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Cuffed hands in prison

24.05.2024 Featured INSIDER: Ikoyi Prison Officials Seize Inmates’ Cash, ‘Demand N1m Bribe’ to Release Confiscated Freezer

Published 24th May, 2024

By Joseph Adeiye

Some prison warders and Mobile Police (MOPOL) officers have confiscated belongings worth millions of naira from inmates at the Ikoyi Custodial Centre, FIJ can exclusively report.

Among the seized items is a freezer bought by inmates, for which prison officials have demanded a N1 million payment if the inmates must regain owndership of it.

A search started around 4:30 am on Monday, May 13, when officers of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) went into the cells and took inmates’ belongings, including cash.

“Since 6 am this Monday morning, the inmates at Ikoyi prison have not been let out of their cells and they have not eaten all day,” a reliable source at the prison told FIJ.

“The prison warders and armed MOPOL came into their cells and robbed all the inmates of their cash. As of 7 pm this evening, the search was still ongoing.”

READ ALSO: REPORTER’S DIARY: Inside Ikoyi Prison, Where ‘Visit Is Free’ After Paying N9,000 Bribe

WHY DO PRISONERS HAVE CASH?

FIJ has discovered, over years of criminal and social justice reportage, that many inmates in Nigerian correctional centres always have essentials or the money to get them.

The prison source put this situation into context.

“Visitors usually give inmates money as gifts so that they can buy their bath soap, toothpaste and other necessities,” the source explained.

“All their cash has been stolen from them, even money meant to pay their lawyers! And we are being told that this is a correctional facility.

“Is there any greater injustice than this? Robbing incarcerated, defenceless inmates!”

FIJ does understand, though, from a 2019 undercover investigation by ‘Fisayo Soyombo, its founder/editor-in-chief, that inmates, by prison regulations, are prohibited from directly possessing cash. Instead, they are to hand cash over to the records department, and then go back to apply for some of it every time they need to spend it.

READ ALSO: INSIDER: Riot Brewing in Ikoyi Prison Over ‘Extortion, Corruption’ by DCP Julius Ogbueri’s

‘IT WAS A ROBBERY’

A prison source who asked to stay anonymous told FIJ last week that what happened at the Ikoyi prison was a robbery.

“On the Ikoyi prison robbery, I usually work pro bono to assist inmates nationwide who have been awaiting trial for offences, which they did not commit,” they said.

“Due to the fact that the “food” being fed the inmates makes them ill and causes severe skin eczema for most of them, food items that can be stored in a freezer in prison are sent there for them. All these privileges were paid for heavily to the prison authorities.

“After the robbery that took place on Monday, the same freezer that inmates paid for heavily was confiscated by the warders, with inmates’ food still inside!

“Yesterday, the inmates were asked to pay N1 million before they can get their freezer back. I’m in utter shock and disbelief over this injustice.”

READ ALSO: JUST IN: Over 118 Inmates Escape Suleja Prison Overnight

The source told FIJ that some of the officials at the Ikoyi prison were displeased with the plan to extort the inmates.

Some of the warders would like to stand up to the maltreatment of the prisoners, but they also worry about losing their jobs as a consequence.

“The DCP was unaware of this raid. However, the raiders have no right to rob all the inmates,” said the source.

“Over 3,000 inmates are in that Ikoyi prison and many of them were robbed of their cash and other valuables, including their personal food items.

“As of this afternoon, Mr Ibikunle, the Chief Warden, and one of the officers named Joseph Agim, a Cross River State indigene, were still insisting that the inmates at Ward F (also known as Booster Cell) must pay N1 million before their personal food items are returned to them.

“All the stolen cash has not been returned to the inmates. This is armed robbery! As of Thursday, the N1 million was paid into an account provided by Agim, yet the seized food items are yet to be returned to the inmates.”

‘ROBBERY’ WAS A SEARCH OPERATION FROM ABUJA

On Wednesday, an Ikoyi prison inmate who asked not to be named told FIJ that the search by the NCoS officials was an order from Abuja.

“That is the truth. The officers were from Abuja. I am an inmate as well, but the use of phones is illegal. I need to be sincere with you,” he said.

“They packed phones, they packed money, and these things are exhibits, according to prison law.

“It is the warders here who are using it as a business. Normally, it is the food provided to us that we are supposed to be eating. We don’t have access to money; we don’t have access to phones; we don’t have access to anything. That is the standard of living here. That is why they call it incarceration.

“Last week, early Monday morning around 4:30 till Tuesday evening, it was terrible in Ikoyi prison. We’ve seen a lot. It was a deputy controller general that came and the search was legal. It is not our right to hold on to our money; it is against the rules.

“Yes, we keep our money in the record of the custodial centre. Whenever we need it, there is a welfare officer in charge here. Welfarism sells food and other things inmates may need if they don’t want to eat government food. Government food is poisonous. If you eat government food here, when you get out of here, consider yourself a dead man.

“Whenever I eat eba from the government, I sleep off immediately. They have mixed something inside that food; I am telling you the truth. Eating government food is like eating poison. If you see the rice they give us, even dogs should not eat it. The rice is blackened with a lot of stones. Thank God for those who do prison outreach and bring food items for us from time to time.”

READ ALSO: JUST IN: Over 118 Inmates Escape Suleja Prison Overnight

NCoS HQ CONFIRMS IKOYI PRISON OPERATION

When FIJ called the official phone lines of the NCoS on Thursday, a Chief Superintendent of Corrections at the complaints desk answered the call.

“That operation actually took place. Our statute book allows us to conduct a snap search and confiscate prohibited items because they are contraband. The operation may not be made known to the public all the time for security reasons. You can reach out to the Public Relations Unit.”

Similarly, Abubakar Umar, the Public Relations Officer of the NCoS, confirmed the search operation at the Ikoyi prison.

“The issue of our officers going to a custodial centre to carry out a search is not a new thing. If we get intelligence information, and the headquarters wants to be sure, the officers can go to any custodial centre under their jurisdiction to conduct that search. Section 51 of the NCoS standing order mandates us to search any custodial centre,” Umar said on Thursday.

“Section 51 reads: Money or articles brought secretly into the custodial centre or by any inmate shall be confiscated. Money so confiscated shall be paid into the government’s treasury and a return made to the correctional service headquarters. Prohibited articles shall be destroyed on the instruction of the officer in charge or the controller general.

If there is any item that is not declared by the inmate in such custodial centre, once seized, it will be confiscated. We have a record office. Upon admission into our custodial centre, inmates are supposed to submit every item to the records officer, including the cash, to be documented. If there is any item not declared on admission, and a search is conducted and money or telephones and other articles are found, it will be confiscated. That was what happened. What we did was within the ambit of our book.

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Published 24th May, 2024

By Joseph Adeiye

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