Prison

…Convicted twice, escaped being lynched

…Discovered real talents in prison

By Henry Ojelu

In 2010, when some of his mates were already in the University, David Aremo, who  was commuted at 18, had just become one of the youngest inmates at the Kirikiri prison in Lagos having been found guilty and sentenced to three months for stealing. Aremo’s short stay at the prison was supposed to reform him, but he ended up being lured into the real world of crime by criminals in the prison.

In this edition of Encounter, Aremo shares his tortuous journey from a young innocent bright child to the dark world of crime and how his 10 years residency in the prison eventually helped him discover his true talents.  

Background

I am from Ondo State but born in Lagos. I am the first child among four siblings. I used to be very brilliant and smart in school and was doing fine until JSS 2 when I began to experience challenges with my studies. My father was having serious financial challenges when I was in primary school, so I stayed at home for a long time before proceeding to secondary school. By the time I finally got into a public school, I was not doing well in my studies.

Sometimes, my siblings and I will go to school without food. We had to trek a long distance to school because there was no money for transport. It was really very difficult for my family back then. As I continued to face challenges in school, what was on my mind was how to just quickly make money so by the time I was in SS1, I had already started flirting with bad gangs within and outside school. We would always hang out at the back of the school. Eventually I was not able to pass my WAEC. Immediately I got out of school, I became a street boy full time and started making money by any means.

First Crime

I did all manners of jobs including factory work, but I wasn’t really making the kind of money I wanted. In 2010, I started working with a man who owned a car shop along Obanikoro area of Lagos. I was in charge of sales and taking money to the bank for deposit. A guy I was living with then convinced me that I should steal my employer’s money so one day after sales; I stole N300, 000 from the daily sales and ran away. My initial intention was to use the money to rent an apartment but I eventually squandered the money in a hotel where I lodged with friends. Some days later, my friends went to tell my boss where I lodged and I was arrested by the police. About N60,000 was left from the money after I was caught. I was detained at the police station for three days before I was arraigned in court. During the trial at Oshodi Magistrates Court, I pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three months in prison.

Welcome to prison

I thought my life was bad, but when I got into the prison, it got worse. Initially, I was scared when I got into the prison at 18 years but when I finally settled down, I discovered it was hell. As a small boy, I became an errand boy for other inmates and was always washing clothes for them as a means of survival. I was totally neglected by my family as no one visited me while I was there.

Prison bedtime stories

We had a tradition in prison back then where every night, an inmate would share his story and how he ended up in the prison. I was always fascinated by the stories I heard during those sessions and learnt a lot of bad things I didn’t know before. Some inmates told us stories of how they went to Cotonou and bought guns and made big money renting it out to other criminals.

Some said they made over N5million through gun trading. Some inmates also shared the tricks on how they successfully carried out their operations. After hearing different fascinating stories, I made up my mind that immediately I leave the prisons, I will get a gun and start real robbery operations. 

Back to Ghetto

After I was released, nobody cared about me. I  roamed  the streets and slept anywhere I found myself at night. I started frequenting Akala ghetto in the Mushin area and made some friends there. It was during that time that I started smoking and drinking. I later met a guy who had been to prison and we became friends. He advised me that if we can get a gun that we would make real money robbing people. Immediately he said that there was this inner drive for me to get a gun.

My father back then was a security guard, so one day, after everyone had left our house, I went and ransacked the house until I found the locally hand-made gun my father used for his security work. There was no bullet in it but immediately I showed it to my friend , he was very excited. I kept pestering him that we should go out and use the gun, but he asked me to relax and wait for the right time.

First armed robbery

The second day after I got the gun, I went in search of shops in the Ojuelegba area where I could rob anybody and get money. I  surveyed the area until I found a shop where they sold phones and laptops. I returned and told my friend who later joined me on the mission to rob the shop. When we entered the shop, I had this strange fear in me. The initial boldness that the gun gave me disappeared. When my friend pointed the gun at the owner of the shop, I immediately began to pack the phones into a big bag. I also collected the money in the shop.

At some point, I didn’t know what came over me because while my friend was still pointing the gun at the woman, I suddenly ran outside with the bag of phones. I  kept running. It was strange because people around there saw when I ran out whereas my friend was still in the shop pointing a gun at the woman. Some people ran after me and caught me somewhere around the Ojuelegba bridge. My friend was also apprehended inside the shop. We were seriously beaten and were about to lynch us ,as some people got tyres and put it on our necks to burn us. While, they were looking for fuel, the Baale in the area came to our rescue. He insisted that we should not be lynched and called the Police at Itire Police station and took us away. If not for that Baale, I would have been dead by now.  

Almost killed by SARS

From Itire Police station,we were transferred to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, Ikeja. The experience I had in SARS detention completely changed my life and I vowed never to indulge in crime again. Some of the persons we were detained with were killed extra judicially. In the night, the SARS operatives would call a name and once the person answers, by the next minute the person would be shot at the back of the detention centre. I would have been killed there but for the grace of God. One night, I fell into a deep sleep and the officers kept calling my name but I didn’t respond. It was in the morning that one of them asked me if I didn’t hear my name in the night and I told him no. I later realized that I would have been dead if I had answered the call.

Return to prison

After four months in SARS, I was arraigned in court and remanded in the prison since the allegation against me was a capital offence. I returned to Kirikiri prison in August 2011, precisely one month after my first release. My armed robbery case was on trial for 8 years before I was eventually convicted. At some point, the trial did not make any progress so one day I just walked up to the prosecutor and pleaded with him that though I knew I was guilty but that I can’t fulfill my calling in the prison. The prosecutor had compassion on me and agreed to do a plea bargain and my sentence was reduced to 15 years in prison. After I was convicted, I returned to the prison with a clear mind of when I will be released and how I would live my life.

Resolve to change

After all the near death experiences that I had, I just told myself that I must change and become a better person. I can tell you from my experience that no good thing naturally comes to any one while in prison. If a bad person gets into prison, the person might become worse. The terrible conditions in the prisons make some inmates become worse than they were before they came in. It takes God and someone who is willing to be broken to experience positive change in the prison.

When I returned to the prison for the second time, I decided to go to church. While in the church prison on the first day, something told me that my place was at the music ministry section. I kept attending that church until one day, a man just beckoned on me to join the drama ministry. Over time, God  used me in the drama ministry so much  that inmates cried each time I performed. I also joined the choir and learnt how to play the piano. I eventually became the Head of the prisons Choir and Drama ministry and God did tremendous things during my ministrations. I also taught many inmates how to play instruments and act.

During my stay in the church, I discovered hidden talents I didn’t know I had all these while. In my quiet time, I like sketching things. With time, some inmates, prisons officers and visitors began to admire my drawings. I made small money from selling the artworks.   I believe God used the 10 years I spent in prison to mend me. I passed my WAEC while in prison. If not for some financial and administrative issues, I would have gained admission into the Open University while I was in the prisons. Although I was one of the youngest inmates in the prisons then, I was anointed as an Elder in the Church because of what God used me to do.

Anchor Heritage Intervention

“Anchor Heritage actually played a key role in what I am  today starting from the prison. The NGO often comes to the prison to teach inmates how to make paint. Aside from the training, they also taught us how to become better persons outside the prison. I keyed into their programme when I was released and they gave me tremendous assistance. The first accommodation I got was through the NGO, they also recommended and linked me up to a church that  I play music instruments for free.

“I have also completed a six month training in videography and photography under the after care innitiative of Anchor Heritage financed by one of their partners Life Enrichment Centre.”

Request for assistance

It has not been easy coping after my release but God is helping me. I did photography and video editing training to compliment my artistic talent, so presently I handle little jobs for people by covering their events. My dream is to have a real professional camera and possibly own a studio.  So my appeal is for well-meaning Nigerians to assist me rebuild my life and become a better person.

Support for Aremo can be sent to 3510054128, Eco Bank. David Oluwaseun Aremo.

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