Sulaimon Anisere, an Islamic tutor who recently regained his freedom after being in prison for four years over false allegation of defiling a minor, talks about his prison experience
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Sulaimon Anisere. I live at Ado-Odo, Ogun State. I am a part-time, 400 Level student of Adeniran Ogunsanya (College of Education).
You made headline recently when the court set you free after being in prison for four years, how exactly do you feel?
I felt so sad during that time because I am innocent of what they accused me of. My wife asked me how that could happen and even my mentor, who I took as father, when I called him, was surprised and began to ask me: “When, where, and how?” because they all trust me.
That ordeal happened on May 23, 2018. That morning, I left home going to Abesan Secondary School, Ipaja (Lagos), where I was doing my teaching practice. Before then, I had heard something pertaining to the incident, that one of our students, Zainab, was beaten by her grandmother. I was in class teaching when my colleague called me and told me that they needed my attention. When I got there, I saw my colleague; one of the oldest alfas in our village and other teachers were also there.
They explained to me that one of Zainab’s eyes turned red after she was beaten by her grandmother. They told me she was taken to hospital as a result of the injury, which prompted the hospital to conduct a general check on her. They told me that the general check revealed that she had been defiled. They invited a social worker, one Mrs Ogunranti Mercy, to question me and I said I knew nothing about the defilement, yet they robed me. But at the end of the day, they discovered that it was one kehinde, a relation of the child, who was behind the sexual assault and it was not just one or two times he did it.
Why did they call you for questioning?
I was the girl’s Arabic teacher in Ridwanullah Arabic School and we were just two teachers there – one Ustaz and me.
Didn’t they ask the girl who defiled her?
They said she mentioned Kehinde but according to then, the test carried out at the hospital showed that many people had slept with her. The social worker said she mentioned my name. But even after I was arrested and taken to the police station, she was not brought forward to confront me with the allegation. She was not brought until after two days.
At the station, I saw the social worker talking to the child. I couldn’t tell what she was telling her but she pointed at me. But the girl did not look at me neither did she nod her head nor say anything.
How will you describe life in prison?
Ah! Life there is different; it is totally different from the life I am living now, it is another life entirely. I got there during the month of Ramadan. About 30 of us were kept in a room called ‘welcome cell’. We were there till the next day. In the morning when we woke up they gave us some work to do after which we took our bath then we did our registration. That is how the life goes.
What are some of your prison experiences you will never forget?
The way they treated me was horrible. In my entire life, I had never been caned on my head, but in that place they flogged me on my head; it was very painful. Though things have changed now, that time it was tough.
I was fasting when I got there and when it was time to break my fast, I was only offered a little measure of garri. If they served us rice, it would be so little.
How supportive was your family while your ordeal lasted?
I thank almighty Allah and all my families, they really supported me, bringing me food, from time to time because most times the food served in prison was just not enough. So, I appreciate everyone for helping me, my friends, the Islamic association that I belong to, as well as the NGOs that always come to provide for our needs, I thank them very much. Anytime they set their eyes on me while I was in prison, they always had pity on me.
People generally can’t imagine they can have anything to do with prison; can you briefly speak about the kinds of person you saw in prison?
This is Nigeria, most people that are in prison are there for the crime they did not commit; there is no proper investigation before sending them to prison; my case is an example, the social worker and the police did not do any findings to really confirm that I am innocent, they only did what they liked. They wrongly accused me, sent me behind bars and forgot me there.
Why did your case drag for so long in court?
That one was very terrible; since 2018, I can count the number of times I went to court. In 2018, they gave me July 7 but on that day, the judge didn’t sit. I was arraigned before a magistrates’ court and the second day I was taken to the high court after the DPP’s advice that I had a case to answer. The case was adjourned and it was not until one year later that I was able to appear before the judge again. That was what they kept doing, adjourning the case throughout the four years. Lawyers contributed to my ordeal because some of them took my money without any result to show for it.
How did you meet the lawyer who took up your case and fought for your freedom?
It was one of my family members who introduced the lawyer to my mentor but the lawyer said the offence I was charged with was not a bailable offence. He then introduced another lawyer to my family who took up the case.
You have now been pronounced innocent of the offence for which you were sent to prison. Do you have hard feelings against your accusers, the police or the court system?
When I look at that period it was a time I don’t want to remember because at that time my son was just one year plus and my wife was also three- month pregnant with my second son. My children could not recognise me when I came back, but I have forgiven my accusers and everyone else. I will like to say this to everyone that 40 per cent of the people in prison are not criminals and if there are more NGOs and spiritual organisations going to prison to visit them and to encourage them, many of them will change. In that place they have a university, college of education, secondary school and primary school and a workshop to learn vocational skills. I was an NCE undergraduate when I got into prison but now I am an undergraduate of National Open University of Nigeria 400 level. I achieved this in the prison because it has always been my prayer and desire to obtain B.sc. That is why I will always thank all the NGOs for what they have done for the benefit of the prisoners.
What were your future plans prior to being sent to prison and how did the situation affect your plans?
I was a student before I went to prison and my plan was to acquire my NCE certificate; my plan now is to continue my education so that I can have the certificate. As to how the situation affected me, well, I will rather say the situation helped to fulfill my dream because it is my wish also to become a B.sc holder and I was able to achieve that in the prison.
When I was leaving the prison, I promised Allah that I would not forget the inmates. My plan it to be inviting people to go and give them orientation lectures. In fact, I want to be one of the people that will change the life of those in that correctional centre; the warders cannot do it alone.
Now that you are out of prison what are you doing?
Presently I am not doing anything, I cannot be roaming about, I am still searching for job. You know, as a family man I have a wife and two children to provide for; I also need money to complete my education.
Are there lessons you took away from your experience?
I have leant many lessons; for example, I leant how to manage money – you can spend N100 for two to three days to buy ingredients for your beans and garri; also I have learnt that time is important and people should not waste time; another thing is that people should be good, the kind of person you are before you fall into trials, will determine the kind of people that will come your way during your trial.
While in the prison because of my character everybody loved me and was very generous to me. Many of the NGOs are still in touch with me now.
CREDIT: PUNCH NEWSPAPERS