Sixty-year-old Clinton Kanu, who hails from Ndinwafor in the Okigwe Local Government Area of Imo State, tells CHUKWUDI AKASIKE his challenges after he was wrongfully convicted and jailed for 27 years before he was released
How has life been since you were released from prison?
It has not been easy. I will sincerely tell you that both the federal and the state governments are aware that I was discharged and acquitted. The world is also aware that the court freed me because it found out that I did not commit any crime. I got calls from different parts of the world. I was sentenced to death and was discharged by the Supreme Court. From that time (April 2019) till this moment, no government has given me a grain of rice. None of them has tried to give me an appointment. They are just adamant and have given the impression that they never heard anything like that.
What they (the governments) are busy doing is empowering militants and hooligans that go about with guns and money in billions of naira. A young man who they conspired against and got sentenced to death but was later released was not considered for anything. Former President (Muhammadu) Buhari could not do anything. (Emeka) Ihedioha, who was the governor of Imo State at that, even when they didn’t allow me to reach him, I sent a letter to him, telling him that there was no need to take him and the state government to court and that all I wanted was an appointment so that I could have (my) daily bread.
Frankly speaking, nothing stops me from becoming a militant. I have shown that I am a responsible Nigerian. For the past four years, even during the COVID-19 period, none of them gave me a grain of rice. My survival came from somebody very far from my state who heard my story and asked me from time to time to go and minister the word of God to people and give testimony about what I went through while in prison.
Are you saying that you have not been employed since 2019 you were released from prison?
None of them (the federal and state governments) have given me a job. The state has not. I went to court and later withdrew my case from the court. I told them to give me an appointment. I never asked them for any money. Did the Federal Government not hear it? They heard it; the world heard it. In fact, over the radio, the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria aired it. They kept me at Modotel that time and I answered them for two hours. This was a man, after 27 years of colossal damage to his life, despite his capacity and courage to stay in prison and acquire more education up to a doctoral level, the government did not find me worthy of compensation. Did they give money to somebody and that person did not give it to me? I don’t know.
Can you recall the circumstance that led to your imprisonment?
I was imprisoned because I went to settle a dispute that happened in the compound of my in-laws (in Imo State). That was all; they said I was taking sides. I did not know what happened after because I was based in Enugu State. So, whether they fought or murdered anybody, I did not know; the fact remains that I never knew what transpired later. Later, when I returned to the village, they said I had come back again and would help my in-laws while I was only trying to make peace. After making that peace, I went my way and forgot about them. My sister is married somewhere in that village and my sister’s husband was supposed to be the chief, but he was too young to be given the chieftaincy title at that time and some people thought that I would have been instrumental in the emergence of my sister’s husband as the holder of the chieftaincy title. A group of people conspired and roped me into a matter I knew nothing about. Whenever I remember that, I get annoyed.
You said you were accused of killing somebody; who was the person that was murdered and for what reason?
For me, I never saw or knew the person that was purportedly murdered. I was told he was a brother to my in-laws.
How was he murdered?
They said they attacked him with knife and chairs. I was also told he was rushed to the hospital. I didn’t see him with my two eyes. Whether they wounded him, whether they admitted him, I didn’t see him.
Do you know the reason why he was attacked and killed?
How could I know the reason? I don’t know. But I later learnt that those close to the said victim were responsible for his death.
How were you released from prison after 27 years?
I was discharged and acquitted by the Supreme Court.
What moves did you make to get freed by the court?
I begged a lawyer who took over my case on a pro bono basis. The man is deceased now. I didn’t give him a kobo. So, at exactly 10am on April 5, 2019, the Port Harcourt prison, where I was then, received a call and was told that I had been discharged and acquitted.
Have you considered raising a family since you regained freedom?
Yes, I have considered that. I have somebody around me that I would have married. But where is the job? Where is the money? I don’t want to go into marriage now and start looking at women for something at my age. You can see how hard it is everywhere. During the COVID pandemic, those who had jobs lost their jobs. It was exactly at that time I came out of the prison. You can imagine the kind of predicament I was facing. I was moving from one crusade to the other looking for food to eat. That was how I eat. That is how I have been surviving.
Unfortunately, after 27 years in prison, there are feelings I don’t have again. Personally, at my age, I don’t have that feeling until I get something I can bank on to take care of a woman.
How old are you?
I am 60 years old.
How did you feel the moment the judge condemned you to death in 1992?
It was one of the most horrible things to have happened to me, but I leave the judge that condemned me to God to judge.
Have you forgiven those who bore false witness against you in court?
What will I do to them? I was in prison for 27 years. Do you know what it means for a successful person at that time to find himself in that place (prison)? I have wasted 27 years and I came out and all I can do is to move from one church crusade to another. When churches organise crusades, I go there and get food to eat. Without that, what stops me from going into crime? I studied Guidance and Counselling up to the PhD level. So, at times, I preach and enlighten people purely on Bible principles. That is how I have been surviving. But I don’t carry any ill feelings against those that wrongfully accused me of murder. Though I have not met them, I don’t think there is any need for that.
Four years ago, you demanded N20bn as compensation from the federal and Imo State governments over your wrongful incarceration. How far have you gone in achieving this?
Nobody talked about that. They just buried it. I was told that the government lawyer said if they continued to compensate any person that was discharged, acquitted and released from prison, it would not make any sense. Can you imagine that kind of remark? But glory be to God because I know what it means to embrace a very quiet life and shun militancy. People come to me and give me gifts from time to time and I thank God for that. I would have died of hunger if not for the things I get from well-meaning Nigerians. I have no brother or relative to help.
Before your ordeal, you were a consultant criminologist. Why were you not able to use your experience to get off the hook at that time?
Look, even if you like, be the president; as young as I was then I had my ideas about life. How do you get out of a situation where people ganged up against you and decided to rope you into what you don’t know anything about? The truth is that if there is a gang-up against you and you are not aware of it, if you like, be the president, there is nothing you can do. Moreover, I was too young to notice that there was a gang up against me.
Are you hopeful that one day, you will get compensation from the government as a result of your wrongful imprisonment?
Yes, I am hopeful. When I was in prison, somebody said I was a prisoner of hope. That was why I started studying the things of God. Today, the world knows about Dr Clinton Kanu. I lived among criminals and because I studied Criminology, I was able to teach them a lot of good things. They believed that I would get employed after I was freed.
With your experience in prison, do you think Nigeria needs urgent prison reforms and do you intend to contribute to such reforms?
Most of those handling prison issues have nothing to offer; they don’t have the experience. Most of the prison officers don’t have the needed experience to handle it. Government should know that anybody who has been a part of the prison, somebody who has been exposed to what happens in the prison and understands how the inmates feel will give the recommendation that will bring the change the Nigerian Correctional Service needs. You can see that despite the huge amount of money spent, prisons across the country are still the way they are.
How have your relatives been able to assist you in any way since your release from prison?
It is when they have enough and feed well that they will give you. I was the person they were looking up to when I was young and outside prison. One of my relations died before I left prison, and the other one has retired. That is it. Even when I came out, there was this hope that at least, the government would give me a job. But I still have hope because I believe in God and myself.
Many inmates have been in prison for a long time without trial. Some have blamed the situation on the country’s slow justice system. What is your take on this?
On that issue, the police have a part to play. The police are responsible for the jam in all these processes. Be that as it may, we got the laws from the Europeans. Before then, we had a system of justice in our land. We had situations where many people were tried in less than one hour and those who were guilty went to jail, while those who were not set free. But since we say we are following civilisation, we adopt laws that we don’t know how to follow.
For now, I believe that those who hold the levers of justice in Nigeria are not the courts, but the politicians. If you really need justice in the country, go to the politicians. They (politicians) appoint them (judges) and they put them there. So, the fate of many people in jail is determined by powerful people.
In my case, I got a six-month adjournment, one-year adjournment and five-year adjournment until a justice cried out. Even the DPP that was supposed to be responsible for the defence of innocent people was against the innocent man in prison.
There are reports that over 100 inmates are kept in one cell. Was that the situation in the Port Harcourt Correctional Service Centre where you were kept?
It also depends on the size of the rooms. There are small rooms with about 30 inmates. If you go to cells where condemned inmates stay, you will find at least four people there. How will they be able to stretch their legs when they sleep? That means the man that has been condemned will die many times before he eventually dies. The inmates stay in rooms with little or no ventilation. If you go there and see them, you will pity them. The place is very dirty except for those rooms the non-governmental organisations and others fix in efforts to make the place habitable.
The little improvement that occurred at the Port Harcourt custodial centre when I was there was done by me and a few fellow inmates. I also encouraged many of the inmates and workers to further their education.
How many of them were you able to encourage to go to school?
They were more than 50; some of them even went to a seminary. They got their certificates and were promoted. You can go there and verify what I am saying. However, I expect President Bola Tinubu to break this jinx and put the prisons in the country in good shape. One person can decide to make a name for himself and give Nigerians what they want.
You mentioned four years ago that you were diabetic. How have you been able to manage this health condition?
That is also a problem. A few days ago, I fell on the ground. This was due to a shortage of blood. If I had the opportunity, I would have shown you my medical report because my blood level is not normal. Why is it so? It is because I don’t get good food. It was a group of people that sent me some money to get medical treatment in the hospital. I have been taking my diabetes drugs, but for the past one week, I have been sick.
Have you been able to locate and take ownership of some of your property after you were released from prison?
There is none to locate. How do you locate it? They have been sold.
Were they buildings or parcels of land?
They were landed property. I had to even run away from the village when I noticed they wanted to do away with me. But I just thank God for bringing people who helped me. It shows God can use people to help those who genuinely repented. But for those who took my property, I just leave them to God. It is God who knows how to judge or forgive them. If I come across them, I will only preach the gospel to them. That’s all.
If you have the financial capacity, what type of business do you have in mind?
In addition to the work of God, I will go into agriculture, large-scale farming and food business. It will be a food centre where all sorts of African food will be sold