Entertainment - Celebrity Gist - Gossips Updated: November 01, 2023

Tems Reflects on Her Time in Ugandan Prison

By Dorcas Akanni
November 01, 2023

Nigerian music sensation Tems has opened up about her experience in a Ugandan prison in 2020, shedding light on her time behind bars alongside fellow artiste Omah Lay.

The two musicians were detained for two days after being charged in court and accused of flouting COVID-19 guidelines.

Tems, whose real name is Temilade Openiyi, gave an account of her ordeal during an interview with Angie Martinez. She shared her journey from disbelief and tears to adapting to the harsh prison conditions.

The ordeal began when Tems was picked up from her hotel in Uganda. At first, she thought it was some sort of joke.

However, as she was handed a prison uniform, the gravity of the situation became all too real. Her distress led to tears, and she entered the prison facilities in a state of shock.


“I thought I wasn’t gonna come out. I thought I was seeing it for a reason like maybe I was meant to help the people.

"I was settling in because I adapted real quick and as I was walking in I started to cry because they gave me my uniform and it stunk because they don't wash it.

“It was a small room and there was nothing, there’s just the floor they give you blankets and tissues and you’re just on the floor, no bed and I did it for two days.

"I didn’t even know I was going to get out, I didn’t have any ears on the ground nobody told me anything.

“Outside everyone was like ‘free Tems, free Omah lay’ but inside I was just hopeful, waiting.”


Despite her hope, Tems couldn’t fathom an early release. She soon realised that the female inmates she bonded with were incarcerated for trivial reasons. Some were held by guards who accepted bribes to keep them locked up.

The prison structure was such that inmates could only make phone calls if they had money. Tems had none.

To cope with the situation, she found herself winking at the ladies in the prison. It was her way of dealing with the overwhelming emotions and an attempt to appear confident to her fellow inmates.

“Once I walked in, everyone turned and looked at me and started whispering, and I was like what have I done? I can’t cry. I just started winking; that was my way of adapting.

"I must show these people that I’m confident, so I started being extra, winking, and saying hi, and they were laughing.”


The woman in charge of the women’s prison explained the rules and regulations, as well as the severe consequences of breaking them.

The most severe punishment was solitary confinement in a small room with no food or water. Inmates were told they had to kneel to speak to officials, and they were only fed once a day.

Despite her two-day stay, Tems chose not to eat and subsisted on sips of water.

Tems and Omah Lay’s ordeal began on the night of December 12, 2020, after their performance at The Big Brunch in Kampala, Uganda.

The two artistes were charged with flouting COVID-19 guidelines after the lockdown.

Back in Nigeria, efforts were made to secure their immediate release, with Tems’ manager’s father even reaching out to then-President Buhari in Abuja.

Their collective efforts resulted in their eventual release and safe return to Nigeria.

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