After Long Years – A True Life Story, Part Two
After twenty six years of imprisonment with hard labor at Onitsha convict prison, Mr. Onyia’s hair became grey, his motion was less and body bent. He said little, all his good humor as guitarist went out of him and no laugh ever came out from his lips. His leisure time was given to religion, particularly prayers. From time to time, newcomers were admitted into the prison to serve their time. In the prisoners’ leisure time, they performed what they called the “Indoctrination Ceremony” in which every prisoner told others the offense he committed before the sentence. One of the latest inmates, a habitual criminal, known as “Dangerous Corner” told his fellow prisoners how he was sent to the prison. He said that he hired a bicycle from a bicycle repairer and failed to return same on the day agreed upon. That the owner reported to police and he was arrested. He was charged to court for stealing. Due to the flexibility of the law, a case of conversion was established and the law found against him. He was sent to prison for one year with hard labor. He regretted that he once did do something very grievous and wrong and might well have been sent to prison then or sentenced to death but that time, no one got him. He said that he maneuvered everything and an innocent man was punished. “Now they sent me here for nothing at all,” he concluded.
Mr. Onyia diplomatically asked the newcomer if ever he heard about a sensational murder case involving a trader. He said yes but that was a long time ago. Mr. Onyia said, “For the wrongs I have not done, I have been in prison these twenty six years.” He narrated how someone had put a trader to death and had then put his knife into his bag and he had been made to take the punishment. The newcomer was surprised and the way he stumbled over words left much to be desired. On hearing the remarks from newcomer, Mr. Onyia was certain that this was the man responsible for the trader’s death or at least, he knew something about it. In any event, he camouflaged his feelings.
One silent night, Mr. Onyia caught Dangerous Corner red handed making a hole on the wall of their ward through which he would escape. He told Mr. Onyia, to keep quiet, and Mr. Onyia would get out with him. If you give me away, I’ll be put to death, but I‘ll make a dead man of you first. Mr. Onyia replied to Dangerous Corner, “I have no desire to get away. As for making a dead man of me, you did that a long time back.”
One day, the superintendent of prison in his official inspection of the wards, saw a half made hole on the wall inside the ward occupied by Mr. Onyia, Dangerous Corner and other prisoners. He questioned the inmates and all denied knowledge of such a scandalous propensity. Mr. Onyia, as the oldest prisoner with the longest term, was invited to the office for further questioning.
He answered the authorities; it is not in my power to say, sirs. Do with me whatever you desire; I am in your hands. Further cross examination from the Correctional Officer was found to be pointless. He said no more and so the matter was dropped.
That night, Mr. Onyia was only half sleeping and occasionally, in a trance, when Dangerous Corner came quietly and took a seat on his bed. Apart from the dwindling and dwarfed impression he has lately formed about Dangerous Corner he did not want him to thank him for the way he concealed from the authorities what Dangerous Corner did to the wall of their ward. Religion has taught him that in the philosophy of life, virtue must thrive against vice. He knew that God, who sees in private will recompense him for the word of good he did a fellow prisoner.
Although his suspicion on Dangerous Corner was gathering momentum, he knew that God says revenge not for vengeance is mine. In any event, Mr. Onyia objected to his sitting on his bed. But Dangerous Corner said; do not be angry with me, He told Mr. Onyia that he would call the Correction Officer to confess to the crime.
“It was I who gave the trader his death blow with my knife that night. I was about to do the same with you but there was a noise outside, so I put the knife in your bag and got away through the window, although I entered your own room through a connecting ceiling.” Humbled before Mr. Onyia, he begged him to forget and forgive him and promised to make his confession before the prison authorities, so that they would set Mr. Onyia free. With big strain and cracked voice Mr. Onyia told him that for over twenty six years, his existence had been a living death because of him. He said that his wife has married another man and his children no longer had any memory of him.
Finally, he said he had nowhere to go and no house to lay his head since the government confiscated all his landed property after his case, a long time back.
Notwithstanding what Mr. Onyia said in tears and pain, Dangerous Corner still went to the prison authorities and said that he was the one who had put the trader to death in a hotel at Onitsha eastern Nigeria, twenty six years ago, but unfortunately, the law imprisoned an innocent man, who had been suffering ever since. But when the authorities came to release Mr.Onyia from prison, as he has been exonerated, they saw that Mr.Onyia had kicked the bucket (died) because of heart failure arising from remorse of conscience for long suffering for what he did not do. “In dead, sweet are the uses of adversity but not to the extent someone meets his death on account of a case, he knew nothing about except that circumstance made him a scape goat.”