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Police officers seized Segun's motorcycle — then sent him to prison for 6 years

Why did Segun have to suffer for six years awaiting trial behind bars?

Segun Esan's third child was born hours after police officers arrested him for riding his motorcycle late at night

His attempt to immediately retrieve the motorcycle and his work tools at the police station was a mistake — it was his last night of freedom for the next six years.

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.

Segun was one of them. This is his story.

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I stopped going to school when I was in primary five because my parents couldn't afford to send me there. I just floated around for some years until my brother started taking me out on his house painting jobs. Instead of playing football around the neighbourhood, he would take me on painting jobs in Lekki, Ajah, everywhere.

When I was 19 and my brother left Lagos, I became a spray painter apprentice because I liked it. I signed up for two years but my boss extended it for five more years, even though I was good at the job. I kept begging him for freedom but he wanted to keep using me. He eventually granted me freedom, but I wasn't yet stable enough to be on my own, so he used me as his joinman — whenever he got a job, he would ask me to do it with him for a cut.

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I used to have a babe who was into me but wasn't ready for anything serious. You know men are greedy, so I started seeing another babe who I was sleeping with on the side. That's how I got my first kid. Her family wouldn't allow us to get married properly, but we were living together and ended up with two more children.

When she got pregnant, they sent her out, and her mother wanted to know me. I was still squatting with my mother but was ready to rent my own place. I was mostly doing joinman with my boss so I could gather enough money to find my spot. I was also doing other jobs because there's nothing I can't do — rubber tiles, wallpaper, wall design, screeding, anything.

I found a mechanic workshop with a panel beater, but no spray painter. I negotiated an arrangement with the panel beater so I could set up shop there as soon as I got enough money. I even already bought some equipment before I ran into trouble.

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In 2017, I was painting a house in Ago but I finished late. I tied my bag of equipment to my motorcycle and left there around 9 pm to return and finish the work the next day.

Around that time, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had asked police officers to arrest motorcyclists working past 10 pm. This was not a problem for me because I wasn't using my okada for commercial purposes, I only bought it so I could beat traffic and move around easily for my job. But there was a woman that night who wanted to go to Ikotun roundabout. It was easy money, so I took her.

As she got down and was about to pay me, a tricycle jammed me from behind and I fell to the ground. Police officers were inside and immediately seized my motorcycle.

I asked them to take me to their station so I could bail it there, but they abandoned me by the road. When I eventually caught up to them at the station, an officer said they planned to destroy the okada at Alausa.

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I kept begging them to collect ₦10k to release it but when a team of officers came back to the station from night patrol, one of them pushed me inside saying it was too late for me to go home.

I didn't plan to leave there that night without my bike. They took me to the back of the station where I found many people — men and women who were outside late.

By morning, SARS arrived and started asking questions. People who had bail money were released, but they took the rest of us to Alausa and suddenly journalists mobbed us and asked questions I didn't understand, shoving mics in our faces to answer them.

I told them all I did was try to bail my bike, but the police officers wouldn't allow us to talk. From there, they moved us to Federal SARS — I didn't even know anything they called SARS at the time.

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The next morning, they took me to the theatre where they tortured people. They asked what I was doing at the time they arrested me and gave me a pen and paper to write a statement.

I told them I couldn't read or write, but I made it clear that I wasn't arrested, and it was my bike I wanted to retrieve. I wasn't caught with anything, and even told them to check my tool bag strapped to the motorcycle. An officer wrote my statement for me and then asked me to remove my shirt, which confused me. He started slapping me when I didn't obey quickly. They brought one guy and asked him if he knew me but he said he'd never seen me before. The officer said we were arrested together but that wasn't true.

I later found out the boy was an agbero who was dumped in prison because he refused to give police officers a cut of his street earnings. So they decided to punish him.

They hung me to the roof and tortured me to confess things I didn't do. I was screaming so much that OC SARS came one time to complain that I was disturbing a meeting upstairs.

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There was a point it was so unbearable I started confessing that I was a thief and an officer was writing it down. When they let me down, after hanging me for five hours, they said I should stand up but I couldn't, and they laughed at me.

I was there for three months and two weeks before the OC SARS came to complain that the cell was too crowded. The next day, they took some of us to the Ikeja court and I started seeing things I'd never seen in my life.

When the judge saw my case file, he said there was nothing to it and asked for the investigating police officer (IPO) who reported that I committed a robbery with someone I had never met in my life. When he asked for the complainant, the IPO said he already called him and would soon come to court. The judge remanded my case mate and me in prison while that was sorted.

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My wife raised an alarm after I didn't return home and everyone started panicking. They couldn't reach me at first but, eventually, one of the SARS guys picked up their call to my phone. My sister came and said my wife gave birth to our third baby the night I was arrested.

When my family members wanted to bail me out, SARS asked them for ₦350k. They started gathering money from everywhere and even loaned from LAPO and gave the whole thing to the IPO. Then the IPO said the money was for OC SARS and he wanted another ₦300k for himself, but we were too poor for that. That's how I landed in court.

In Kirikiri Maximum Prison. I arrived at a welcome cell where new inmates were placed for the first month. There were more than 30 people in that room. It was very tiny with no breathing space. Some people slept while standing or on their sides, packed next to each other like sardines. I later moved to a proper cell.

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That's when the real suffering began. There were 104 people inside the cell for awaiting-trial inmates, but only like five bunk beds with 10 spaces. You could pay to sleep in those beds or pay for a corner, which is the space on the floor between the bunk beds — like 10 people can sleep there on their backs. Whoever can't afford to pay sleeps in Jankara, where people sleep on their sides and are packed together. They'll tell you to plan well, so you can get the spaces.

There was no money to do that. When I entered, the cell's number one — we call him Marshall — called me to say that without planning well, I would sleep in the general area, pack shit, and fetch water. I did all those things because I had no money. I packed shit many times from the soakaway, cut weed, and cleaned gutters. It was hard labour. I tried to make money by working around the place. Like when they brought Evans the billionaire kidnapper to prison.

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I helped him paint his cell, you know that's my work. When he came, he said he didn't like how the cell looked and tidied it up. He bought paint and I painted it. If people like him also needed someone to cook for him, I did it. I just needed to make enough money to get a corner or bed space.

It took me four years. I paid ₦30k — it's usually ₦50k, but I got a discount because I'd been there for a long time. You can keep the bed until you leave prison, but you can lose it if you cause trouble, like being in a fight.

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I didn't look for trouble, so no one troubled me. But people were always frustrated so there was always trouble around the corner. If you step on someone who hasn't eaten for one week, it could escalate quickly. That was the source of most of the fights in prison.

Let's not even talk about the food in prison. The garri is black and has many stones, and the beans are horrible, you'll see cockroaches, houseflies, and big stones inside. They even added Largactil to the beans — it's medication you give mental illness patients to calm them down and they wanted us to be calm. You can sleep in the same place you eat that beans because of the drug.

There was garri, and also ishapa soup. It's like grounded soya beans that look like egusi, with onions and large bitter leaf slices, but no salt or palm oil. It was very bitter, but we got it with eba every day.

We got rice for breakfast on certain days, but the stew is basically water. If you gave it to a dog, it wouldn't eat, but hunger would make you eat anything.

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The cells opened at 8 am and closed at 5 pm. You could go anywhere and mix with convicts in the prison, work, or go to school but if I went to school, there was no time to hustle for money and food.

I didn't like going to church in prison, especially because the pastors must have done something to end up in there. I preferred to speak to my God inside my cell where we used to have daily devotions. I can only pray before a pastor I know is clean, or who I don't know anything about his dirty dealings.

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When I eventually left prison and heard about who and who had died, I knew God kept me in prison for a reason. While inside, my prayer was for God to bring me a helper. The lawyer we hired took ₦350k and stopped coming to court. Once he did that, there was no hope for me anymore but God. Lawyer Akeem — we're yet to repay the LAPO loan till now.

It was my wife. She told her pastor about my case, and the pastor contacted the Headfort Foundation about it. A lawyer came to the prison to ask many questions, and that's when my case started moving again.

We went to court for five years before the IPO finally brought the complainant to testify. The witness said he clearly remembered the people who robbed him, but said it wasn't me or my case mate — he'd never seen us ever before.

There was a time the IPO said he recovered a gun from me, but couldn't produce it. When the court adjourned to give him time to produce the gun, he came back months later to say the person in charge of the evidence store travelled out with the key — the judge was so angry.

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After the witness testimony, we got an adjournment that took another year before we could return to court. That's when my lawyer applied for a dismissal of the case.

I didn't even know the judge dismissed my case — you know they speak too much English. After he announced his ruling, I went and sat back in the dock. It was someone who told me they were letting me go. I said, "They set me free?" That's when I started jumping for joy.

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Before prison, if you slapped me once, I'd slap you 20 times. But I used to tell myself in prison that I'd start turning the other cheek and that's what I'm doing.

Since I came back, someone has slapped my face. He spat in my direction and I cautioned him for not saying sorry. He slapped me and wanted to rough me up, but I started begging him because I don't want anything to take me back to prison.

Whenever I see two people fighting now, I laugh, because they don't know how much trouble they can get in. You can slap someone and end up in prison for years.

I have lost a lot. If I had been free since 2017, I know what I would have achieved with the work of my hands. Whenever I go out now, my mother chases me around with phone calls to be sure there is no trouble.

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I'm still not fully aware of my freedom so much that if I get a phone call now, I'd run to a corner and start whispering on the call so a warder doesn't catch me with the phone.

I'm no longer with my wife. She came to me three years into my stay in prison to complain there was a problem with her stomach. You understand women can do this when they've not had sex for a while. I told her to find a man to be sleeping with until I got out because I understood her situation. If the case was reversed, I would be having sex with another woman. My only condition was that she shouldn't get pregnant for another man.

When I returned and wanted to talk about our relationship, she said I should go see her family but nothing came of it. She lives with another man now with my children but I see them whenever I want to.

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My children used to be sharp, but they haven't been the same since I got out. My firstborn used to correct my English before, but now he only laughs at my mistakes but can't tell me the correct version. I think it's his school. It's painful because my father was unable to send me to school, and I don't want the same thing for my children. I want to be able to send them to a better school.

The one person I blame is the judge. I know someone whom she gave a one-year adjournment. There was one time she gave me a four-month adjournment and didn't even come to court on the new date. My life was wasting away in prison and she couldn't show up for a date she set.

The judges should be able to apply discretion to cases leading nowhere for years — even if it's to give them bail. They're just dumping people in prison for no reason. Lives are at stake.

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For the continuation of the series tomorrow, Ibukun talks about how he spent nearly three years in prison after he was arrested during a raid that had nothing to do with him.

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