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Kazim almost lost his eye inside SARS torture room and spent nearly 2 years in prison

Why did Kazim (not real name) have to suffer for nearly two years awaiting trial behind bars?

Kazim was awaiting trial in prison to prove his innocence in court, but the police already abandoned the case, and him

The 25-year-old would end up in prison for one year and eight months awaiting trial to prove his innocence and resume his life.

Data compiled by the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) shows that 69% of people in prisons across the country are awaiting trial, praying for the chance to prove their innocence — many times for minor crimes or alleged crimes police officers are unable to prove in court.

Kazim was one of them. This is his story.

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I dropped out of school in primary six because my parents couldn't afford it. After that, I worked at my mom's shop for about two years before my brother came home to Abeokuta and took me to Lagos to be an apprentice at a barbing salon. I was very good at it so I was ready for my freedom after a year, but I didn't have money to see that through in 2016, so I spent an extra year there.

After freedom, I set up my shop where I spent all my time from morning till night and I lived comfortably. I even met this babe in my area who I started dating. I had one apprentice at my shop and was having a good time.

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In February 2021, some people had fought in the neighbourhood, and I heard police officers were raiding everywhere. This was a Saturday and my babe was not around so I slept at my friend's family house not far from my place. Around 2 am, I was in my boxers when police officers broke into the house. They handcuffed us and took us to a police station around the area.

They didn't even question us before they transferred us to Ikeja SARS on Sunday. It was on Monday they hung me to the roof. They said we were cultists, asking why I had tattoos, and what I was doing at my friend's house. I told them the tattoo was just for fancy, nothing else. During the torture, they beat me with the side of the cutlass and I suffered a wound to my eye and now you can see this left one is different from the other one.

After they were done torturing me, they wrote a statement alleging they found a gun with us, even though they didn't. They tortured me one more time and I was in SARS custody for like five months. That was not an easy time for me because they never gave us food. Whenever people came to SARS to bail their family, they gave us money to buy food. Sometimes, my family came around and also gave me money.

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I have no idea. Before we went to court, our investigating police officer (IPO) would come around and threaten to take a picture of us with guns and incriminate us, and he finally did it one day. We were taken to court about two days later and the judge asked that we be remanded in Kirikiri for two months. We first spent 14 days in the welcome cell. They would bring beans in the morning, and maybe rice or eba for lunch, and garri for dinner. The beans had no maggi or anything, just plain, and the rice had no salt.

When we moved to the regular cells, there was a Marshall there who said I should plan well. So I paid him ₦25,000 to secure a spot on the "backing wall," it's right on the floor and just the space between the bunk beds.

No o. If some people plan well for bed, it depends. The Marshall can dupe you if you can't negotiate well. Some people plan well for bed with ₦70k, while others do it with ₦50k.

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Since I planned well, I didn't have to do any jobs inside, because my family took care of my money needs. I could just go outside the yard to wash my clothes and then return to my cell to cook — I had stove and pots I bought. The stove was like ₦300; of course, it's not the regular type you get outside.

There's a field there and anyone can play around, inmates even play football. You can sit around or hang with your friend, and return to your cell when it's time. My friend and I were in different wards in the prison but we were still close and visited each other's cells and shared things.

The police said we were cultists and they found guns in our possession. I had a lawyer there that day but he wasn't working even though he collected money from my family. It was the IPO who introduced the lawyer to us, so my sister said they were probably working together because any time we called him whenever we went back to court, he would be unavailable. That went on for a while before I found another lawyer who we paid ₦100k.

They took us back after two months but we were remanded again and didn't return to court for a long time because the warders at the prison would say the court was not sitting. One day, they finally called us to say our case had been transferred to the state high court, but there were adjournments there too. Any time the court didn't sit, we had to pay warders to help us find another adjournment date — it was stressful.

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At the magistrates', there were four court hearings, but the court didn't sit once. The same thing at the high court. Someone introduced my sister to Headfort Foundation at the Ogba court and she linked me with a lawyer there who didn't play with my case — she was always there before the court would even sit.

They just kept adjourning the case because the IPO stopped coming to court after the first hearing — no IPO, no witness. They'd say they're still waiting for the IPO to appear, but he never did.

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We just went to court in May 2023 and the prosecutor said he could not find the IPO, so the judge dismissed the case. I was so happy because I wasn't expecting it, and I was tired of suffering. I followed my family back home and I treated myself because I had worrying health issues. I now stay with my sister and run my barbing parole at her shop.

I didn't bother going to my old shop because everything scattered after I went to prison. When boys in the neighbourhood heard I was arrested, they went to my house and ransacked the place.

My first night back, I had dreams like I was still in prison. It wasn't until I woke up I started getting used to the idea I was now free. When I first got back, whenever I needed to receive a phone call, I had the instinct to hide or always look over the place like a warder would seize my phone. In prison, they also made us cut our hair almost every week and even did inspection checks to make sure we were clean.

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My work is going fine now. People who didn't know me before are seeing my work and referring me to more people because they're impressed. I have to build my business back up again from the ground.

Men fight a lot in prison. People are hungry and frustrated, so that's to be expected. People would fight and stab themselves and warders would have to lock them up in an isolation ward called Angola, and you have to pay the warders to leave there.

You can't ever be okay in prison — there's no work, and if you don't use your phone to call, you can't eat or do anything. Anything they bring for you, you have to eat, and prison food is the worst.

Whoever has not been to prison should work on never ending up there because it's not a place to go, especially if you don't have a family. People die there — the hospital isn't okay, the drugs are substandard — and some insects will harm you.

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I suffered there. The food they serve you in prison is not meant for human beings. Even inside the cells, every time, the officers lock the state, you can't talk to anyone unless you get permission. There's no comfort. If you want to pee at night, you have to get permission from the officers and do exactly that. The Marshalls can take your money and ask you to go use it to buy something for them.

I think of the years I lost. If I didn't go to prison, my life would be different from what it is right now. All the things I lost, I have to start gathering all over again. It's why when God blesses me, I plan to return to prison to help the people there in the little ways that I can.

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