Mohbad’s case mates

By Mrs. Kanayo Olisa-Metuh 

The news of Mohbad’s demise hit Ikemefuna Okafor hard, when it filtered into prison. He was a fan, had fashioned his rapping around Mohbad’s easy-flow style. They were both the same age, a mere 27. Ikem grieved at the icon’s death, but also, his own.

For, in his mind, Ikem too was dead.  Four years to the day, Ikem had been picked up by a SARS patrol near the studio. His was the stock look of his trade – ripped jeans, dreadlocks and tattoos. Explanation fell on deaf ears, the beating increasing the more he tried. He was a suspect. For what exactly, no one said. Until he met his “case mates”, two months later, on his first day out of that stinking police cell, in court.

The case mate system – that astonishing phenomenon of our criminal justice administration. Complete strangers, randomly and separately arrested in far-flung places, charged together for an offence that never occurred. The reason? To clear space in police cells for new detainees. Once charged to court, detainees now “accused persons” – are moved on to prison, to the torture chamber called awaiting trial facilities. Robbery was the case they gave Ikem, with two other unfortunates, his case mates. An only child of a single-mother hawker, Ikem had no one to bail him.

Emaciated, wracked by disease, body covered in rashes and sores oozing pus, he currently looks something from the “feem” Resident Evil. Long gone are the dreads, replaced by suppurating blisters on a prematurely bald scalp. The melodious voice? Distant memory too. Ikem only croaks now. Apart from that one day in court, Ikem has never left prison in four years. Longer residents of the Awaiting Trial (Male) cell told him that it was common, that his case file, if there ever was one, is probably, nay certainly, lost. Like theirs.

At first, Ikem prayed for salvation. But the longer the days from his arrest, the less he did. Eventually, he stopped. The mental and physical torture, the suffering, pain, and anguish were just too much. He is convinced he’s been cursed. Perhaps a generational curse. Because what else can make people be this wicked to a fellow human being? Ikem and thousands like him, and their case mates, are still in a Nigerian prison near you, right now, this very moment, suffering indescribably.

As of this year, out of 74,872 inmates in Nigerian prisons, only 22,933, less than one-third, are convicted prisoners. And 51,939 are awaiting trial. And by law, they are all presumed innocent. Until you see prison conditions in Nigeria, you will probably not know what real suffering is. And when you see the ATM cell in most prisons, you will wonder how much worse hell can get.

Nigerian prisons, now re-baptised “correctional centres”, are emblematic of our greatest failings as a nation and people. They are a testament to our uniform inability, whatever the tribe, tongue or creed, to care about problems that afflict the masses, talk less of solving them. As you “feel among” today by fulminating on Instagram, albeit rightly, over Mohbad’s untimely death, spare a thought for his innocent Nigerian “case mates”, wishing for death as a release from the Nigerian correctional facility. Like Ikemefuna Okafor, erstwhile rapper, and fine boy, to whom Nigeria happened in the worst possible kind of way.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction; Ikemefuna Okafor and the events are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead or actual events is purely coincidental.

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