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  • Life - Wednesday Thrills
  • Updated: February 21, 2024

Exclusive: Policeman erroneously sent to prison for 10 years, seeks return to force

Exclusive: Policeman erroneously sent to prison for 10 years

"Policing is a career I chose out of passion and desire to serve my country and was determined to be my best in it. I went to prison when I was a Corporal and my mates are now Inspectors. I believe the police authorities should recall me back to the force since I have been discharged and acquitted. My experience in prison, studying criminals and counselling and my education while there have equipped me even better. With a degree in criminology and security studies, I believe the police needs someone like me," narrated Gabriel Enejo.

The story of Gabriel Enejo, an indigene of Benue State, though tragic and heart-rending, is an inspiring one, truly heroic and an attestation to the place of willpower, passion and a mixture of faith and the never-say-die spirit of the average Nigerian.

Enejo, who enlisted into the Nigeria Police Force in 2004, has literally gone through the 'valley of death' and the lion's den coming out bruised but intact and with his head held high.

Enejo spent 10 unbroken years in prison over trumped-up charges, without trial.

In an interview with Allnews.ng, he narrates his experience and how through faith, determination and the interventions of lawyers from civil society organisations, he regained freedom as a better person who is more equipped to face life, with a desire to return to the same job that sent him to prison.

 The long journey to Ikoyi Prison

On the night of November 2, 2013, Enejo and his colleagues who were on patrol in Lagos, after he had been posted back to the Lagos State Police Command from Ekiti State, received radio signals to proceed to the popular and notorious Oshodi area of the city to quell an inter-gang violence going on in that area.

According to Enejo, on arrival at the scene, they met two rival gangs in a free-for-all all and promptly intervened.

"I saw a particular guy holding dangerous weapons, including broken bottles, chasing members of the rival gang. I swiftly moved to arrest him. In the process, he started struggling with me and stabbed me in the head. I was bleeding profusely while I struggled with him and at the same time, protecting my riffle from being snatched by the hoodlums," he said.

Though Enejo had expected that his colleagues should have come to his rescue, he soon realised that they had all taken to their heels, abandoning him to contend with the hoodlums all alone and also protect his riffle from being snatched, an action which would have made matters worse for him, so he thought.

With sheer determination and luck, he was able to extricate himself from the hoodlums with his riffle intact, as he raced to the nearest police station, for report and safety. 

"The DPO of the station was planning to take me to the hospital for treatment before a group of people stormed the station, claiming that someone died from the violence that occurred at the scene. Obviously, the claim was that I was responsible. This added a twist to the entire scenario. 

"However, the Area Commander came and took me to the hospital where I spent three days receiving treatment before I was discharged," Enejo added.

If Enejo thought his nightmare was over, he was mistaken as he was thereafter arrested and detained. 

He said: "I was transferred to the state CID for further investigation, only to be further moved to Abuja and detained for seven months, supposedly for investigation purposes. After seven months, I was moved back to Lagos to be arraigned in court for trial. I was taken to a Magistrate's Court here in Lagos.

"Because the charges against me were capital in nature, the Magistrate ordered that I be remanded in prison custody for 30 days pending legal advice from the Lagos State Director of Public Prosecution. That was how my journey to Ikoyi Prisons for 10 years started.

"For me, I was earnestly waiting for the outcome of the advice from the DPP, believing that there could only be two scenarios; if the DPP thinks I have a case to answer, I will go to trial, if not, I will be cleared and allowed to go.

"However, the 30 days became six months and one year, became years. I was just dumped in the prison, not going to court and no trial at all. I tried many lawyers and my family spent all they had engaging them. But the lawyers will come back and say it's prayers your case needs. It was a harrowing experience.

"Since I was first arraigned in June 2014, I was in prison till 2017 when my lawyer then applied for my bail at the High Courts in the state. At least, if you are not taking me to court for trial, I should be granted bail till you are ready to prosecute me. But the court turned it down, saying what I was charged for was a capital offence."

Speaking further, Enejo said he had to resign himself to fate, sleeping and waking up without going to court until 2021!

 A divine appointment with fate

In his despondency and resignation to fate, a golden opportunity came calling in 2021 as a group of lawyers, with support from some people in the Netherlands, organised a programme called Informal Justice Court, during when the minds of inmates are prepared ahead of their formal arraignment in court.

"I was made the coordinator of the programme, to coordinate the inmates. I also acted as the prosecuting counsel for the programme's informal court session. I performed well as if I were a lawyer because of my experience. The inmates were surprised, asking if I was a lawyer and that some lawyers don't even perform well like I did.

"It was during the programme that I met this lawyer, Barrister Yusuf. He called me after the programme, asking how can someone like me be in prison. He said he heard the inmates call me different names. He wondered what I was doing in prison. I told him I was a former police officer and he asked me the stage of my case, to which I told him my case has no stage because since I was remanded in prison in 2014, I had not gone to court for once", Enejo said.

Hearing this, Barrister Yusuf took interest in him, declaring that the nonsense must stop. 

For Enejo, Barrister Yusuf's interest in his case may just be another of the many that had come over the years, but he nevertheless decided to tag along.

"Barrister Yusuf decided to file a fundamental human rights suit before Justice Osuagwu of the Federal High Court, Lagos. He sued the Attorney General of the State, the DPP and the police, demanding over a billion Naira for violating my rights and illegal detention.

"During the proceedings, Justice Osuagwu was livid, asking how come I have been in custody for eight years without trial. But the state said they were trying to arraign me. After seven adjournments, the judge said if the state could not arraign me, he would discharge me unconditionally and award the damages demanded.

"The judge gave a long adjournment to allow the state to produce me in court for trial in any of the courts. He gave them up to July 4, 2023. However, before the date, a paper was brought to court that I was to be arraigned in one of the High Courts in the state.

On the first day of Enejo's arraignment, the trial judge shocked that he had been in prison for 10 years without trial, ordered an accelerated trial and ordered the prosecution to line up their witnesses and see how they could win the case.

After five adjournments, the prosecution could not bring anyone to court as a witness until September 20, 2023, when the prosecutor confessed to the court that there was nobody to prosecute the case. He, however, asked for another adjournment to try and see if he could bring his witnesses to court.

"The judge agreed with another adjournment for November 9. On November 9, I came to court but there was nobody to witness. The judge, in his reaction, said the case is pathetic that a policeman will be detained for 10 years, without even the police showing interest. He told the prosecution that I cannot be detained in custody anymore. So he discharged me," Enejo added.

 Love for Policing

Enejo, no doubt, is just one of the few policemen in the country who has so much passion and love for policing, not just as a job but as a calling.

This love for policing, according to Enejo, informed his decision to step down on the fundamental human rights suit pending before the Federal High Court, Lagos, for which he would have gotten a substantial amount as damages.

He explains his reasoning: "My lawyer is eager to continue with the fundamental human rights case but I had to ask him to step it down. You cannot bite the hand that feeds you. I am not a criminal and I am not planning to become one. It's just unfortunate that I found myself in this situation. And honestly, I don't know if that's how God planned my journey before I actualize my dream on earth.

"I thank God that I am out, hale and healthy with no part of my my body missing. So I asked him to forget about the case. What I want is to go back to my job, which is where the issue is now. I don’t know what the police high command is thinking or going to do about it. I did not commit any crime against the state or the police. I was only performing my legal duty.

"Imagine if I had been killed that night; police wouldn't have done anything except to say that I died in active service. But here I am, unjustly dismissed without any trial.

Speaking further, Enejo disclosed that he was never told he had been dismissed from the force.

"For me to be dismissed from the force, I should have been issued an official dismissal letter and de-kitted and that will come after an orderly room trial. But in my case, there was nothing like that.

"In fact, I had my complete uniform and every other thing in my bag at the prison until the ENDSARS riot of 2020 that affected part of Ikoyi Prisons, including the store where we keep our things. The fire that razed part of the prison burnt my bag that contained my uniform. So nothing was collected from me," Enejo said.

 Finding grace in prison

Though no one prays to have a prison experience, Enejo, by a combination of his personal charisma, luck and being a policeman, found favour at the prison from day one, as even the warders saw him differently.

He said: "I must be honest with you that prison experience is never an easy thing. Nobody prays to have that experience but I thank God for my own experience. Nigerians see prison as a condemned and forsaken place. My case is just like what they said about Jesus; can anything good come out of Nazareth? Though prison is a place nobody prays to be, I thank God that He took me there to reshape my life.

"Nigerian prison is where no one prays to be but wherever you find yourself in life, just pray for God to give you grace. The day I was taken to prison, I thought the end had come. No one in my family had ever been to prison and there is no criminal in my lineage. I was confused that I chose a career and that same career landed me in prison not that I committed a crime but because I was doing my job."

Enejo explained that on getting to the prison, he explained himself to one of the prison officers, who told him he was not a criminal but a job hazard brought him there.

"I was allocated a cell but I could not sleep all night. A pastor in the cell, who noticed, called me in the morning and counselled me that the only thing I can do is to keep praying since I was already there.

"The following day, he took me to church and I started going to church, engage myself in prayers and all that. In the process, I discovered that there is an educational centre at the prison. I took advantage of that and again sat for WAEC since the one I had before was not handy.

"I passed and continued to the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) which has a study centre at the prison also to study criminology and security studies. My school fees were sponsored by some philanthropists. Now I am rounding up my studies as I have just finished my project.

While in prison, Enejo continued to play leadership roles both in his Christian faith and in the affairs of the prison, becoming an ambassador for Say No to Crime. With this, he was counselling inmates against crime and how to even stay away from crime after their time in prison. He also became the Secretary of the Full Gospel Businessmen Fellowship at the prison.

"So for me, prison was more of a blessing as I had a total turnaround", he said.

Desire to return to the police 

Enejo believes there is no point in suing the police because, according to him, the police need someone like him.

"I have been with criminals, I have had extensive discussions with them, I understand their mentality and modus operandi.

"In fact, I was made the leader of inmates at the prison to oversee them. I was a leader in the prison. All these experiences and insights into the world of crime, combined with my course of study at NOUN, make me an asset to the Nigeria Police Force. That's why I want to go back. I want to keep serving my nation through policing.

"I have always known that policing is what I have passion for, not for money but for service to the nation. I have suffered because of the job but I still want to go back.

 Appeal to the police

Speaking on his expectations from the police force, Enejo said: "They should look into my matter, they should consider the pains I have passed through and the fact that I did not commit any crime.

"My mates are Inspectors now. I desire that I be reinstated back to the force, to the rank of Inspector which is where I should be by now and also pay my outstanding salaries and allowances since I was never dismissed from the force."

Efforts to get the response of the Lagos State Police Command did not yield positive results as calls made to the command's spokesman, Benjamin Hundeyin were not answered.

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