The Merchant of Prison

Musa, a creature of habit, had a daily routine: morning prayers, a walk around his farm, bath in the stream `then breakfast with his wife, Fauziya. Breakfast was always the same -kosai and burkutu but since Fauziya found out she was pregnant, she substituted burkutu for fura da nono.

Musa grandly called himself “mai sayar da kaya abinci” – food merchant- but in reality, he was a petty trader. He grew ginger and made a fairly decent living from it but the harvest was poor this year as he had a bad maggot infestation that left him with more shrivelled ginger than he knew what to do with.

Fauziya’s kosai and burkutu were always excellent; She had offered multiple times to start monetizing her skills but Musa was too proud to accept that he needed help and least of all from his wife.

Aminu, their neighbor had suggested that in Kano, Musa’s ginger could fetch him four times the price it did at his local market. Not familiar with big cities nor their markets, he initially declined but this morning with the realization that money was running dangerously low, he had a brain wave- ‘Zan iya yi’ (I can do it) he said to himself.

He set off from the Kawo park for the ride to Mallam Kato square, a three-hour drive. His dire situation had ignited something in him and he wondered why he hadn’t done this earlier. His confidence however dissipated when he got to the market. It was much bigger than anything he had seen or imagined but he quickly overcame his initial fear and did exactly as Aminu had told him; negotiated space in a busy store in return for part of his earnings.

That done, Musa settled into the business of the day and then he got his second shocker; things were much cheaper in Kano than they were in Kaduna and the fact that his produce wasn’t in the best condition meant he was offered even less.

He had used the last bits of his savings to pay for transportation and didn’t even have enough to pay for the trip back home. His host, on the other hand, was having a good day and just as he went into the inner room to pray, Musa with yet another brain wave decided to help himself to a few thousand in the full glare of the concealed closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras. “Barawo” (thief) rent the air and everything else was a blur.

He was taken to Sabon Gari market police station and bail was set at N20,000. Not being able to pay, he was charged to the Magistrates’ Court.

This was the year 2016 and Musa is still awaiting trial in the Kurmawa correctional facility. Fauziya, still a housewife, is caring for the son she had for Musa and the daughters she has had since marrying Aminu.

Musa is a victim of a criminal justice system that is punitive instead of restorative. Bail is free as enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but that, more than often, only exists in the constitution and sadly, the victims are usually the under served in the society.

The Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019 section 37(1) recognizes non-custodial sentences as an option for misdemeanours. As a first-time offender of a non-violent crime, who is unlikely to re-offend, this option should have been adopted particularly since the money was recovered immediately.

The maximum sentence for petty theft is three years. It has been seven years and counting. Musa will never get justice.


Mrs. Kanayo Olisa-Metuh

Executive Director, Legend Golden Care Foundation


Disclaimer – This is a work of fiction with all the characters and events fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead or actual events is purely coincidental.

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