61- year-old driver, Fatai Busari in this edition of Encounter narrates his 29 years ordeal on death row after he was convicted along with two of his friends for allegedly killing a former Police Commissioner. Despite Supreme Court’s affirmation of his conviction, Mr. Busari insists he was framed up by Police.
Now a free but homeless man after his release from Ijebu-Ode prison, he shares his harrowing moments awaiting the hangman’s rope, how his two children and parents died, his two wives abandoned him and the bitter lessons prison taught him.
How it started
In 1994, two of my friends, Mumuni Adisa, Wahab Alao and I attended a party in Ibadan, Oyo state. We went from Lagos Island to the party. When we got to Challenge area of Ibadan in the morning, we learnt that there was an armed robbery operation in that area over a year ago and that a former Commissioner of Police, Nurudeem Kolawole was killed during the robbery. While we were at the bus stop, suddenly we started seeing people running.
Before we could make any move to run; some Police officers grabbed us. We told them that we were just coming into Ibadan from Lagos but they refused to listen to our explanation. They searched us and did not find any weapon on us but still took us to Mokola Police station where they tortured us for weeks. They took us to a room, tied our legs to a big ceiling fan.
They kept flogging us as the fan rotates. We were all crying and kept telling them that we didn’t kill anybody but they refused to hear us. During one of the torture sessions, the then DPO of the Police Station, Ademuyiwa told his men that they should kill us if we refuse to confess to the allegation of murder against us.
The injuries inflicted on my friends and I with cutlasses and gun boots is still visible on our body. The DPO insisted that we must write that we were the ones that killed the late Ademuyiwa. We didn’t eat for days. They kept torturing us for days until they wrote a statement for us and forced us to sign it.
Arraignment by Ibadan Court
After we signed the separate statements they prepared for us, our families managed to get the services of different lawyers for us. We were eventually arraigned before a tribunal for murder when our lawyers insisted that our matter be charged to court.
The trial started in 1995 and during my defence, I told the head of the tribunal that I could not have written the statement the Police said I did because I am not educated. For four years nothing happened in the case until 1999 when we were re-arraigned before Ibadan High Court.
We were kept in Agodi prison within that period. When the trial ended some years we were sentenced to death by hanging. I wept on that day because I have never killed anybody in my life. The shocking thing was that we were convicted for murder when no gun, cutlass or any other weapon were found on us. After our conviction, we were kept in the condemned cell in Abeokuta, Ogun state. After spending about13 years on death row, former Ogun state governor, Abiola Ajumobi commuted my sentence to 30 years imprisonment.
Appeal, Supreme Court affirm conviction
My lawyer appealed the judgment but the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Ibadan High Court. I don’t know how they came about their decision but all I know is that I have never killed anybody in my life and the confessional statement the police asked me to sign was not written by me. God is my witness that my friends and I have never killed anybody before. I don’t even know the former Police Commissioner they said we killed.
Death row ordeal
My death row experience is not something that I can finish narrating in one day. The first day I entered the condemned cell, everywhere was dark and I could not see anything. The bread they gave me to eat was like stone in my mouth. I had running stomach for days. I just wasn’t myself again. During my first one week inside the condemned cell, I actually thought I will die because of the heat in the cell. My cell mates and I were given one small bucket each to defecate inside.
The feaces will remain in each of our buckets until open-out when we will be allowed to dispose it outside. We were only allowed to stay just 30 minutes each day during the open-out before returning to our cell. The heat inside the cell was like hell. While sleeping, we maintained one position because of the tightness of the cell.
Constant fear of death
I witnessed execution about six times during the period of my stay in the prison. On each occasion when the prison warders come to take any condemned inmate for execution, the fear in me was not something that I can describe. For most part of that day, I would just be defecating inside my bucket because I didn’t know whether I am the person the hangman was coming for.
Once they hit our big cell door, everybody will start saying their last prayer. I actually thought I will be executed one particular day when about nine inmates were executed. I couldn’t eat throughout that day because of the fear that I might be executed, that day was very strong.
God being so kind, the executioners didn’t come to my cell that day. When some of my cell mates were advising me to take things easy, I just looked at them and hissed. How can someone take heart when he is about to be killed for something he didn’t do. I spent 13 years in the condemned cell until my conviction was commuted to life imprisonment and then later to 30 years imprisonment.
I spent a total of 29 years in prison. I still can’t see well now that I have regained my freedom because of my darkroom experience in the condemned cell. I also have problem breathing.
Closer to God
I became really close to God during those dark days in the condemned cell. With all hope of proving my innocence lost, I just resigned to fate and began to take solace in praising God. I sang praises to God everyday because that was the only thing that gave me hope. I eventually became a song leader in the prison fellowship.
Before I was convicted, I had two wives and two children. My children were very small then. Throughout my 29 years in prison, I never saw them. Even my two wives moved on with their lives and married other men. It was after I was released about a month ago that I was informed that my two children died at different time years ago. My father and mother also died during my time in prison. I only have two surviving relations, a brother and sister.
Lessons in prison
Those who have not been to prison before should pray never to go there because it not a good place to be. There are many innocent people in prison; People who are suffering for what they know nothing about. Before I got into prison, I used to assume that everybody in prison is a criminal but now I know better.
There are many bad things in the prison like cultism so the place can actually make a good person to become bad. There are very terrible people in prison with terrible crimes so the place can corrupt an innocent inmate. The place can also humble anybody because one cannot do the things he or she is used to doing outside. We are like babies that must obey every instruction given to us by the warders.
Since I was released, I have been homeless and living on the assistance of friends (sobs). Imagine me with many things going for me before, now begging people before I can eat. I tried to locate my family house but couldn’t because everywhere has changed and my parents are no more.
What those police officers did by framing us for what we didn’t do is very bad but I have forgiven them. I believe that everything happened for a reason. I fasted and prayed while in prison and God has really helped me to forgive them.
Appeal for assistance
My biggest challenge now is how to start my life afresh. For how long will I continue to beg people for food? I am a driver, if anybody can assist me with a bus, I can put it on the road to fend for myself and start life afresh.
Support for Fatai Busari can be sent to his account No. 4067622841 (Zenith Bank)
Newswire Law and Events Magazine is Out. It's a collector's item. Get one - or two,or more - for yourself and loved ones.