In perhaps the country’s cruellest state-authorised detention of persons, several innocent and vulnerable children have been incarcerated for years (without a charge or sentence) inside the death row cells, or rather, cages – alongside condemned criminals under the name of national security. While many others, like Christmas gifts to the general convict population, were distributed out amongst them, the children locked up in Cluster 2 have not been treated differently from the condemned men. They are subjected to the same bad food, four hours opening time for the entire day and locked up throughout the weekends.
At the time they are opened, these children mingle freely with adult prisoners and enter their curtained cells or bed-posts thereby exposing themselves to sexual exploitation, commonly known as sodomy and fellatio which can be obtained through child prostitution, threat, and inveiglement or befriending the child on a quid pro quo understanding.
The first time I saw frightened children, the same age range as mine, locked up inside cages, it had such a profound and a heart-rending effect on me. But of particular poignancy, was the day a pimp approached me to prostitute the boys. The pimp, a notorious armed robber serving a 14-year jail sentence, a life sentence, and a death sentence, had been on death row since 2013 but still retained his villainous features. His large red protuberant eyes can be compared to that of a fly; a tsetse fly to be precise. I can imagine that together with a gun, those eyes must have frightened his victims into total submission. He asked me in halting English if I liked little boys and I replied, “of course, I do.” And I went on and on, without him prompting, to tell him I have a nine year old boy myself, who I saw last when he was one, and how much I miss him. At a point, while I droned on, he began shaking his large head, broad across his temples slowly from side to side in negation. What I was telling him was literally entering into one ear and coming out unfiltered through the other ear that had been deformed by a bullet wound. He then proceeded to demonstrate what he actually meant by joining the index finger and thumb tips of his left hand to form a circle, and then with the index finger of his right hand, he poked in and out of the circle.
As the pimp was poking a finger into the circle, those bulging eyes bore into me like a laser beam, as if trying to read my thoughts and gauge my seriousness. As he did that, his thick black lips looking like roasted animal hide, curled into certain slyness. I nodded my head to indicate that I understood, but I was in shock. Instead of showing disgust, I decided to play along.
Convinced I was game, he gave me the rates with which to have anal sex or fellatio with a little boy of my choice. The younger the boy, the higher the price, while the mentally challenged or imbeciles as he referred to them, are the costliest because of their fetish/ritual values based on a fallacy that one’s problems or trying circumstances can be transferred to them through intercourse. The cheapest goes for fellatio offered by the children and known as “quick relief”.
He recommended his favourite, eight-year-old Ibrahim “Ashiru” Mohammed, who he added could be dressed up as a girl in a hijab. But, out of curiosity, I opted for an ‘imbecile’ and was taken the next day to cell number 16 in unit 3 of cluster 2 where I met Goni Ali Shettima for the first time, huddled up in a corner with resignation and confusion in those angelic eyes of a child. After I expressed disinterest in Goni Ali, I was sworn to secrecy. That night, I annulled the oath with solemn vow to spill the beans and do everything within my limits to save the children by telling their story to the world, even at the risk of my life.
Most unfortunate is the fact that perpetrators of male child molestation have not been limited to only prisoners, but extends to prison warders as well, who also take undue advantage of the female prisoners and detainees under their custody, the same way undisciplined soldiers at Giwa Barracks did before their transfer to MMSP.
Only recently, the cat was let out of the bag exposing another discreet prostitution ring involving senior prison officers when Hauwa “Shuwa” Mohammed, one out of the three female condemned convicts missed her monthly period, and the pregnancy started becoming obvious through changes in her physical appearance. The trafficking of female inmates for sex with senior prison officers is done through the staff canteen situated inside the bungalow administration building in MMSP.
The canteen serves two purposes. On the surface, it looks like any other staff canteen where food and drinks are prepared and served. But beneath the surface, under the supervision of a large imposing female wardress with the rank of senior inspector of prison, the MMSP staff canteen, like a chameleon, can transform itself in a jiffy into a brothel where female inmates, used as waitresses and cooks are arranged for quick sex in exchange for cash. While some of the girls do it for pleasure or pecuniary gains, some others like Hauwa were told that her cooperation would earn her remission and good recommendation from the prison authority to the Presidential Prerogative of Mercy Committee; or better still, a fake medical report that would guarantee her freedom. She went for the lifeline.
Here is how the MMSP senior staff prostitution vice ring operates: After a customer (prison officer) places his order in the staff canteen, he also selects the preferred waitress (female inmate) to deliver his order to dedicated office inside the administrative building for an “office delivery service”. He pays and leaves the canteen to await his order inside the utilitarian office furnished with just a wooden table, chair and crudely built but sturdy wooden bench. A thick, dirty curtain secured by two nails on opposite ends of the window frame blocks out the view from outside. By the time the order eventually arrives, the eager customer satisfies his carnal appetite first. Over and done with in roughly three to five minutes, the waitress then receives a generous tip in appreciation for the “expeditious delivery service”. She then smoothens out any creases in her rumpled hijab; reverting to that sanctimonious appearance as she makes her way back to the staff canteen to wait on the next hungry customer.
The abortion clinic
When it became obvious to the panic-stricken MMSP authorities that Hauwa was pregnant after a positive pregnancy test, and refusing to be beguiled into having a voluntary abortion, it was decided that the pregnancy would be forcefully terminated, even though this constitutes an illegality in itself under the law. Concoctions given to her by the MMSP sick bay staff to abort pregnancy and hush up the matter was administered to her under sedation, which almost claimed her life as it successfully achieved its objective – taking that of the unborn fetus.
Since my transfer from Kuje Prison on March 13, 2018, about nine deaths due to negligence have been recorded, occurring during the night when not a single medical staff was available to attend to the emergencies. The sick bay staff, who are mistaken for and referred to as “doctors”, do not bother to perform night shift duties even after the death of inmates. After Hauwa’s pregnancy exposed the MMSP prostitution ring, the Borno State command of the Nigeria Prison Service quickly took certain measures to cover up and keep the scandal in check.
First, the immediate past controller of the command (now retired) withdrew all the girls from canteen services and warned of dire consequences if they discussed it with others. Then he transferred two staff members, who are brothers, Michael and Eche Onche from MMSP to the command headquarters as punishment for being the suspected leaks to me. They tried using good food to bribe me, purchasing sumptuous meals of my choice twice daily from a restaurant outside. Who am I to say no?
Sins of their fathers
I try to imagine the absurdity of the United States detaining the little children of the David Koresh Branch Davidian cult members inside death row cells of a US maximum security penitentiary alongside condemned men and women just because their fathers were branded “terrorists.” Even though America champions the war against terrorism, I have not heard that it takes out the sins or perceived sins of a parent on a child or vice versa. I also do not think the US Government has hindered in any way, the siblings and parents of the “underwear bomber” Abdul Mutallab from studying, travelling to or transacting business there.
During the period of my early detention, when my son was still studying in the University of Kansas, he was never harassed. I count myself fortunate today that the United States of America has been most gracious in adopting and catering to the wellbeing of my last three children now aged nine, 11 and 13. Their education, healthcare and other basic needs have been met in their adopted state of Texas, despite the wicked attempts by the Nigerian system at tarnishing my reputation.
But not so here; take the pathetic and unjust case of Modibo Musa, one of several children here, a 14-year-old boy, who has been in detention since 2015 in MMSP with his mother and six siblings on account of their father, Musa Abdulkadir, who was imprisoned with his entire family, along with several other families from Chad after they responded to a call from the Nigerian High Commission to report there so as to escape xenophobic attacks from Chadians, who perceived every Nigerian as a Boko Haram member. Believing they were being deported home, they were all taken straight to prison in Anambra State before landing in MMSP.
Abdulkadir died in MMSP on May 19, 2017. Even after his death, his entire family still remains in prison – from the youngest son Mohammed, aged three, to the eldest, Hauwa, a beautiful 16-year-old girl, who can’t understand why they have been detained in the first place, and why her education and that of her siblings disrupted. It is beyond all comprehension why these children should continue to suffer, and why they should pay for the perceived sins of their father whose guilt was never proven before he died in prison.
Modibo, a shy and reticent boy, exhibits an effeminate and coquettish mannerism like most of the other boys just to attract attention and love from older male prisoners to survive from the neglect of the prison authorities. Modibo, who has been taken advantage of, is also a victim of sexual abuse and has been reduced to a sex object and errand boy.
Unit 3 is situated on the east wing of cluster 2 where the sun rises very early, and shines so fiercely. Its invasive and slanting beam pierces through window bars into dark and solitary cells to usher in the reality of another bleak dawn inside the concentration camp. Out of the 16 cells in unit 3, several have been dedicated for locking up lunatics, and as solitary confinement for inmates, who violate the petty and arbitrary prison rules such as failing to squat like a vassal when in the presence of a warder, or if found guilty of witchcraft (How they arrive at such a guilty verdict is still a mystery).
Punishment takes the form of stripping down to your underwear, leaving mosquitoes and the elements to do the rest of the job. Then there is the pillory, a relic of the past inherited from the colonial era that is still used in MMSP as a torture device.
In unit 3, there are the screams of men, who have lost their minds, and the constant rambling of psychopaths. There is a man accused of being a wizard locked up in cell number 15, and Dauda Duguje, a wizened little man in cell 14, who long ago parted ways with his mental faculties and has been waiting in perpetuity for the hangman’s noose around his shrivelled neck. Every day, at a particular time, he re-enacts the tragedy of that fateful day when he got home and caught his wife with her lover on his bed, killing both of them with an axe. Using his chewing stick as an imaginary dagger, he stabs repeatedly at his sleeping mat. His eyes remain expressionless.
The stench of human waste, stale urine, fear and despair hangs permanently around unit 3 like a mountain fog. This is where the inept prison authorities deemed it prudent to incarcerate children. Confused about the abnormal behaviour of the frightened eight-year-old child at the time, the warders classified Goni Ali Shettima as a lunatic without any professional psychiatric evaluation, and locked him away in cell number 16. Abba Musa, 11-year-old at the time, was locked up in cell number 3. The third boy, Salisu Usman, was more fortunate because unit 3 was filled up and so he was locked up in neighbouring unit 2 in cell 8. The children have seen, heard and experienced what children shouldn’t. Gruesome murder stories, suffering and privation, death, exposure to drugs.
Cell number 16, home to Goni Ali since 2016, is at the extreme end of a row of cells. Except for a threadbare blanket on the floor, which serves as his mattress and duvet, some old rags rolled into a ball for a pillow and two aluminium food plates on the floor with leftover meals covered with flies, a bucket without a handle to bath, there is nothing else (not even cutleries to eat with) in cell number 16 which is not even fit for an animal.
Every night, Goni has to fend off large rats, emboldened by his fear of them. They come at night into his dark cell to nibble at his coarse corn meal known locally as gamza, which was the staple diet for slaves in the plantations of North America during slavery. His cell wall is covered with charcoal graffiti. Birds dominate his drawings as if he dreams of sprouting wings to rise up from the ashes of his misery like the phoenix and fly away to a better life in a faraway land. He has used a section of his wall as a learning board to write out and revise his alphabets and numbers. There is a very disturbing drawing close to his cell door that sticks out like a sore thumb. It depicts a prison warder with a guilty look, standing erect with hands hanging loosely by his side, poised as a nervous meerkat on the lookout. The head is slightly cocked to one side as if trying to listen for the faintest sounds of approaching footsteps and what looks like a lecherous black mamba snake, sticks a head out the trouser fly. It is rigid, ready to strike and ejaculate its venom.
Ask Goni Ali why he is in prison; he honestly doesn’t even have a clue. Like every other detainee in MMSP linked to the Boko Haram insurgency, he is forbidden from making even a supervised phone call or receiving visitors. No attempt has been made to trace members of his family, who must believe by now he is dead. He is not good at socialising with other children, who often bully and make fun of him for his difference. Goni is a handsome dimpled boy with slanted eyes, a high cheekbone and lips exact carbon copy of Angelina Jolie’s. He has some effeminate features such as a big buttock when he manages to add some weight, and his mental condition has made him a prime target for the child molesters. It’s just his naivety and innocence that tempts his tormentors, just the angelic trust and defencelessness of this mentally challenged boy, who has no refuge and no appeal that sets their vile blood on fire. Because of the sexual abuse, Goni now walks with the gait of an old woman suffering from pile.
Like the other children, he has no access to watch cartoons or animated movies, read storybooks, play games on a computer console or do the things boys of his age love to do. Their little hearts needs sunshine, childish play, good examples about them, and most of all they need love and freedom. He lacks the basic toiletries for his daily hygiene and has to rely on me to play the role of a foster father in prison because nobody seems to care. At night, you can hear him singing to himself, a haunting melody in a beautiful soprano voice; lyrics he created in his native Kanuri or Hausa language – translated, he asks for his mother and mercy.
Journey to ‘the last bus stop’
Goni’s journey, which ended in the death row cells of cluster 2 began in 2015 when the Nigerian Army carried out a raid in Yobe State, leading to the mass arrests of men, women and children under a terrorist profiling during one of their hunts for Boko Haram members. Goni, who is from the Kanuri tribe, was arrested in Mutai Village in Yobe where he says his family migrated to from Borno. After the raid of the traditional healing home where he was receiving treatment for his mental health, and failing to give an account of himself to the army, including the whereabouts of his parents, the army, not realising the mental condition of the confused and frightened child, suspected that he was concealing information from them and classified him as a “suspected Boko Haram terrorist” and took him and many others to Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri where he was detained.
In Giwa Barracks, he earned the nickname “fish” for his love and constant request for more fish just like Oliver Twist. He still answers to the nickname here. The army, confused as to what to do with an autistic child that was arrested based on erroneous assumptions, and whose family they couldn’t be bothered to trace, handed their burden to the Nigeria Prison Service along with other children, women and men. And the prison authorities, too timid to reject underage children, and who themselves have no training in handling children, not to mention those with special needs, treated the children as they would an adult criminal in their custody.
While Goni, Abba Musa and Salisu Usman were on arrival shoved into the “lion’s den,” the remaining boys numbering 103, were thrown overboard into the shark-infested waters of cluster 3 where the predators wasted no time in a feeding frenzy that has shown no sign of abating.
A conspiracy of silence
Sexual abuse, prostitution of children and women, their harsh living condition, detention of children in death row cell alongside condemned criminals and its psychological effects had all along been known to the International Committee of Red Cross, first hand witnesses, who conspired to say nothing. On Thursday, April 12, 2018, led by one Zainab, several ICRC officials visited cluster 2 to see things for themselves. They even entered unit 3 and peeped into cell number 16, holding their breath to see Goni like visitors in a zoo. They spoke to all three boys incarcerated in the death row cells. Jotting down notes and pretending to look shocked, the ICRC team, relieved to be out in the fresh air, promised the victims to take up their matter at the “highest level” of government. Nothing was heard from them.
Again on September 10, 2018, Zainab, a regular visitor to the prison, who acts superciliously around prisoners, visited MMSP in the company with two female ICRC officials and stopped by cluster 2. When asked why nothing had been done about the plight of abused children and prostituted women, they came up with a lame excuse that “the ICRC is not a human rights body, and would not meddle into sexual abuse or human right issues”. In that case, why not simply come along with a human rights group or report to them or the news media the horrible things witnessed in the course of their work? Humanitarian service isn’t mechanical. It goes together with a heart that beats with genuine love, compassion and sympathy and a voice that speaks out courageously.
Together, the ICRC, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch or a local watchdog could have teamed up to kill two birds with a stone. What the victims at MMSP require from the ICRC is more than the occasional ephemeral donations of a bar of medicated soap or one of their white elephant prison projects. They prefer their pains to be relayed to the world so they can get succour instead of sweeping it under the carpet of silence.
It seems that these international organisations do not want to rock the boat or create a scandal in order not to offend the Nigerian Government, so as to maintain their exclusive access to the Boko Haram detainees and continue receiving millions of dollars in cash and kind from worldwide interest groups.
An angry mob
Concerned mothers and women, who form the bulk of the mob are demanding to know, “what is the rationale or logical reasoning for detaining kids with condemned and hardened adult criminals?” I have no answer myself. But I know that no reason can justify and no logic can support the pernicious act of yoking together children and adult prisoners inside a maximum security prison.
I can’t understand how anybody could be that stupid trusting a bowl of warm fresh milk alone with a starving cat, and then expect to come back later and meet it untouched. I suggest that the women direct this good question to the Minister of the Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, and the Comptroller General, Nigerian Prisons Service, Jaafar Ahmed. They are also better placed to tell the world if they can put their own biological children or grandchildren in the same situation and go to bed.
The students in the mob are asking, “So what can be done now to save these little ones from further abuse and exploitation?” In my opinion from witnessing this wickedness first hand, the only way to extirpate this evil against these vulnerable children is for every kind-hearted and benevolent reader of this article to lend their voice and demand that the Nigerian Government, who authorised the callous detentions in the first place, remove every child from the MMSP with immediate effect.