Behind Bars, Beyond Dreams

Kenechukwu Obiezu

Kenechukwu Obiezu

Visceral emotions erupted across the country like a volcano sometime last year when news broke that billionaire Chief Executive Officer of Super TV, Mr. Usifo Ataga was murdered under mysterious circumstances in an apartment in the Lekki Phase 1 area of Lagos state.

The air was instantly ripe with allegations. But it soon became clear that he visited the apartment in the company of a young lady who became the prime suspect in the murder. The Lagos State police command launched an extensive manhunt and only then was the suspect who turned out to be Miss Chidinma Ojukwu, a 300-level Mass Communication student of the University of Lagos traced to her family house in Lagos, arrested and taken in for questioning in spite of the spirited resistance of her father who was also arrested.

While many Nigerians were horrified that the life of Mr. Ataga had been ended in such a brutally horrible fashion, pockets of people quietly celebrated that he had met such a grisly end at the hands of a young lady with whom he had apparently gone in for a tryst. Mr. Ataga has since been buried with his heartbroken family having to pick up the pieces of their lives.

For Miss. Chidinma, life has continued beyond bars at the Kirikiri female prison, while her trial rumbles on at the Lagos State High Court where the prosecutors hope to nick her the death sentence. Recently however, in the midst of everything thrown at them recently, Nigerians were painfully reminded of the Ataga saga by an event that happened at the Kirikiri female prison.

To mark the 2022 International Women`s Day, there was a beauty contest tagged “Miss Cell 2022” which Miss. Chidinma Ojukwu won to the chagrin of many. Many Nigerians simply found it incongruous that someone on her way to the gallows had picked up a crown. It did not matter how inconsequential the crown was, or how inconsequential it would prove to be when judgment day comes in the ongoing murder trial.

Nigeria`s descent into a society of very little humanity has been alarmingly swift. As life in the country has become almost unbearable, Nigerians have been pushed to the wall by a combination of inequality and bad governance, with the latter actively fanning the flames of the former.

With life in Nigeria virtually becoming a survival of the fittest, many have lost the compassion that a feeling of common humanity engenders, because they feel that to live and live comfortably, they have to cut down others who are in the same rat race with them.  This cut-throat mentality has affected the way Nigerians live with each other and across the country, compassion is in dangerously short supply.

Nigerian prisons have not been spared. Even during the good days, Nigerian prisons were places of horror. This system of incarceration fed by the belief that whoever was sent there did not deserve to live was itself inspired by poor national planning and the aversion to giving people a second chance or at least the chance to make a peaceful exit no matter what they had done.

Thus, detention in Nigeria has always come with unspeakable horrors of sticky squalor after sticky squalor. As a country crushed for many years by colonialism and its corrosively colossal contradictions, Nigeria is used to aping the West.

Practically everything that happens over there is copied by the Giant of Africa. There has been very little patience or effort to develop what is original or to adapt what works elsewhere properly before adopting it. For all that is copied from the West, some have been mild successes, while others have been cataclysmic failures.

Many countries of the world   have moved towards justice systems that blend both restorative and rehabilitative justice as a way of building more humane societies. This is because corporal punishments which have the death penalty as the granddaddy of them all have been shown up as largely ineffective in achieving the twin goals of deterring criminals and achieving very little results in terms of dissuading criminals and ridding the society of crime.

So, while many may have been shocked, and rightly so at the sight of a murder suspect wearing a crown and full of smiles, there are two chief caveats: for all she was alleged to have committed, and allegedly confessed to, she remains innocent until proven guilty; secondly, going behind bars in Nigeria should not necessarily translate to going to the grave beyond.

The Giant of Africa would certainly be the better for it if every aspect of its national life was watered by compassion.

Kene Obiezu,

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Professor Jideofor Adibe


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