At Afara, adjacent the old cemetery, opposite the moribund Golden Guinea Breweries in the densely populated suburb of Umuahia, the Abia State capital, lies a barrack of few old-fashioned upstairs. In the centre of the barrack is an inconspicuous high green gate mounted at the middle of approximately 60-foot fence.
Inside the fenced plots of land are constructed blocks of dilapidated buildings (that bear a resemblance to blocks of Abia school buildings) initially designed to accommodate 500 inmates. The buildings are fortified with iron doors and windows but without mosquito nets. Each block has four cells fitted out with a toilet and bathroom.
Welcome to Afara prison, the torture camp of Abia’s agents of the demons. Held hostage inside this arena are 1004 inmates between the ages of 18 and 102.
Hundreds of Abia residents have either lost their lives or spent decades in prison standing trials for offences they didn’t commit. They are scapegoats for wealthy and influential offenders who bribed their ways out of police cells.
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The Abia State 2009 anti-terrorism and kidnapping law has become a money-spinner to roguish police prosecutors who turn ordinary cases of stealing and smoking to armed robbery and kidnapping. Woe betided those who couldn’t part with a large sum of money to have their charge sheets altered.
Except for the 45 convicts, the 959 inmates awaiting trials are petty thieves, used and dumped political thugs considered as threats to their former benefactors, children and relatives of pensioners, civil servants, petty traders and keke (tricycle) operators. Meanwhile, the dangerous criminals still roam the streets and highways. They are not in prison.
Except for a handful, these inmates are shrunken, with blood blisters and other life-threatening infections all over their skin. One can’t subject one’s emotions under control after seeing them, and especially the 102-year-old who wobbles.
I quivered in anger as I wondered why they are left to die without adequate medical attention. I tilted back in pain and closed my eyes. Just about then, a prison official called my name for the final data ratification.
After the ratification, I was asked to pull my pair of shoes, wristwatch, belt, and other personal belongings in readiness for the inevitable journey to the torture camp. Like a scene in a horror movie, the inmates are nothing but walking corpses.
I almost lost my confidence at that point, but the heart-breaking conditions of our future leaders languishing before me rekindled the activism in me. It was at that point that it dawned on me that my coming was for a purpose. I said to myself, “I rather have my family and Abians receive my dead body than receive the news of my surrender.”
I was welcomed into my cell (E-Ward 3) by my cellmates with a peculiar but unique welcome address, “You are welcome to Alabama City. The city where men cook and the women eat”. I responded right away with a special greeting exclusive to Alabama City residents, “Say Lahi! Say Lahi! Say Lahi,” to the bewilderment of the inmates who could not fathom how I got to know. All thanks to a prison official who prepared me before the task ahead.
After their ritualistic praise-worship and prayer sections, it was now time for story-telling. The inmates took to their respective corners eagerly waiting to catch me unaware, but I was the smartest. They all could not help but hail “Area Fada!!!” when I beat them to their game once again by starting my story in its Alabama City designated formula. It goes thus: “Story Kawai!” “Story Kawai!!” “Story Kawai!!!!”