*Met real killers in prison
By Henry Ojelu
At the beginning of this interview, I made it clear to Wahab Alao that the focus of our discussion will not be about whether he actually committed the crime for which he was convicted, but about sharing his experience on death row.
His immediate response was; “My brother, you cannot be on death row and still be insisting on your innocence when you are not. You cannot be facing death and be lying. You cannot be saved by God and still be lying. I have never killed anybody in my life and God knows that. I was arrested over an allegation of stealing but the police changed my offence to armed robbery and that was the beginning of my almost 29 years journey in prison.”
After insisting on his innocence, Alao quickly began to recall the terrifying days and nights he shared with his fellow death row inmates for about 10 years before his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Since he maintained his stance even when the Supreme Court had affirmed his conviction, I had to plead that he should recount what really happened. That was when the spellbound narration started.
Arrested on suspicion of stealing
I was wrongly arrested on January 30, 1995 for stealing. I accompanied a friend who had Gonorrhoea to Crown Pharmacy at Challenge, Ibadan to buy Cyprozine and Golocine. I was outside waiting for him when all of sudden, I started hearing an argument inside the pharmacy that my friend’s money was not complete. Before I knew what was going on, some boys beside the pharmacy started shouting that we are thieves from Lagos. I tried to resist them but they held me down. Even one of the pharmacy attendants by name Funmilayo tried to persuade them that we did not rob them but they refused to let us go. They later took us to Challenge Police station where we were searched and nothing was found with us.
At the station, they kept us inside a cell till around 7:30pm when a team of policemen returned from patrol. The initial entry they made for us was that we stole drugs at Crown Pharmacy. They took our statement and even the DPO asked us to look for our relatives to bail us. That same evening, a patrol team led by one SP Ademuyiga took us from Challenge to Mukola Police Station.
Stealing changed to armed robbery, murder
The following morning, as I was going to the toilet, I saw armed robbery on the board written against my name. When I asked the policeman accompanying me what the meaning of this was, he said: ‘If you asked any question, we will kill you’. I immediately kept quiet. I knew the implication of being a robbery suspect that was why I initially protested. I was 28 years then so I knew the meaning of armed robbery and the consequences.
READ ALSO: Killing of 322 police, 642 soldiers: We’re in very difficult circumstances – Northern Elders
Later that day, I overheard an argument between the Inspector Crime and OC Robbery on whether I should be included among those that killed an Assistant Commissioner of Police. The Inspector removed me from the station that night and hid me in the Parliament building in the Governor’s office. That was how I was saved that night. When I got back into the cell, someone there told me to be careful that that is how they set up people.
On the second night, three suspects were shot dead in my presence and those that shot them told us, ‘this no be play ooo’. They wrote a statement for us and we copied it saying that we are the robbers that killed ACP Kolawole. We were also made to sign it.
Before my arrest, when I saw Police parading armed robbers with guns, I used to believe them. But after my incident, I realized that it was fake. We were later paraded by the then Oyo State Commissioner of Police, Conference Eleyele as those who killed one Retired ACP Nurudeem Kolawole. The man was killed on October 18, 1994 but we were arrested January 30, 1995. The following day we were taken to the Magistrate Court which remanded us in prison. After two months, the DPP advised said that we had a case to answer.
4 1/2 years awaiting trial
The matter went to trial at the Tribunal. We spent four and half years in Agodi prison but no progress was made in the trial. Nobody came forward to give evidence until 1999 when Democracy was ushered in and the matter was moved to the High Court. We spent another three and half years at the High Court. They gathered witnesses against us but my statement at Challenge police station was never tendered. On July 12, 2002 four of us were sentenced to death. One of us died in prison from tuberculosis. The other two, Fatai Busari, and Mumuni were kept at Ijebu Ode prisons. I was transferred to Agodi Maximum prison. My lawyer, one Mr. Dike, appealed the matter at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, but my conviction was upheld.
On January 7, 2012, the late Governor Ajimobi commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment after I had spent 10 years on death row.
Life on death row
If I start talking about my prison experience, you won’t be able to eat today because you will be shocked. I can’t tell you everything that happened there. The most horrible one is when you witness your fellow death row inmates being taken out to be killed. We were 10 in a cell one day and the prison official took 9 out for execution leaving only me behind. That was the first execution I witnessed. The second execution was six persons, then another three persons. Their killing is always fresh in my brain.
Back then during the military rule execution was frequent and by firing squad. Once we hear the prison warders’ special parade on Tuesdays, we know we are dead men. As they approach our cells, they will start calling names. Once you survive that execution day, you won’t be able to eat for at least three days. You will just be pale and look like a moron. We also won’t be able to sleep until they give us Lagatin which is a drug given to mad people to calm them. Even the drug doesn’t make us sleep for long because we will still be anticipating that they will still come to pick us anytime soon.
Meeting with real killers on death row
The police knew I didn’t do what they hung on my neck. You won’t believe that I met those who actually killed ACP Kolawole in death row cell. They were convicted for bank robbery and murder but not for the death of Kolawole. One day, as the warders came to pick those to be executed, one of them just shouted my name ‘Alhaji Alao, may God forgive me. I am one of those who killed that man that you were convicted for. You are innocent.’ He actually thought that the warders came to take him for execution; fortunately, they took the six persons inside the cell and left him. I was shocked that day and couldn’t believe what I just heard. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do about the confession but I was satisfied that the real killer had revealed the truth. The man was granted amnesty four years before me.
God, sports keep me alive
While on death row, sometimes, the will to live is not always there but my hope and trust was in God. The day I was sentenced to death, I told the judge that unless I committed the crime which they charged me for, I will never die. I looked him straight in the eye and told him that I will not die. My hope while in prison was that God will vindicate me one day. I rededicated my life to God and read through the Holy Koran several times. Another thing that sustained me in prison was my engagement in sports. When I was transferred from Abeokuta prison to Lagos, I joined the Lawn Tennis Club. Major Hamzath Al-Mustapha, who was in prison then, encouraged me to play with him all the time. Once I start playing Tennis, all my worries just vanished. I also encouraged other inmates to join the club. My racket is still with me here and I am ready to go professional once I settle down properly.
It has not been easy adapting to life since I was released. Sometimes when I sleep and wake up, I still feel that I am still inside my cell. Once I heard a knock on the door, I was jolted thinking that maybe prison officials had come to grab me. Three days after I was released, my niece who is presently accommodating me, was always holding me down anytime I wanted to run out. I still cannot sleep for long because any little sound wakes me up. Even crossing the road is a big challenge to me. Many things are wrong with my health and I don’t know how to start treating myself. My eyesight is almost gone. I also developed bile because of the terrible food we eat in prisons. I am hypertensive and managing it, and it is also a problem.
Although I knew that I was innocent, sometimes I doubted whether I would ever regain freedom. The reason was because Oyo State then was notorious for not releasing prisoners. Release of prisoners in the state was usually every October 1, so when you miss any opportunity, you will have to wait for the next year. That has changed because June 12, May 29 and January 1 have now been added to amnesty days.
I didn’t quite believe it when one prison official whispered to me that my name has been added to those who will be released this year. In fact I told him not to joke with me with that kind of information. I didn’t believe him until suddenly one morning the good news was officially communicated to me. I cried so much that day in my cell until my eyes were swollen. I kept shouting and screaming ‘I did not kill.’ Some people had to hold me before I could be calmed down. I almost ran mad that day. I just can’t describe the feeling that day. It was overwhelming. I kept asking myself, ‘So you are going to the free world?’ I thank Governor Seyi Makinde for releasing me.
Appeal for help
The two important things that I need now are a job and accommodation. It’s been two weeks that I was released and accommodation has been a major problem. Few days ago, my niece who took me in was given a quit notice. She is looking for accommodation now and I feel bad for her. I am not handicapped. I can work. I am seriously appealing to Nigerians to help me get a job so that I can earn an income and help myself. I have hopes, I want to marry and raise children. But I cannot do that as a beggar.
His account details: Account number: 1515178992, Access Bank. Wahab Adekunle Alao.