Barristers & Solicitors
FULL INTERVIEW: How I was Tortured in Prison – Inibehe Effiong Esq

A MUST READ: IN THIS EXPLOSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THISDAY LAWYER, HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER, INIBEHE EFFIONG, GIVES GRAPHIC ACCOUNT OF HIS JOURNEY TO PRISON, HORRIBLE CONDITION OF PRISONERS IN NIGERIA.

Reveals details of how he was tortured in prison

Accuses a section of Uyo Branch of NBA of campaign of calumny, treachery

Speaks on rule of law, insecurity, amnesty for terrorists, corruption, DCP Abba Kyari

The chain of events that led to the one-month incarceration of a young Human Rights Activist Lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, in two of Nigeria’s pitiable, inhumane and dehumanising correctional centres, are bizarre and hard to believe. Inibehe Effiong went to Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, to defend a client before the Chief Judge’s Court, in a case of defamation allegedly against the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, but instead he began a nightmarish journey to the dungeons of Ikot Ekpene and Uyo Correctional Centres. He narrated his harrowing ordeal to Onikepo Braithwaite and Jude Igbanoi last weekend.

The CJ of Akwa Ibom State said you were disrespectful to the court and unruly, and committed you for contempt. What really transpired that day? What exactly was the contemptuous conduct you were accused of?

I arrived at the court early on July 27, 2022 along with my colleague, Augustine Asuquo Esq, to defend my client, Mr Leo Ekpenyong, who is also a legal practitioner, in a libel suit filed by the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Udom Emmanuel, over a certain publication in an online medium which my client has vehemently denied responsibility. I waited for the arrival of the trial Judge, His Lordship, Honourable Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State. At about 10am, my lord entered the courtroom, and immediately and furiously, ordered his orderly to bring in the policemen. The proceeding of the day could not commence, because my lord did not call for appearances until the policemen had arrived. Soon afterwards, the orderly arrived in company of two stern looking mobile policemen. Both of them carried AK47 rifles. They sat behind me, one to my right and the other to my left. My lord, at that point, announced that his lordship was coming in with anger and that my lord was not going to tolerate nonsense from anybody. The courtroom was extremely tense. His lordship ordered the Governor’s witness to enter the witness box, for continuation of cross-examination. I stood up and reminded the court of our pending motion for recusal which we filed since June 23, 2022, but was repeatedly not taken. As usual, my lord ordered me to proceed with the cross- examination, and insisted that the recusal motion would be taken when the court deems fit. I did not argue.

I started cross-examining the witness. I was on the third question when his lordship interrupted me and called upon a journalist with Premium Times, Saviour Imukudo to stand up. My lord asked him who he was, and he answered that he was an observer. My lord asked him if he was a party to the case, to observe the proceedings. The gentleman responded that he was a journalist. My lord then asked him if he was a government journalist, to which he answered that he works for Premium Times. Immediately he mentioned Premium Times, my lord became very angry and ordered the policemen to seize his phone and take him out. I should mention that Saviour is known to my lord, because that was the second time that his lordship had sent him out of the courtroom. Premium Times had been covering and reporting developments in the case.

After Saviour was arrested and taken out of the courtroom, I intervened and addressed the court on the development. I said my lord, we were thinking that since Section 36 of the Constitution guarantees publicity of trial and provides that court proceedings shall be held in public, members of the public including journalists, should be free to access the court and observe proceedings. My lord was infuriated by my comments, and made deprecatory comments against me. My lord went further to accuse me of using the said journalist to destroy his hard earned reputation, which his lordship said his lordship had built for over 30 years. I should mention that although the Chief Judge is a woman, I am using masculine adjectives like “he” instead of she, because, in practice, we refer to female Judges using masculine adjectives. At that point, I knew that the issue had become very personal, so I rested the matter and did not make any further comment again. I never at any time said that if Saviour was not brought back into the courtroom, I was not going to continue with the case. That is the truth.

I was about to continue with the cross-examination of the Governor’s witness, when it occurred to me that the two armed policemen were still seated behind me. I said my lord, I have also observed the presence of two mobile policemen inside the courtroom with AK47s, and that even though I was not ordinarily intimidated by their presence, that their presence had created hostility in the courtroom and made it hard for me to continue with the day’s proceeding. I urged my lord to order them to leave the courtroom, as they had no business bringing AK47 inside the courtroom. My lord reacted furiously to my observation. I then informed the court that I was now making it as a formal application, in which case the court had to deliver a ruling one way or the other. Immediately I said that I was formally applying for the policemen to be excused from the courtroom, my lord picked a pen and started writing. I thought my lord was taking notes of my submissions, not knowing it was my committal order that was being written. I expressly informed his lordship that it was not consistent with the norms and traditions of our profession for policemen to bring AK47 rifles inside the courtroom, but that if his lordship was minded to allow the policemen to remain inside the courtroom, the court could overrule me and I would be bound by the court’s decision, and would proceed with my cross-examination.

The next thing I heard was my lord ordering me to step out of the Bar, which I obeyed. His lordship then ordered that I should de-robe myself. I then said my lord, if I de-robe I will no longer be able to address your lordship as counsel. My lord responded that his lordship no longer recognised me as a Lawyer, because my lord was sending me to prison. The next thing my lord did was to read out the committal order his lordship had earlier written, and sentenced me to one month imprisonment for contempt of court.

I was astonished and utterly speechless. My colleague, Augustine Asuquo, stood up and pleaded profusely for my lord to reconsider the decision, but his lordship rejected his pleas. My lord then ordered the same armed policemen whose presence I had objected to, that they should hold me and make sure that I did not escape, and ordered the Registrar to bring a conviction warrant into his chambers. That was how I was taken into a van and driven to Uyo Custodial Centre, but they did not accept me because they claimed that I had to spend the first two weeks in Ikot Ekpene Custodial Centre which had been designated as Covid-19 Isolation Centre.

I never banged any table. I never pointed or shouted at my lord. I never referred to my lord as “you”. In fact, I do not recall ever using the word “you” to refer to any Magistrate, let alone a Judge in court since I became a Lawyer. Those words attributed to me, never took place in court. Those accusations that you read about, came to my attention while I was in prison. I am innocent. It is just an attempt to justify what was done to me.

I should mention that, my lord usually fixes Governor Udom’s libel case and the sister case filed by Senator Effiong Bob against my client in isolation. What I mean is that any date my lord will sit on the two cases, no other case will be listed in the Cause List. That explains why there were no other Lawyers in court, except those of us involved in the case. I was never told what offence I had committed. No charge was prepared or read to me. I was never asked to enter the dock. I was not given the opportunity to take a plea, or to say anything. At no time was I asked to withdraw any comment. Those making these claims against me, will face the judgement of God and history. I believe their consciences are already judging them. The Court of Appeal will decide whether the manner in which I was treated, is consistent with the Constitution of this country.

Now that you have regained your freedom, what are your next steps apart from the appeal that Mr Femi Falana, SAN has already filed?

I will exercise my constitutional right of appeal, and also pursue other legal remedies available to me under the law. I am also grateful to the NBA, for resolving to take up my case. I am eternally grateful to my mentor and lead counsel, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, Mr Olumide-Fusika SAN, the immediate past 1st Vice President of the NBA, Mr Aikpokpo Martins, Mr Monday Ubani Esq, Nsikak Akai, Augustine Asuquo, Eseme Philip, and every member of my legal team and other SANs who have so far indicated interest to join my legal team for their love, support and dedication to my case.

I am particularly grateful to the National leadership of the NBA, the National Executive Committee of the NBA, the immediate past President of the NBA, Mr Olumide Akpata, who went to great length to defend me, despite the sinister, vindictive and politically motivated campaign of calumny launched against me by a section of the Uyo Branch of the NBA, who would rather see me crucified because of their political affiliation with Governor Udom Emmanuel and animosity towards my person. If they did not want to identify with me because I belong to the Ikeja Branch, they should have stayed neutral. But, they decided to play the role of the devil’s advocate. Throughout my one month incarceration, the Uyo Branch did not visit me in prison. Rather, they called a meeting with the sole agenda of lying against me, and poisoning the mind of the delegation sent by Mr Olumide Akpata. They denied my colleague the opportunity to speak, despite indicating his interest to address the meeting as an eye witness.

The Ikot Ekpene Branch sent a delegation of about 10 executive members led by the Branch Chairman, to visit me. But, the leaders of the Uyo Branch were more concerned with scandalizing my image.

A former Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Uwemedimo Nwoko, alleged that your problem is that you lack proper mentoring, and the fact that you never had any form of pupilage is the cause of your problems. That you haven’t learned to say ‘as the court pleases’ and other nuances of the legal profession. What is your response to this?

Let me be frank with you, I was going to ignore the vituperations of Mr Nwoko, SAN against me, because I firmly believe that every rational person that watched the widely circulated interview that he granted to malign me would easily decipher that his assertions were actuated by malice, made in bad faith and dictated by uncontrollable vindictiveness. You know in this part of the world, when a younger person responds to an elder, some people will see it as insult, irrespective of what the elder may have done or said against the younger person. So, I initially did not want to respond to him.

But, on second thoughts, if I do not respond, the remarks he made may be referenced in the future, and mistaken as truth. I was on the same flight with Nwoko, SAN from Uyo to Abuja on July 25, 2022. As I boarded the aircraft, I saw him seated in one of the front seats. I greeted him by saying Learned Silk, good afternoon Sir. He just smiled in a dismissive way, and I passed. Every single time that I meet Mr Nwoko, I always accord him respect. Even though I fundamentally opposed the way he conducted himself while in office as Attorney-General (AG) and do not share his political ideology, I have never treated him with disdain. I have always greeted and respected him, as my senior at the Bar. Regrettably, Mr Nwoko does not reciprocate the courtesy that I accord him. He has consistently sought to put me down. With the sort of bitterness and animosity that he exudes towards me, one may be tempted to think that I made advances towards his wife or that I eloped with his daughter. How else would you describe the sort of condescending and diabolical comments that he made against me, while I was in prison? He showed neither empathy, nor a desire for justice. I am much younger than him in age, and at the Bar. But, he reacted to my incarceration as if I am competing with him. He has always treated me, as someone who is a threat to his source of livelihood and standing in the society.

For the benefit of those who do not know, Mr Nwoko’s animosity towards me assumed a dangerous dimension after a certain young man by name Kufre Carter was arrested in April 2020 by the SSS on the instigation of the Akwa Ibom State Government, over alleged defamation. The case was politically motivated, legally indefensible, and initiated in a desperate attempt by the State Government to cover the perceived fraudulent manner that the government handled funds collected from donors to contain the spread of Covid-19. I took up the case of the young man, pro bono. Mr Nwoko SAN was the AG at the time. The Chief Magistrate Court had imposed stringent bail conditions on Carter, including that he should produce a surety who must be a Permanent Secretary or a level 17 Civil Servant and imposed a bail bond of N3 million. I filed a motion at the High Court, praying for variation of the onerous bail conditions. Mr Nwoko decided to personally oppose the application. He appeared in court in person as the AG, and argued against variation of the bail. The High Court aligned completely with my submissions, and totally discountenanced his arguments. Mr Nwoko saw the ruling as a fatal humiliation, given the public attention that the case had elicited. Before the legal fireworks began in the court on the day the motion was heard, Mr Nwoko said to me loudly to the hearing of everyone, “Inibehe, are you aware that your client has apologised to the Governor?” I responded by telling him that there was no apology from my client, and that, in any event, it is the Governor who should apologise to my client for the violation of his rights. He said to me, “Is that so?” and I answered him in the affirmative.

The State Government was desperate to get a soft landing through undeserved apology, given the anger of the public over the dubious charge which was eventually thrown out by the trial court. I was also determined to ensure that the government did not resolve the case based on their sinister and oppressive terms, in order to make them understand that in this country, not everyone will prostrate before corrupt politicians. That was why Nwoko, SAN could not accept the decision of the learned Judge, which set aside all the stringent bail conditions imposed by the Chief Magistrate Court.

Immediately the High Court delivered a ruling against him, Mr Nwoko served us with a frivolous Notice of Appeal and a baseless motion for stay of execution, which is almost unprecedented in the history of legal practice in Nigeria. I am not aware of any precedent where the State represented by the AG, filed an appeal against an order varying bail conditions of a Defendant with a motion for stay of execution. How do you stay the liberty of a citizen, whose fundamental right to liberty is guaranteed by Section 35 of the Constitution? Bail is at the discretion of the court. It was a clear case of persecution. I felt scandalised as a Lawyer. The SSS told me that Mr Nwoko had written to them, not to comply with the order of the High Court. It was nothing short of prosecutorial misconduct, and gross abuse of office. But because impunity has become a culture in this country, people like Mr Nwoko, SAN can afford to do whatever they like when they occupy public office, without consequences. I had resolved at the time to write a petition against him to the NBA. But, I reconsidered my decision and moved on, having secured the release of my client.

Since then, Nwoko, SAN has bitterly sought to denigrate me at the slightest opportunity. I have respect for Senior Advocates of Nigeria. It is a rank of distinction and honour. However, I believe that the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria would be thoroughly embarrassed by the comments and conduct of Mr Nwoko. He said that I lack mentorship. That is false. There are a number of Senior Advocates of Nigeria that hail from Akwa Ibom State. I respect them. It is only Mr Nwoko that has publicly and consistently sought to ruin me. He is a consultant to the Akwa Ibom State Government, and the Akwa Ibom State Government perceives me as their number one nemesis because I have consistently exposed and spoken out against their misrule. How can a learned Senior Advocate say that a lawyer does not know how to say “as the court pleases”? Is that not ridiculous? In the eight years of my practice, no Judge has ever accused me of insolence. I cannot recall ever disparaging any judge or senior colleague in court. His allegations against me are entirely false, and he knows it.

Do you know that Mr Nwoko went to the extent of calling my lawyers Mr Falana, SAN, Mr Monday Ubani, and other senior Lawyers in the country and tried to poison their minds against me? He is using his status as a SAN against me. But, history will vindicate the just.

It seems that you were transferred from one prison to another. Why? Your stay in the Uyo Custodial Centre was also an incident that attracted wide public outcry. It was said that your hair and beard were forcefully shaved. Is this true? The Prison authorities claim it is their standard practice, and for your own safety. Were you subjected to any other form of inhuman treatment or torture? Kindly, shed some light on this.

I was informed that I would be transferred from Ikot Ekpene Medium Custodial Centre to Uyo Custodial Centre after 14 days, because Ikot Ekpene Prison had been designated for isolation due to Covid-19, even though there is nothing like isolation there. I prepared myself for the transfer. I had given my clothes to the dry cleaner who is an inmate, and had prepared myself. I had washed my things. All I needed was to be informed of the time that the transfer was going to take place, so that I could pack my properties and have my bath.

On August 10, 2022, an inmate working with the Prison authorities at the Records Office came to my cell after 8am, and told me to prepare because I was going to court. I thought there was a development in my case, that I was not aware of. I disputed it, but he insisted. I followed the said inmate to the Records Office, to confirm the unexpected information. On getting there, a woman in charge of the records apologised and said that the inmate was not well informed, and that it was not actually a court appearance but a transfer to Uyo prison. I requested to have audience with the Assistant Controller of Corrections, otherwise known as the In-Charge-Station, ACC Edet Akpan. When he came out, he behaved very differently. He was belligerent. He shouted at me, and asked me why I was not properly addressed for the transfer to Uyo. Because of his hostility, I stood up and went straight to my cell, and hurriedly packed my items with the help of my cellmates. That took some minutes because I wasn’t given sufficient notice. I was about to freshen up, when certain correctional officer came to the cell and told me that I was wasting their time. I told him that I needed to freshen up. The Assistant Comptroller of Corrections came into my cell with a full squad of his men, and they started shouting at me. I was upset, and I told them that I was not a criminal. If they wanted to transfer me, I should be given some decency, some time to arrange myself.

As I told a sister medium, the problem with the correctional service is that they do not believe that inmates have rights. For them, you are entirely at their mercy. So, when you speak in a manner that is suggestive that they are treating you unfairly, they find it extremely offensive. Because I asked to be treated with decency, it no longer mattered to them whoever I was in the society.

ACC Edet Akpan then ordered a notorious officer by name Enobong Philip Eyoren, also known as Gideon Eyoren, a two star officer to manhandle me. Eyoren came into the cell while I was hurrying to put on my clothes after I came out of the bathroom, and violently handcuffed me. He called one other tall and heavily-built officer and they both grabbed me by the neck. I could barely breathe as they dragged me in the most violent manner by the neck like a dog from the cell, and took me outside in the full glare of all inmates and officers. Eyoren is the main officer that tortured me. He took it personal. He acted so very maliciously. He said terrible things to me, and threatened to finish me. When they dragged me outside despite the fact that I was not resisting in any way, they refused to allow me to sit inside the van with a fellow inmate by name Moses Armstrong who was to be taken to the court. It was drizzling, but they didn’t accord me that courtesy for me to sit inside the van. I tried to climb into the back of the van but they did not allow me to enter the back of the van on my own. Rather, Eyoren and the other officer violently lifted me up and flung me inside the van and chained my left hand to the van with handcuffs, and drove me like a dog to Uyo. The torture didn’t end there. Immediately we got to Uyo, this same officer, instead of handing me over to his colleagues in Uyo as is the practice, started pushing and battering me. I kept wondering what was going on. When I got inside the Uyo prison, he ordered me to sit on the floor. Eyoren became very violent, and threatened again to finish me. Imagine what could have happened, if I had put up a physical resistance. I later got to understand that he has been implicated in many crimes. That is the character of the man, that was recruited by the Nigerian Correctional Service. I am not surprised that he was the one that was assigned to supervise my torture.

Regarding my shaving, of course, they shaved me against my wish. They forcefully shaved my hair and beard, despite my objections. It was a continuation of what started in Ikot-Ekpene. Throughout my stay in Ikot-Ekpene, I had my beard intact. Inmates keep beards. It is an irresponsible lie, for anyone to say that it is standard practice for inmates to be shaved. The inmates in prison care for themselves. Nobody pays for anything for them. The decision to shave me was malicious. Eyoren who supervised my forceful shaving, had the audacity to use his phone to video record me as part of the humiliation. Immediately after I was shaved, I met Uduak Frank Akpan who was convicted for killing the job seeker Iniobong Umoren. He had a beard. The beard of Moses Armstrong, the fellow inmate that I mentioned earlier, is ten times the size of the beard that I kept, and he left the prison with his beard untouched. While in prison, I paid for the shaving and hair cuts of over 25 inmates whose hair and beards had grown beyond what they wanted. So, anyone that tells you that shaving me against my wish is a standard practice, is a shameless liar. They even said it was for security reasons. Is that not a silly thing to say? In any event, what is their business with my beard? Was it part of the order of the Chief Judge? They tortured me because I asked to be treated with decency. When the information got out, they started trying to be apologetic inside, while still denying the gravity of the action and not punishing the culprit. I expected them to punish Eyoren severely, and apologise to me publicly.

Eyoren is a terrible person, and has no business serving in the Correctional Service. As I got to know, he is himself a former inmate of Uyo Prison, having been arrested and remanded for murder. He was let off the hook in controversial circumstances, without standing trial along with his casemates who were sentenced to death and are now in Port Harcourt Prison. He has also been implicated in cultism, and other serious offences. They have transferred him from Uyo Prison to Eket Prison, and now to Ikot Ekpene Prison for various misconducts. It is either the authorities are using him to commit crimes, or they are afraid of him. The Correctional Service should not have people of such dastardly character in their employment. It makes nonsense of the entire system.

Kindly, tell us about your experience in custody. What are the conditions that inmates face in prison? We understand that the conditions in Nigerian prisons are deplorable – filthy, overcrowded, inadequate medical facilities, inadequate feeding for inmates. Were Covid-19 protocols observed in the Correctional Centres you stayed in? What did you observe during your remand in custody?

There is nothing like Covid-19 protocols in prison. Let me repeat what I told another medium, when I came out. Most Nigerians do not know how deplorable the condition of prisons in Nigeria are. The Federal Government has abandoned the Custodial Centres. The Custodial Centres are terribly and disgustingly congested. Inmates live basically like abandoned animals. In fact, animals in the zoo have more comfort than prisoners in Nigeria. There are people who do not even have a space to lie. They sit with their legs tied, and others sit close to them. That is the condition that some of them have had to live for years. I was so enraged by what looked like, an attempt to replicate the Nazi concentration camp.

When I got to Ikot Ekpene prison, I was told there is what they called the ‘special or privilege cell’. They told me that I would either adjust to the regular cell which is more horrible, or I had to pay for a space in the so-called special cell. The officers said it would cost me N50,000. I knew I had just two weeks to stay, but I had to pay the money so I could get a space. We were three in a small room, in the special cell. There was no bed. I had to sleep on a small mattress, battling with mosquitos. It was not surprising when I fell ill in Ikot Ekpene. I bought my drugs from outside, because the clinic barely gave sick inmates more than paracetamol while I was there. I told myself that it will be unfair for me to go to the prison clinic to demand malaria tablets, when other sick inmates are hardly given more than paracetamol. As I said, I have always been mentally prepared for incarceration. That is why I pity those who celebrated my imprisonment. They miscalculated. I had to share a toilet with two other inmates in Ikot Ekpene prison. It wasn’t palatable. But, that is the same prison that some people even consider to be one of the best in the country, because it was constructed some years ago by Akpabio. I don’t think the special cell in Ikot Ekpene, is even fit for any citizen of a serious country to be kept.

In Uyo, I refused to stay in the so-called special cell there. I decided to stay in the regular cell, so as to have a better understanding of what inmates go through. I did not want any form of special treatment. In Uyo, we were 23 in my cell which is called “F2”, and we all used the same toilet. 23 is even small number, because it is one of the CM cells. CM is meant for inmates who are serving their sentences. In the ATM cells which is meant for Awaiting Trial Inmates, some of the cells have close to one hundred inmates, and the cell is not even spacious.

There is also a separate cell for IDRs, which means Inmates on Death Row. Theirs is even more frightening. Their small cell is partitioned into cubicles, with up to 5 inmates per cubicle. The 5 inmates eat, sleep and defecate contemporaneously in the small cubicles. The toilet is not separated from where they eat and sleep. So, while one IDR inmate is eating, another may be defecating right in his presence. In the CM and ATM cells, the toilet is separated from where inmates sleep and stay, only by a curtain. It is a disgusting sight to behold. But, for the rigid laws that inmates have imposed on themselves in their various cells, life in the cells would have been a complete state of nature.

The structures in Uyo Prison are like abandoned colonial buildings, with no reasonable evidence of modernity. When I arrived Uyo prison, there had been no electricity there for about four months. There is no generator. We were using one lantern per cell. Inmates pay for kerosene which goes for N1000 per litre. I never for one day, ate what they served the inmates as food. For me, those meals are not fit for human consumption. Saying that it is bad, is trivialising the issue. Even saying it is terrible, is euphemism. What the inmates are served as food, is not suitable for dogs to eat. They serve them something that looks like dry garri every morning, and in a small quantity. Throughout my one month in the prison, I never for one day saw the inmates being served with garri that was not contaminated. The garri is always spoilt, and dark in colour. They will then serve them what looks like beans in the morning, and a caricature of soup in the evening. You don’t want to see the beans and the soup. They are cooked without basic ingredients. They don’t even remove the chaff properly, before cooking the beans. So, inmates have to find a way to remake the already cooked beans, so that they can at least swallow it and not die of starvation like others. If you see the soup, you will hate the leaders of this country. Do you know that inmates use their hands to remove sewage from the cesspool? Inmates tie ropes to buckets, and use it in disposing sewage. The sewage is not properly disposed, it is poured and spread on farms which surrounds the cells. This happens regularly, and pollutes the cells.

Hygiene is basically non-existent in the prisons. Water is barely available to the awaiting trial inmates. Most of them repeat the same cloths. You can see visible signs of suffering, on the bodies of the inmates. The complexion of many of them, has changed to charcoal. Many of them with different forms of ailments do not get proper medical attention. Deaths of inmates is part of the prison life, so inmates do not show emotions when fellow inmates die. Meanwhile, the Uyo prison is just by the Government House, and the Governor cannot intervene to ameliorate the horrible condition of that prison, despite the fact that nearly all the inmates are indigenes of the State, and are being prosecuted by the State Government for State offences. If the Governor’s excuse is that the Nigerian Correctional Service is a Federal Agency, why is he funding the Police and constructing Federal roads?

The current Governor is the worst, in terms of impact on the lives of inmates in the State. The Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Justice, now led by the AG, Mr Uko Udom, SAN, should be held responsible for the terrible congestion. What the Justice Ministry has done to most of the inmates is criminal, callous and satanic. It takes them more than 2 to 5 years to write ordinary legal advice. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the AG have failed miserably, and the blood of many of the inmates who died in prison waiting the DPP’s advice is on their hands, and God will demand the blood from them in due season. I do not know of any State in Nigeria, where the so-called leaders despise their own people like Akwa Ibom.

Where is the Minister of Interior? What happened to the oversight function of the National Assembly, over the Nigerian Correctional Service? The assumption that everyone in the prison is a criminal or is guilty of a crime, is fallacious. I went to prison, without even being told what offence I had committed. I went to prison without committing any crime. There are many innocent people like me in prison, who are victims of impunity, abuse of judicial power, Police corruption and lawlessness. The Police should largely be held responsible, for the congestion in the prisons. They arrest suspects and arraign them in Magistrate courts without bothering about evidence or facts, and then the Magistrates will remand people pending DPP’s advice that takes years to be written. I did my NYSC in Ondo State. My Place of Primary Assignment (PPA), was the Ministry of Justice. There is nothing magical or complicated, in writing legal advice for a case. You only review the duplicate case file submitted by the Police after investigation which contains the Police Investigation Report, Statement of Witnesses and other relevant documents and facts in the file, and reach a conclusion whether a case has been made out against a person to justify trial or not. This is what is taking the Ministry of Justice in Akwa Ibom, several years to do. It smacks of gross incompetence and wickedness.

Whenever the Chief Judge plans to visit the prisons, the DPP will rush and file Information or charges against inmates that may be considered for release. This is not hearsay. I saw this with my eyes at the Process Section of the High Court in Uyo, a day before the last visit of the current Chief Judge to the prisons. The Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Ekaette Obot ended up releasing only nine inmates in Uyo Prison, out of hundred of names that the Prison authorities had recommended. This is how flawed and oppressive the system is. That is why I am recommending that as part of the requirement for employment of any Lawyer as a judicial officer, Magistrate or State Counsel in Nigeria, the applicant should spend at least one week in a Nigerian prison. It should be compulsory, so that the applicants can have a practical experience of the Custodial Centres. It will shape their mindset, towards people in prison.

The criminal justice system in this country has failed to a large extent, and we should have the courage to say so and take serious actions to correct it. During my incarceration, the prison became like a sort of pilgrimage, people came from all parts of the country to see me. Every day, I had a retinue of visitors who came to spend time with me. The authorities had given some kind of special instructions or rules to the warders, now known as correctional officers, which was a way of telling them that I was ‘a high-profile inmate’ whose life had to be monitored’. I couldn’t make calls like other inmates. I was monitored tooth and nail. I didn’t have a problem with that. I cooperated with the authorities, and kept to all their rules. Whatever they did, was them trying to make me not to feel the reality of what was happening.

While in Prison, you stated that you facilitated the release of 17 detainees and inmates. How did you achieve this while incarcerated? The word is that there are many inmates that may not have any business being in custody in the first place, and there are more people awaiting trial than actual convicts. Can you comment on this, and share your thoughts on how you think Nigerian prisons can be decongested?

You will recall that when I came out of prison, I told the pressmen outside that I had just completed my one month appointment with destiny. As someone who believes deeply that God rules over the affairs of men, it is my belief that my incarceration was in some way a missionary journey. God sent me there, as an answer to the prayers of some inmates. From the first to the last day of my incarceration, I devoted myself to the service of inmates. I spent most of my time listening to inmates, and took steps to solve their problems as much as I could. The complaints ranged from lack of basic things like food items, soap, bathroom slippers and money for sundry purposes, to legal problems in their cases. I realised that many inmates, despite being granted bail by the courts, were still in prison because they cannot perfect their bail. So, what I did was to request for names of those who were granted bail by Magistrate Courts. I decided to perfect bail for 17 of them. They are being released in batches, as the Magistrates are signing their release warrants. I have also undertaken to take up cases of some inmates that do not have legal representation, whose cases I believe deserves special consideration. Among them, are two pregnant female inmates. One delivered her baby, a day before I was released. As part of my modest efforts to put smiles on the faces of the inmates, I organised football and dancing competitions for male and female inmates, with modest monetary prizes which I presented during the finals a day before my departure.

The last week of my stay in Uyo was a sort of carnival for the inmates. I did everything I could, to impact on the lives of the inmates. But, the best thing that I can do for them now is to let the world know the story of their untold suffering. By my estimation, over 80% of inmates are awaiting trial. Many of them are waiting for DPP’s advice. There are many innocent people in prison. The day I arrived in Ikot Ekpene Prison, I was shown an inmate who had just regained his freedom, after awaiting trial for over 10 years. This is the type of country we are living in.

How would you rate this administration’s performance, especially with regard to its respect for the rule of law, fight against corruption and revamping the economy?

Like I have repeatedly said, President Buhari is a tragic mistake of history. The Buhari regime is an affliction that has imperilled our nation, and suffocated our countrymen. He came in with a lot of goodwill in 2015, promising change. Seven years after, he changed the country for the worse. The rule of law has been violently raped, by the current regime. Court orders are flouted, Judges are being intimidated, human rights are violated endlessly, and institutions are lawless and corrupt. This regime lacks empathy. The life of a Nigerian, is now worth less than a coin. We have a Commander-in-Chief, who has failed to command the Armed Forces. The Service Chiefs and the heads of security agencies, are commanding themselves. There is no evidence that the repeated empty orders of Buhari, have been carried out. Nigerians are being slaughtered in their country, by terrorists and so-called bandits. No one is safe. The terrorists have been emboldened by the incompetence, laxity and recklessness of this regime. There is a strong perception that, this regime is tacitly condoning the nefarious acts of those who have made it their duty to shed the Nigerian blood.

On the fight against corruption, it is now clear to everyone that Buhari is neither fighting corruption, nor is he against corrupt people. Those who were under the illusion that he was going to fight corruption, have now come to terms with the harsh reality that this is one of the most corrupt regimes in the history of this country. All that Buhari cares about, is to entrench crude nepotism.

Regarding the economy, every indice shows that this regime is a colossal failure. The Naira is now worthless. Inflation is monstrous. Unemployment is escalating. Yet, the regime continues to accumulate more debts. As things stand, we can only pray for the handover date to come sooner, so that this wind of evil and destruction can blow away.

What are your views regarding the payment of ransom for kidnap victims, since it has been criminalised? Kindly, share your thoughts on the insecurity that has pervaded the country, and this administration’s efforts to fight same. Are our security agencies up to the task in handling insecurity or should Nigeria seek external assistance on fighting insecurity, given the fact that our security agencies seem to have been compromised?

Those who came up with such a legislative proposal, are not serious minded. It is a product of an idle mind. What option or choice do families of kidnapped victims have, when the security architecture of the country has collapsed? They are just ridiculing themselves by seeking to criminalise payment of ransom, which is due to failure of Nigerian State.

This is another evidence, that our leaders have no solutions to the myriad of problems besetting this country. Kidnapping is a felony, in every State in Nigeria. Indeed, many States have made it a capital offence. Has that curtailed the spate of kidnapping? Laws are useless, when there is no enforcement. The problem of Nigeria is not paucity of laws, but the unwillingness of our leaders to enforce laws without sentiments. In the North today, kidnapping has become a way of life, because we have a President who is disconnected from reality. In truth, it is hard to convince some of us that there is a leader in this country. Look at the ASUU strike; which serious country will keep undergraduates at home for over six months? Nothing is working under Buhari.

Should bandits and terrorists be pardoned and reintegrated into society?

The idea itself is repulsive. How do you pardon the rapist, and ignore the raped? That is exactly what it amounts to. The regime is pardoning terrorists, and relegating the terrorised. The war against the Nigerian people is still raging, and some people are talking about pardoning and reintegrating the terrorists who are slaughtering our soldiers, security men and innocent citizens. Is that not offensive? What effort has been made to resettle Nigerians in Benue, Katsina, Kaduna and other States, whose communities have been ransacked and burnt to ashes by these terrorists? What about justice for the victims? It takes a regime of terror to wine and dine with terrorists.

Government’s application to extradite DCP Abba Kyari to USA to face money laundering charges was refused by the Federal High Court. While some believe that the drug charges DCP Kyari is facing here should take precedence over the extradition, others believe that the drug charges are a sham orchestrated to prevent his extradition. Still yet, there’s another school of thought that believes the drug charges are genuine, but he should still be extradited, since the American matter was first in time. What school of opinion are you? What does this whole saga say about the recruiting methods into Nigerian security agencies like the Police, where some officers have turned out to be murderers, robbers etc?

If you check my verified Twitter and Facebook accounts, you will see that I twitted and posted on March 3, 2022 that the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, was neither honest nor serious about extraditing DCP Abba Kyari. I alerted the nation that something sinister was going on. I warned that the NDLEA should investigate Kyari, but should not proceed with filing charges against him until the extradition process was completed, as doing otherwise would be counter-productive to the extradition proceedings, in view of the provisions of Section 3 of the Nigerian Extradition Act which expressly provides that extradition application shall be refused by the court, where the wanted person is already undergoing criminal trial in Nigeria. Sections 150 and 174 of the Constitution makes Malami, SAN the Chief Law Officer of the Federation. He knows exactly what he set out to do, and he has achieved his aim. I believe the United States Government is not deceived by the antics of Mr Malami.

Ab initio, the drug charges were designed to scuttle the extradition request made by the United States. We need to urgently reform the Nigeria Police. The promises made during the #EndSARS protests, have not been fulfilled. The Police is still killing, torturing, oppressing and extorting Nigerians on a daily basis. There is very little accountability in the system. There is a case of a Police officer, ASP Joweigha Michael, who tortured a fresh Engineering student of UNIUYO, Kubiat Isaac, to death in custody late 2021. Despite compelling evidence, the FCIID in Abuja is still playing around with the case, and has not brought back the culprit to Uyo to face trial. This is the impunity that we are witnessing in the Police.

To what extent will your incarceration affect your human rights activism?

My incarceration was my baptism of fire, as a human rights crusader. I have always been prepared for it. I was never worried by my incarceration, because I know that I am innocent of the allegations levelled against me. This was more about an attempt to change my identity and convictions as an activist, than the libel case of the Governor. There are people who are irritated by the voice and the platform that God has given me, and they felt that imprisoning me will dampen my spirit and make me to abandon this path. But, that was a terrible miscalculation. Like Gani Fawehinmi said: “What I stand for, I cannot change”. It is simply a waste of time, for anyone to try to subjugate me. It will never happen, because the walls of the prison only strengthens a freedom fighter. The incarceration has emboldened and fortified me, for the next phase of my calling. That is a lesson for the oppressors of our people. I believe that I will get justice from the Judiciary. Those who lied against me will not laugh last, as long as God is still God. History will vindicate the just. Thank you for this opportunity.

Thank you Mr Effiong.

SOURCE: THISDAY NEWSPAPER.