I am being led into the prison building, alongside Nkem and Obinna, my lodgemates. We just alighted from the black Toyota Hilux vehicle still parked outside. The police boss is behind us with two other police officers; one drove us here and is standing beside the vehicle, the other one is guarding our backs, his gun ready by his side, to make sure we don’t run or ‘do something foolish.’ Another policeman is in front, leading the way.
“Useless boys!” The police boss says behind us. “Na today una go sabi say cult no good. Common shut up, no de talk anything. Nonsense!” He barks in pidgin English.
“Oga, I no be cultist. I swear! With my mama grave,” Obinna is saying, looking at the sky with rolling eyes and shaking his rather large head.
“Shut up there, my friend!” The other policeman behind us barks. “Your mama send you come better school, you come go join cult with this your big head. Your big head no fit think am say cult e no good?” He mocks Obinna.
Nkem is silent. He looks like the fictional character Spartacus being ship-bounded to the island of Capua after being captured by the Roman Glaber’s soldiers. He hits his right foot against a stone and is temporarily shaken from his thoughts. We are each manacled, the metal chain clinging tenaciously to our sweaty wrists.
Today is Friday, 14th December, 2013. Yesterday at night, a couple of police officers from the Special Anti-Robbery Response Squad unit in town had raided our lodge, Peace Villa, at Odenigwe. They had come in the same vehicle behind us and carried away some occupants of the lodge. Another group of policemen had come in a van to Odenigwe that same night and forcefully arrested some male students suspected to be cultists. I was on my way to buy Indomie noodles to cook for dinner, when the policeman now in front of me accosted me.
“Hey! Boy, stop there!” He had shouted.
What the hell! I froze.
“Get in here!” He had ordered.
“Why? For what?” I had demanded.
“Shut up your mouth and enter this motor, you cultist!”
What the hell!
“Excuse me, I’m not a cultist.” I spoke calmly, trying to cover the rising trepidation within me.
The next thing I heard was a tawai! sound on my face. It was a heavy slap. Then a hand grabbed me and threw me inside the Hilux. We were driven to the Nsukka police station where we passed the night. About twelve students were arrested that night without any warrant. It was reported that a policeman was recently killed by a cult group in the neighbourhood. The incident worsened the poor state of the relationship between the police and the civilians. I had just returned from a late lecture yesterday at almost 7 p.m. I decided to have something light for dinner before going to bed early in order to prepare for an early morning lecture today.
It is now almost noon. We are being transferred to the prison. The police station can no longer contain the occupants and more persons are to be arrested.
“We go catch others today!” The police boss says.
“But you can’t just throw us inside prison, just like that, without trial,” I manage to say. “I’m innocent, I’m not a cultist. This is not how to treat a suspect, I’m not a criminal!”
A hot slap hits my head from behind. It is from the other policeman.
“Common mechie gi onu there!” He barks. “You think say you de America? Common sharrap!”
“Don’t worry, you’ll soon know the difference between who is a suspect and who is a criminal… Inside here,” the police boss speaks.
Finally, we get to the entrance of the building. It is a one suspended floor large house with partially dilapidated walls; I can see a huge crack at one edge of the front wall. The roof is adorned with rust and dust, and the painting on the walls had apparently decided to take a French leave. However, the entrance porch is looking clean; the granite floor is sparkling and the interior smells of disinfectant.
“Good afternoon, D.P.O,” the man at the reception salutes the police boss, then checks the wall clock to discover it is still morning.
“My friend, there’s nothing good about this morning. You will lock up these boys. They had the effrontery to shoot down my boy, Sam, two days ago,” the police boss laments.
We, excepting the police boss, are standing at a corner close to the entrance door, and I have to employ my long-distance listening skills.
“Ewoo! Chi m! You mean that Sergeant Sam is dead? And he was not paid salary before he died! Chei! Uwa nke a sef!” The man at the reception exclaims, in Igbo and English at the same time. I can barely see the initials M.K on his uniform.
“Yes. Terrible,” the police boss returns. “It’s these boys here and their group that killed him, and they must pay for that!” He says, pointing at the three of us in handcuffs.
Then he is directed to go into ‘Oga’s’ office. He proceeds, and few minutes later comes out with Oga and one prison warder.
“Oya! This way!” The police boss shouts at the three of us in handcuffs.
We are led by the warder into a corridor. At the far end of the corridor, the warder fumbles a bunch of keys and opens the metal door leading to a cell. The door is made of iron bars welded at intervals to form rail-like openings, and there is one rather small window close to the upper slab. There are three occupants in the cell already.
“No, separate them,” Oga says.
“These two go stay here. This one go go here,” he explains in pidgin English, pointing at two opposite cells.
I and Nkem are forced inside the first cell that was opened.
“I am not a cultist! Please! I am a student at the university. Check my ID card that you have. I’m from a good home!” I scream, as I struggle not to be pushed inside the cell.
All my pleas fall on deaf ears and, perhaps, daft heads too. I am pushed inside and ordered to keep quiet. Nkem struggles a bit but later on submits to the rather cold hands of doom. Obinna is dragged inside the opposite cell, as he yells like a chicken that is being knifed.
“My mama oh! Come and save me!” He calls on his supposedly dead mum.
“Make nobody give any of them bail without my permission!” The police boss orders. “Until we catch all of them and question them one by one. Marauders! Murderers! Cultists! Evil people! Nonsense!”
“No wahala, sir, ” Oga agrees.
Then our jailers leave the arena after having successfully incarcerated us. Obinna is weeping in the opposite room, as his cellmates order him to stop disturbing the atmosphere.
“Cry-cry baby, I want to see your mummy… Shame!” One of them derides Obinna.
A loud laughter follows immediately inside the neighbouring cells. I am still standing close to the iron bars, hoping that all this is a dream, and that I will soon wake up from it. My own cellmates are just staring at me. I ignore them and scream at the departing jailers, wishing for a last chance to prove my innocence, so they can possibly change their minds about locking me up. My screams fall on deaf ears and, perhaps, daft heads once again. What the hell!
PS: “What the hell!” is an exclamation, used to show anger, surprise, shock or disbelief.