now,” he said.