This article was first published on the 16th of August 2013 on a certain Toyin Fabunmi’s blog and can be found here. This is just a refix of the original article as published on the blog by yours truly. Enjoy and ponder.—–
“Alaye, je kin ma ba e lo ago e yen lo” (hommie, please hand down your wristwatch)
“Where I sabi you sef, look me well chief, you no remember my face?”
“Chairman, anything you have, just help your guy”
Freedom, is one virtue most human take for granted. Freedom is a thing we hardly ever give God the Glory for.
On so many occasions, one have been in prisons and you would be amazed at the lowest forms of life a human could be subjected to.
I am one of those that have this ‘resentment’ or phobia for enclosed space hence, I am always very uncomfortable making those visits. I have once been to Ikoyi prisons on humanitarian visit some two years back and I was not only very depressed but also saw that it could just be anyone behind those high walls and metal bars. You’d hear stories that could melt heart etched out of stone.
I was part of a Muslim gathering of youth hence our trip did not afford us to go beyond the prison mosque. I actually was half expecting chains everywhere but No, not at all, the chains were more of psychological than physical, I see lines drawn with paints and nothing more to control the movement of grown men, a life of same routine with no cause for choice.
The prison mosque was well equipped for a standard mosque, clean water supply, tiled floor and ablution base, functional public address system and even a television set to boot. The mosque, although small is well lit and ventilated.
While we got seated, ‘they’ started arriving in droves and you would wonder how in the world some of those faces got into an ‘inmate’ situation; more handsome folks than one, well stocked young men and you would have nothing to do but wonder.
Most of them look directly into your eyes and you would be touched beyond measures.
As shy as I sometimes am, I rarely lose the ‘gaze war’ but on that occasion, I never won. It’s too much for one to hold.
Then, it was the turn of their leaders to address us and you would be like; what is such a knowledgeable bunch doing here? How do these ones get here? Flawless English diction, well constructed sentences and references from the holy Qur’an and citations from the hadith; and I was dumbfounded beyond measure.
While observing my one year compulsory national service in Bida, Niger state, I have had cause to visit the prisons on a weekly basis, I had initially shelved the idea of going with the MCAN brothers but was left with no choice when saddled with the responsibilities of being the association’s zonal spokesperson. Whenever we get into that facility, you can almost feel the jubilant mood in the air, the chants of ‘Mallam Yazo’ (brothers/scholars have arrived) rents the air and as faint as it might seem, you would see tingly glow in those eyes. Most of them do not understand English but we always have someone on hand who could speak Hausa or Nupe which they understand.
We give sermons and admonition, listen to the challenges they are facing with views to address same, teach how to read Arabic, the language the holy Qur’an was delivered in and we always leave with a promise to return the following week.
You would be surprised, some of those folks have no one who drops by but live only to see strangers bring succor to them.
This year again, a day after the Eid-il-fitr celebrations, I was with the same gathering of Muslim youths (TEMY) on a visitation to the Ikoyi prisons once again. Some of those faces I saw on my first visit were still there, in those two years, I have graduated from college and concluded my national service.
I discovered the ‘mission board’’ (the imam and the other scholars running the affairs of the mosque) I have not seen before and I still wonder how some of those folks got in there. Delivery of their speeches, knowledge of the holy Qur’an and hadith was sky high. And their carriage if broken, was well managed.
This year’s visitation was less emotional for me, probably because they didn’t share stories that brought some of them in and partly because, its no more my first time in such facility.
While we were about leaving, some inmates that didn’t make it to the mosque cluster around us some yards away soliciting for one thing or the other. A brother handed down his wristwatch and one wondered what an inmate wanted a wristwatch for. Some other brothers gave some other articles.
Almost all of us checked the little tag our freedom was tied to for the umpteenth time as we were about ‘regaining our freedom’.
Our bus driver in his benevolence handed out a couple of N500 notes to some inmates. He threw a N200 note a yard beside him and I saw three grown men scamper and almost got themselves injured.
There and then, I appreciated freedom to operate my near empty bank accounts, the usefulness of a wristwatch, the meaning of psychological boundary, actual value of ‘change’ in my wallet left in the bus and the liberty to pen this piece on my bed in the little corner of my room.
Alhamdulillah Rabbil al ameen.
‘Lanre Bucknor wrote this and writes from Lagos. ‘Lanre will forever be grateful for all the mercies and takes a cue from the glorious Qur’an 37:159.
‘Lanre is a learner and grateful man, on twitter and instagram as @lordrooz.