Peter John, an indigene of Borno State working in Lagos as a security guard, was arrested by the police in October 2020 and wrongfully accused of participating in the violence that followed the #EndSARS protests. He tells GODFREY GEORGE about his experience in Kirikiri Maximum Correctional facility where he spent one year and three months before reprieve came his way
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Peter John. I am from Maiduguri, Borno State. I am 23 years old now. I was 21 when I was arrested and dumped in prison by policemen from Maroko Police Station.
What really led to your arrest?
I was a security man before all this happened. I used to work in one of the houses in Lekki Phase 1, Lagos. I started the job in 2014 when I came to Lagos. I had just concluded my shift on that day (October 23, 2020) and was going home when some policemen accosted me and asked me where I was going. I told them I was a security guard and I was going home. I even showed them my ID card. But they were not even listening to what I was saying; they just bundled me up and threw me into their van where I met other young men, whom I later found were arrested on the road just like me.
Did they tell you why you were arrested?
They (police) said we were the ones who burnt Lekki Toll Gate and a police station in Ajah. I was confused because I had no idea what they were saying. I am a law-abiding citizen and I couldn’t understand why I was being arrested for nothing. I tried to explain to them, but before I could do so, they drove the van to Maroko Police Station for me to write a statement. They even wrote the statement themselves and told me to sign. They then moved all of us to Panti and arranged for us to be taken to court.
For how long were you kept at Panti?
We stayed there for about five days.
How many of you?
We were 12.
What did they do next?
After they wrote statements and forced us to sign, they did COVID-19 test for us and took us to court. When we got to the court, they read a list of charges they had compiled and I was amazed. Some of the young men had begun to cry while we were in the dock. They didn’t even ask us if we knew about the charges being levelled against us, they just took us straight back to Panti. We spent a few days there before we were taken to Kirikiri Maximum Prison.
What was your experience in Kirikiri?
Very painful and sad. I spent my 22 and 23 birthdays in Kirikiri for something I had no idea about at all. I was thrown into the prison in November 2020 and got out in January 2022. My birthday is December 18.
What went through your mind during those times?
I felt it was because I am a nobody that it was easy for them to just throw me inside the prison for one year and three months. My family is poor and we are nine in the family. I am the third. It was this security work that I used to take care of them. What could they do?
I felt so bad and cried every day. I don’t know what I did that made them put me in the same cell as kidnappers and killers. They used to mock me that I was serving ‘Sara’ (free) prison term. They said they killed people and stole a lot of money but I was just there for nothing. Whenever they told me that, I would cry. Then, they would be ruthless and beat me up. I faced a lot of hardship there.
Did your family know you were in prison at the time?
My brother said when he didn’t see me, he called my parents in the village to inform them. He printed my picture and went round almost all the police stations in Lagos, looking for me. He first went to Ikoyi Prison and he didn’t see me. He went to the disbanded SARS headquarters at Ikeja and many other stations before they located me at the Kirikiri Maximum Prison.
When they (my brother and some of his friends) saw me, they couldn’t even believe it. I had become so lean and malnourished. I explained to them what happened and that was how the journey to getting me out began.
What were you fed with at Kirikiri?
The kind of food we were given in prison was something that could injure us. I had craw-craw (rashes) all over my body and would ‘purge’ for days after eating the food served in the facility. They would cook the beans at 12am and serve us early in the morning. When you eat that beans, there is no way you will not ‘purge’. Your stomach would ache badly. If you don’t have anyone to call and you continue to eat from there, you would become very sick. When I left, many of the inmates were already very sick. I won’t lie. Many people are going through a lot there. When I was sick in prison, the drugs I was given didn’t do anything. Sometimes, they would write out the medications you need and tell you to contact your family to get them for you. I saw hell there. It is very different from the free world.
The day I got in the inmates beat me so hard. They deafened me with slaps. The ‘senior people’ that we met there beat us at any slightest provocation. They would tell us to ‘frog jump’ from one point to another.
Were you going to court during this period?
They kept adjourning my case. The first time they gave me an adjournment was on December 2, 2020. I was not taken to court that day. The warders said the case file was in Alausa and it had not been released. My family sold some property and borrowed some money to hire a lawyer for me. The money that they spent – more than N200, 000 – went to waste. When they didn’t have money again, the lawyer stopped coming. My parents had to go to the farm to work extra hard to see what they could raise to get another lawyer. I really suffered. My family passed through tribulations during that period, but I just thank my God.
How did you regain freedom?
My family had to get another lawyer, Festus Ogun, after the first one failed them. They heard that he (Ogun) was helping some people fight for their freedom, especially with the #EndSARS matter. So, they looked for him and contacted him, and that was the best decision they made for me. He turned my case around when he handled it. For that, God will bless him. My family did not even have money when they met him and he didn’t mind. It was not only me that he helped! He had also helped many other people. I am the last person among the 12 people who regained freedom on Tuesday, (January, 18, 2022.)
How did you feel when you stepped out of the four walls of the prison?
I felt joy in the depths of my heart. I was crying and praying to God, thanking God that I saw myself in the free world. In my entire life, I cannot forget the things that happened to me in that prison.
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