Embattled member of the House of the Representatives, Hon. Farouk Lawan on Friday passed his first day in Kuje Maximum Prisons, Abuja, amid tight security provided by the military and mobile policemen.
His presence in the prison has also turned it to a beehive of activities as dignitaries, especially his associates thronged the prison yesterday to empathise with him.
A black jeep entering the premises of the Kuje prison signaled the arrival of an important personality. Little did the armed guards of the Nigeria Prisons Service know who was in the car… Until a man in white flowing gown appeared. Then they knew it was Farouk Lawan, the erstwhile chairman of the House of Representatives committee that probed the oil subsidy regime.
A Very Important Personality (VIP), Farouk Lawan was accompanied with a remand warrant ordering his detention in Kuje prison as an Awaiting Trial Man (ATM) with clear instruction that he should be produced before Justice Madashiru Oniyangi of Abuja High Court on February 8.
Lawan and the secretary of his committee, Boniface Emenalo, were charged for allegedly demanding and collecting bribe of $620,000 amounting to N97.4 million from a business mogul, Chief Femi Otedola, during the committee’s probe sittings.
Shortly after Lawan and Emenalo alighted from the vehicle, a prison officer collected the warrant from a plain-clothed security man who escorted the accused persons to the prison.
After reading through the warrant, he turned and knocked at the iron gate of the prison. Someone from inside peeped from a small opening and the guard outside asked him to open the gate. The officer on the other side opened the gate.
Farouk, who looked very sad was forcing a smile on his face and waved twice at the small crowd of prison officials who were standing outside and gazing at him. Lawan only stared into space and shook his head in disbelief. As he slowly walked into the prison, the guard and other non-armed security personnel on the entourage filed in behind him.
A prison official who played a vital role in processing the admission of Farouk Lawal into the prison disclosed that the procedures of Farouk and Boniface’s admission were carried out in the office of the officer-In-charge of the prison.
"Our O/C tried to calm them down, explaining to them that several prominent Nigerians had been remanded in that prison and were released. He was very optimistic that they would also regain their freedom ultimately.
"He pleaded with them to relax their minds and cooperate with the prison officials, assuring them that they would not regret their stay with us. They were not given any prison uniforms to wear. The Awaiting Trial Men (ATM) also have their uniforms differents from convicts. But they were not given uniforms," the source said.
The source added, however, that Lawan’s flowing gown, cap, wristwatch, shoes and other personal belongings, like phones and money, were all collected from him and deposited with the welfare unit of the prison.
When the process of his admission was completed, Lawan was seen escorted from the reception/administrative block into the main prison yard.
It was learnt that Lawan was not ushered into the main ATM cell. "He is being kept at the Condemned Criminal Cell (CCC), which is housing both their various jail terms. The CCC is targeted as the VIP section of the prison where we keep important personalities and people we consider to be of good character," it was gathered.
While the main cells contain inmates in their hundreds, the CCC contains only two persons at a time. In addition to that gesture, Lawan and a few other inmates at the CCC have their cells open 24 hours a day.
"Even when we leave their cells open, they cannot go out; they can only come out of the cell to the corridors that are fenced round with iron rods.
"Not every ATM in the prison has a mattress, but we were able to get mattresses for the two of them. The prison authorities provide three square meals for every inmate in this prison. But, I saw people bring food for him from outside. Eating the prison food is optional. He also made provision for bucket, cup and soap for himself," a source said.
Thus, the officials of the prisons have reportedly granted Lawan the privilege of eating the food brought by his family members.
"Prisons authorities do not allow a single person in a cell, be it VIP or ordinary cell, for security reasons. In fact, he has been allocated a room where he will no doubt sleep on a double bunk bed with a fan," the source added.
When the reporter returned to the prison yesterday and had access to the yard, Farouk was seen at one of the CCC cells at a 'V' shaped block leading to the main ATM cell before the convicts' cell.
Though from outside the corridors the reporter could see through Lawan’s room and the water system toilet in it, it was not, however, clear if he was alone in the cell room or sharing it with another inmate.
"Every cell at the CCC has a toilet and as you can see, nobody can use curtains or anything to cover his window or door. They are all made of iron rods so that we can see from here everything happening in the cell. But the inmates cannot use the toilets in their cells as there is not enough water to always flush. They come out of the cells to use the toilets at the corridor," the cell guard said.
Another guard outside the prison yard said that he saw Farouk Lawal join other Muslim convicts to say their afternoon prayer in the mosque built behind his cell room, adding, the laws are relaxed for him. That is what they do to most responsible inmates that 'will not make any attempts to escape'.
The two lawmakers will remain in the prison till February 8, 2013 when the matter would come up for hearing.