As Clinton Kanu, a native of Ndinwafor in Okigwe Local Government Area of Imo State, walked out from the Port Harcourt Maximum Prison, his smile and openness betrayed the pain he had been through these past 27 years.
Right within that facility, he had waited for the hangman’s noose for almost three decades for a crime he was wrongly accused of.
The 56-year-old consultant criminologist was roped into a murder case in April 1992 by some undisclosed persons while trying to resolve a dispute involving his in-laws. That marked the beginning of his journey in ‘hell’.
His trial at the tribunal and later at a High Court and his eventual detention happened so fast that when he found himself in prison over an offence he did not commit, he was livid with anger but later accepted his fate.
As time passed by, the then 29-year-old man, who was full of life, fought hard to prove to the court that he was framed up by those, who felt threatened by his rise in life.
Recalling how he was sentenced to death by hanging or firing squad, Kalu said, “Twenty-seven years ago, some people were accused of stealing generating plant and fluorescent tubes.
“They are my in-laws. After the court decided the case, we heard that somebody was murdered in the compound where my sister married.
“But I was arrested because the thought by those behind my ordeal was that I was trying to resolve a land dispute in favour of one person.
“I was detained in Owerri Prison. I was at the tribunal for seven years because those behind my ordeal added armed robbery to the case. They believed I was a strong man and wanted to destroy me.
“They brought false witnesses to testify against me at the tribunal. I was later taken to a regular court where I was condemned to death.
“So, from Owerri, I was transferred to Port Harcourt prison. At the Port Harcourt prisons, I waited for many years for the hangman’s noose.
“Nevertheless, I went to the Appeal Court to appeal the case but my lawyer messed up the case. Then I decided to proceed to the Supreme Court, where after 27 years in prison, I got victory.
“I was imprisoned for 27 years for committing no offence. On April 5 this year, I was discharged and acquitted.”
He cautioned that with the Supreme Court declaring him innocent, it would be wrong for anybody to tag him an ex-convict.
“If you describe me as an ex-convict, I won’t be happy with you. After 27 years, they found out that I committed no crime. Do you know that they would have killed me and after many years, they would have found out that I did not commit the crime?
“Something like that happened somewhere in Europe. In my own case, the Supreme Court found out that I was innocent and freed me.
“Any person that refers to me as an ex-convict, I will look at the person as a fool. I will just ask God to forgive him,” he said.
While in incarceration, Kanu lost his mother; and coupled with the fact that he was not married and had no immediate family (children), he struggled to fight loneliness even though his relatives, who also believed he was incapable of hurting anybody, let alone killing a person, visited him in prison from time to time.
On whether he would avenge the injustice done to him, Kanu explained that he had been a changed man after gaining knowledge about the ways of Christ, adding that vengeance was not in his thoughts.
He pointed out that though he felt insulted and humiliated by the court verdict, which sentenced him to death, he later realized while in prison that his tribulation was to serve a purpose.
“God has dealt with those behind my ordeal the way he wants to deal with them; I don’t have any business with them.
“God has already dealt with the man, who stood as a complainant in my case.
“On whether I will seek compensation from the police for falsely accusing me, I don’t know about that for now.
“I have imbibed Christ and I have nothing against those behind my ordeal. While I was in the prison, I read more. I had Diploma in Theology, I had Bachelor’s Degree in Guidance and Counselling, Master’s in Education Management, Master’s in Guidance and Counselling and I also got PhD in Guidance and Counselling.
“I am a child of God and have nothing against them. The police and others behind my ordeal knew that I did not commit the crime.
“One Sergeant Eze and one other person were aware that I did not commit the crime; it was a gang-up and conspiracy at the highest level.
“First of all, when I was taken to prison, I was not happy; I felt insulted and humiliated. I began to write petitions, but petitions cannot get you anywhere if you don’t have any person to follow it up,” he stated.
On what the future holds for him, Kanu, who said he was diabetic and fed himself throughout the 27 years he stayed in prison, stated that he could take to politics or continue with his guidance and counselling job, which he was doing while behind bars. To cater for himself due to his failing health, the 56-year-old said he had to sell some of his personal belongings, adding that when funds were no longer there, the church took over his feeding.
He pointed out that his experience in prison had taught him that anybody could find themselves in jail due to circumstances beyond their control. According to him, life in a Nigerian prison will not reform most inmates because of the hardship inside there.
On what his being in prison for almost three decades had denied him, Kanu lamented that he may not be able to know the whereabouts of most of his properties and maintained that he would have built more houses and acquired more properties if he were not in prison.
“I would have built more houses; I would have bought more land and currently, I don’t know the position of my properties,” he said.
He, however, noted that he was not thinking about marriage immediately, adding that the first thing was for him to get established.
Dissatisfied with the poor living condition in Nigerian prisons, the Okigwe-born man disclosed that a lot of inmates were restive in prison, adding that the facilities there were not encouraging.
“In the prison, a lot of the youths are restive and they want to make it by any other way, even when they lack academic exposure.
“I went into an academic venture that will benefit the inmates and even the wardens; something like seminars.
“Government should provide enough facilities in prisons to help reform the inmates. Anybody can be in the prison, unless your enemies do not remember you. The moment they remember you, there is nothing you can do. The entire place is tough.
“Most people who are inside there come out without being reformed. You can imagine 200 people sleeping in a room. There, each man is planning to outwit the other. Once an inmate dies, the next man around will carry the dead person’s food and eat.
“I was diabetic and fed myself for those 27 years. Many people are not privileged to do that.
“I had to sell some of my land, cars and other properties to be able to do that (feed myself in prison). At a point, when I had no money, the church took over my feeding,” he stated.
He said he was filled with joy when on April 5, 2019, the Supreme Court pronounced him not guilty of the charge against him, insisting that the judgement had vindicated him.
“I was overwhelmed with joy on the day I was released from prison having spent 27 years there without committing a crime. Up till this moment, I feel like a newly born baby. God gave me another chance to experience His greatness again,” he said.
“I was happy doing that for free; nobody paid me for it. The church helped me to sponsor seminars that were organised in the prison. I read law before I went to the prison,” he said.
Describing the 56-year-old as a kind-hearted man, Felix Nwankwo, his cousin, said he was in secondary school when Kanu was jailed for committing no crime.
“I was in secondary school when he was taken to prison but I already knew him then because he was so dear to many of us.
“Whenever he came back from Enugu, all of us would be happy. You would always see children clustering around him.
“I never stopped going to visit him while he was in prison. He once told me that he believed that the hand of God was in his struggle.
“The best he has achieved in life is for him to have known God. He has been called from death to life. We are happy that he has come back. He is a blessed person,” he said.