When you hear Kirikiri, you think prison; but there is more to the sprawling community tucked in between Apapa and a Lagos Lagoon tributary. Residents share their experience with Gboyega Alaka.
It was Nyma Akashat-Zibiri, co-host of TVC’s popular breakfast show, Your View, who not too long ago, described the road leading to Kirikiri Town, the small community that plays host to Nigeria’s most ‘popular’ prison, as totally neglected and a sample of the neglect and squalour that may exist in the prison itself. Nyma was responding to a hot topic on the decrepit state of the prisons and dehumanising condition the inmates have to put up with.
This was therefore the first thing this reporter paid attention to, as he negotiated his way over the Berger/Kirikiri Flyover towards the sprawling community. One could say the town is divided into three parts, with the prisons yard taking a huge chunk. The prison houses the Minimum Prison, the Female prison and the Maximum prison. Naturally, it also houses the warders’ apartments. Ironically, it appears to be the only sane atmosphere in this environment, as the houses are endowed with lots of space on either side. Even the major road, which passes through the yard, linking the Navy Town Southwards, though a shadow of its old self, is by far the sanest road to drive in the vicinity.
Aside the fact that it is still strong, car drivers don’t have to contend with fuel tankers or any other articulated vehicles or bad roads. There is also minimal human traffic, and the Okada (motorcycles) and Marwa (Tricycle) riders licensed to ferry passengers on the road, en route Navy Town, are orderly, giving an inkling, ironically, to the kind of society the nation could well if individuals only but comport themselves and conform to rules. The fear of Kirikiri prisons, one may say.
The prison also retains a great deal of nature, with trees and greens remaining in place and giving it that much sought-after rural life in a bustling township.
Collapsed fence all over
With the appellation, ‘Maximum prison’ attached to the prisons, one is likely to expect tall, unassailable fences all around the facility, but this is not so. A walk around revealed that most part of the perimetre fence had collapsed and one could see right into the compound. In place of the fences have evolved stalls upon stalls, lining up the perimeter area, with people selling all sorts of things, ranging from pepper and other food ingredients such as vegetable, meat; there are also a number of people selling second-hand clothes, second-hand shoes, a couple of beer parlours and even Friday, who sells gas.
A young man, Uchenna, who appeared to be timid, told this reporter that most of those selling on the edge of the prison fence are wives and family members of the prison warders.
It is important to note however, that the broken fences do not in any way indicate porosity of the prisons proper, as their fences remain unassailable, whether minimum or maximum, and fully secured, by tough-looking, fully armed policemen.
Putting it literally, Kirikiri Prisons Yard can be said to be as close to Kirikiri Township as the skin is to the neck. Yet the town is an exact opposite when juxtaposed with the orderliness that obtains within the prisons community. As hinted earlier, the houses are closely knit, with most of the streets narrow, marshy and filthy. Only Cardoso Street, which leads to the tank farms on the bank of the Lagoon tributary, is laid with cobble stones. But the Baale of the community, Chief Waidi Sunmonu Agunbiade II, is quick to explain that this was done by the oil companies to facilitate the movement of their numerous tankers, else they would not have any road to ply.
Like its Olodi-Apapa/Coconut neighbour, Kirikiri town also suffers greatly from the ‘invasion’ of fuel tankers. Since the nation sank to its present state of over-reliance on imported refined petroleum products, the Apapa axis has come under serious ‘assault’ and degradation. During one of this reporter’s visit, the entire stretch of Karimu Street, which borders the prison was lined with fuel tankers. Aside shielding the numerous petty traders from potential customers, Uchenna says they constitute serious risk, as fire incident may occur at any time.
Fear of explosion
Uchenna’s fear is corroborated by Chibuzor, a middle-aged man, who says, “What we fear most is the problem of explosion. The fear of fire. As you can see, the town has now been taken over by petroleum operators; if you drive downwards, you are bound to see lots of tank farms, where they store petrol and other petroleum products. If there is explosion, where do we run to? As you’re coming in, I’m sure you noticed that the only exit route, should there be disaster, is also loaded with petrol tankers and other trailers. So if fire breaks out on one end, how do we escape?
Chibuzor, who is about settling down to a game of drought this mild afternoon, continues, “Not too long ago, there was a fire explosion in one of the tank farms and you really need to be here to see the panic on our faces. It was like Armageddon, with everybody running for dear life, until God took control and the fire was put out.”
In response to whether prisoners ever try to escape and if there have been shootings on account of the prison, Chibuzor says, “No, that doesn’t happen. Everything is fine. The town is peaceful. As you can see, we’re enjoying our little game of drought. Prisoners don’t escape. In fact, I have never witnessed any occasion where prisoners are escaping or there is shooting.”
Another resident, Joel, who says he is an industrialist, also agrees that the tankers constitute great nuisance to the community. “Do you know that sometimes, we spend up to three hours trying to get out of this community? And it is the same thing when we’re coming back.”
On whether he enjoys living in a prison town, Joel says he is okay with the place: “People vary. Some may like it while others may not. I don’t stay out late, so I don’t expose myself to unnecessary danger. I have lived here for some time but I have never heard gun exchanges on account of prisoners’ escaping. The fact that the place is peaceful however does not mean that if you look for trouble, you will not get it.”
Eberechukwu, who sells vegetables and other food ingredients along Karimu Street implored this reporter to help tell the government that the community has no good road. That, she said, is the major lack they suffer, plus the gridlock caused usually by the fuel tankers.
She called the attention of this reporter to a high tension electricity pole, dangerously hanging over her stall. “A trailer hit it sometime ago and since then, we’ve been begging the PHCN people to come and rectify it, but they have so far not done anything about it. The other day, they came, looked at it; they even filmed and photographed it, but that is the last we saw of them.”
On security, she says the community is secured. “The security here is tight; and if any thief dares come to try his luck here, he will surely be caught. The other day, a thief, who had stolen a tyre further down the street, tried to steal a phone over there and was caught, severely beaten and handed over to the police.
In the same vein, Friday, who sells gas on the perimetre of the prisons, says the community is peaceful and the prisoners do not in any way disturb the community or constitute nuisance. “They go their own way and we go our own.”
As if to put a lie to most of the residents claim that warders no longer take the prisoners to town to work, this reporter suddenly came across a group of prisoners, dressed in all blue catcalling this reporter for money, as they were being led to God-knows-where.
The industrial estate
On the right side of the prisons is the industrial estate. The road leading into this side of the town is well-tarred and still strong. Beginning with Dillion Street, you get a feeling this part of town is not a part of the neglect, which the Baale and other residents have spoken so much about. It is on this axis that you find the office of The Sun newspaper, Bollore Shipping, Choscharis Motors Limited, Sodik Electrical and Engineering Ltd, Karflex Fisheries Ltd, to mention a few.
Containers also seems to be everywhere here. So while the other side could be tagged a tanker depot, this side of town could very well be tagged a container terminal. Little wonder the whole entrance is always locked down by containers and tankers.