Special treatments for VIP prisoners

By Babatunde Ayedoju

Just about a month ago, the controversial Nigerian cross-dresser, Idris Olanrewaju Okuneye, popularly known as Bobrisky, was sentenced to six months imprisonment without the option of fine by a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos. That came after his arraignment by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on four counts bordering on naira abuse, for which he pleaded guilty.

It is noteworthy that Mr Okuneye, also known as Bobrisky, has since filed an appeal before the Court of Appeal through his counsel, Bimbo Kusanu, who prayed the appellate court to replace the sentence with an option of a N50,000 fine on each of the counts.

Meanwhile, few weeks ago, some online news outlets published a so-called exclusive story where they alleged that Bobrisky was occupying a fully furnished  one-bedroom flat in a newly built VIP apartment at the Kirikiri Correctional Centre. They also alleged that the embattled crossdresser regularly shared money to his fellow inmates, that he was reportedly allowed to wear female clothes and frequently receive  visitors.

Citing an anonymous source, one of the news channels,  stated:  “There is a newly built VIP apartment in Kirikiri Correctional Centre. Bobrisky is occupying a room and palour in it. The parlour is furnished with flat screen tv, refrigerator and the chairs claimed to be donated was for his visitors.

“He has been giving money to inmates. He is getting a special treatment inside, and dresses with his female clothes while in men’s prison. He has also been receiving visitors on a regular basis.”

In a swift response, the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS), Lagos State Command, debunked the claim in a statement signed by its spokesperson, Rotimi Oladokun. The statement outrightly denied the existence of en-suite-style cells or one-bedroom flats within the Kirikiri Correctional Centre. It also said that Bobrisky, like other convicted inmates, had been allocated a shared cell within the facility.

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The statement partly read: “The attention of the Nigerian Correctional Service, Lagos State Command, has been drawn to some mischievous and misleading online publications. Without prejudice to NCoS right to seek legal redress for the libellous publication, outlined are clarifications on the said issues.

“The convicted inmate, Okuneye Idris Olanrewaju, a.k.a. Bobrisky, is currently serving a six-month jail term for abuse and mutilation of the naira notes within the custody of the custodial centre in the state. The convict is entitled to the reformative and rehabilitative platforms, either educational and/or vocational training, as provided to all inmates in custody.

“Idris has been allocated a shared cell with other convicted inmates. There are no en-suite or ‘one-bedroom flat’ style cells in our Custodial Centre, as the cell blocks infrastructure are built as shared buildings to accommodate multiple inmates.”

The statement added: “Idris is being treated just as every other inmate without any special amenities or privilege accorded. All inmates are entitled to Family and Legal visits. These visits are monitored and regulated by NCoS. The Controller of Corrections, Lagos Command, enjoined the general public to disregard the said malicious publication”.

It would also be recalled that shortly after the imprisonment of the crossdresser, a prison official whose name was undisclosed had told the media that having been tested and confirmed to still have his male sex organs intact, Bobrisky was assigned a room with some other male inmates.

The source had said, “After that, a cell was allocated to him, and he had a certain number of inmates with him. A bed space was also allotted to him. It is just like a boarding house where your housemaster will issue you your personal belongings.”

In the words of Professor Simon Ehiabhi from the Department of History and International Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, it is not every information that comes from online news media that can be believed, because some of them turn out to be false and sometimes have to be retracted.

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He cited the example of an online platform which alleged that the Chief of Staff to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, sought to divert $30 billion and some houses traced to one of former President Muhammadu Buhari’s aides, adding that the journalist who published the story was arrested and the medium had to apologise over the story.

“I cannot say whether this particular case is true or not but we have had reasons in the past to believe that some VIPs are given preferential treatment while in custody. We know there are some who have privileges. While I cannot say how true this particular case is, it is not impossible, given the rate of corruption in Nigeria.” 

According to Dr Mrs. Kemi Adebola, a sociologist from the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), if the Nigerian Correctional Service has debunked the story, then one may conclude that it is not true, because there is no fact on ground to confirm that the embattled crossdresser is receiving such preferential treatment as alleged.

She, however, lamented that Nigerian prisons are far from what they ought to be as centres for reformation, saying, “Our prisons are not what they ought to be. They ought to be correctional centres, places offenders should go to and have their lives transformed positively, so that by the time they come out they would have been equipped with various knowledge and skills that can make them better people in the society. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.”

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Mrs. Adebola, while pointing out that many inmates unfortunately come out of prison without undergoing the positive transformation that should have happened in their lives, added that if our correctional centres were living up to their names, there would be no basis for anybody to allege that any inmate is receiving preferential treatment.

In the opinion of Dr Harrison Idowu from the Department of Political Science, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, given the prevalence of fake news in Nigeria and even across the world, it is difficult to say whether the online sources that alleged Bobrisky was receiving VIP treatment in prison are saying the truth or not.

“However, we also know our Nigerian system and the corruption going on therein. Therefore we also can’t wave such allegation aside easily because corruption in the country makes certain things that are unimaginable happen,” he added

Professor Adediran Ikuomola from the Department of Criminology and Security Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, said, “I think this is coming up as a result of the past history of the Nigerian Prison Service, now Correctional Service. There was a time we heard a political detainee was in prison and  his wife was visiting him, and gave birth there after. Do prisoners in Nigeria have conjugal right? Anything is possible in this system. Sometimes it looks as if there are different laws for different people.”

While saying that the new media and bloggers are smart with information, as they could have heard or seen it happening, the seasoned criminologist added that the media and bloggers need to substantiate their claims with evidence, “Otherwise, the information will remain hearsay and won’t be taken seriously. Little wonder, it has been debunked by the Correctional Service.”

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