–Andrew Ukuesa, a rubber tapper who spent 43 months behind bars for an offence he claims he did not commit.
Thirty eight year old Andrew Ukuesa, may not be a literary buff, but given the opportunity to etch out the story of is life, he would settled for a banner of immense literary and moral values: “Saved by the finger of God”.
This he says is an apt representation of what happened to him, a few year ago in his hometown, Oghara, in the Ethiope local government area of Delta State.
Andrew, then a rubber tapper with a local firm, Pamol Nigeria Limited, was forced to take up a lead but inglorious role in a frame-up case that almost took his life. Though he eventually escaped death from that plot, Andrew spent 43 months in jail.
He never forgets these bitterest parts of is life: “I left a pregnant wife for jail, named my child from prison and lost my mother while in jail. I never knew she was dead until several months later.”.
His experience in incarceration was so traumatic that he almost took a plunge from the storey building where he was initially detained.
He saw other innocent people being roped in by diabolical means, inmates dying beside him on a regular basis and then the heinous crimes that even some of the hardened criminals were committing in custody.
As an alleged offender arrested for the first time for stealing, he concluded that the best thing was for him to commit suicide. He never got the chance to do so.
“first, my accusers preferred a case of stealing against me then they changed to burglary and stealing. I was taken to Asaba Police headquarters. They handed me over to eth anti-robbery squad with ain intention to execute me, but God delivered me. “.
Things happened in quick succession that today, when he remembers, rather than cursing and threatening a revenge, he smiles and raises his hand to heaven in worshipful appreciation.
The wicked plot was hatched on March 19, 1995 at 9am. His youthful wife, Rosemary had come to his office to inform him that a neighbour was announcing in the compound that he Andrew had stolen his property.
Promptly, Andrew obtained permission from work and retuned home. the woman was nowhere to be found, but he reported the matter to the landlord, who appealed to him to cool down and promised to handle the matter.
Five days later, Andrew was woken from sleep by sporadic knocks on his door at about 5.30 am.
“I opened the door to see this same woman. I asked her in and offered her a seat, but she refused. Instead, she said she had come to retrieve her property”.
By now, Andrew was enraged but before he could react, his wife Rosemary sprang from the bed and pounced on the woman. Andrew did not know that her husband too was lurking outside. As he pushed the two fighting woman outside, the man rushed him and a free-for-all ensued. The neighbourhood was stirred.
When the news got to the traditional ruler, Chief Umukoro, he invited the feuding neighbours to his place for settlement. Before answering he call, Andrew had gone to a nearby drugs store to treat his bruises. It was there that his accuser arrived with the police and another man.
“it was then the whole plot dawned on me, because I remembered the man to be a belt seller, who had earlier fought with my friend and I because my friend tried to bent one of his belts in an attempt to find out whether they were original. So, it was to get back at me that the belt seller conspired with the woman to implicate me”.
At the Mosuga police station, a case of stealing was preferred against Andrew, thus began his travails, from what he initially thought to be a small matter.
He had seen criminal charges levelled against other innocent people around before. Such charges may have been brought against them because they dared to stand up for their rights, or for dragging girl friends with others, but never bargained for such for myself”.
Incidentally, he neither knew anybody nor had the money to ward off any such incrimination. Before he knew it, the case had begun to move from one police station to another, while the charge was similarly changed to burglary and stealing. All the while, the file too was flying and Andrew did not know.
“Eventually, I was taken to the Asaba police headquarters”, he asserts. “The y wanted to hand me over to the anti-robbery squad. Andrew was practically forgotten.
“the intention was to have me executed there, but luckily for me, b the time we got there, the squad had gone on patrol”.
They still planned to keep him under close watch, but again, God intervened.
GOD AT WORK
In the middle of taking his statement, the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) abruptly dropped his pen, declining any further interest in the case. Somehow, a written not came from the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) instructing that he should be taken to A Division of the force, on Market Road where he was to spend two weeks.
“Now as I think over the whole matter, I can see God working above all those people and their plans. Een when I was sent to the tribunal, I never knew the female lawyer that took up my case. There was no money anywhere to pay legal fees but she kept appearing to defend me”.
When eventually she stopped coming and Andrew was practically forgotten in th prison. Then began a new regime of experience for him. How could he cope with the criminals.
“I was just dumped there in the robbery cell. I was fed up of life. I was deeply touched by the way I had been framed up and for robbery ofall things. I would spend all night thinking. If just thinking could kill, I would have died then. I was planning to plunge to death from the cell, which is upstairs. But since God still wanted me alive, the next day, they changed my position and brought me down.”.
HOPE FROM GOD
Rather than the anticipated harsh treatment, other inmates sympathised with Andrew. This he traces to the sincere appreciation of his circumstance. Somehow, they were able to establish that he did not commit the offence.
“God also gave me hope. In the prison, pastors used to come from outside to preach to us. I saw other innocent people also being held but the word of God I was hearing from the pastor gave me hope”.
Gradually, he began to follow the devotional instructions and soon discovered an inner peace that overrode the harrowing conditions around him.
He particularly was enraged by the sight of some of the inmates committing sodomy and remembers that the chief architect of the practice used to use food to lure the others into the act.
One of them had to be stripped naked one day, rubbed with charcoal, chained and whipped.
“I remember also the days that the police came to take 18 inmates away to face the firing squad, and I was overcame with fear. It was harrowing experience and I was afraid that I might be shut one day”, but such a day never came.
He found himself climbing hills and crossing rivers, but because he never got stuck, hope began to well up in him. And then, he was made the president of the prison.
By this time, Andrew had stabilised in bible study, having gained from the teachings of the visiting pastor.
Then came September 27, 1998, and he was taken to court for what was to be the last judgement.
“I could hardly steady my thoughts because I had forsaken the things of this world. All I could hear when the lengthy judgment was being read was “in the favour of the accused and a faint impression of the tumultuous crowd that had gathered to listen to the case. Then the next thing I heard was that “the accused is hereby discharged and acquitted. Then, I lost control of myself. I fell on the ground, rolling and weeping instead of rejoicing.”.
A camera crew had closed in on him and without thinking through the question of how he felt upon being released, he said: “ I thank God that he has delivered me. And the man asked me whether I had forgiven my accusers, I said, “With all my heart”.
“Then he asked me: ‘now that you have been delivered, what next?’, I said I was going to work for God”.
The same things which he said then without thinking about them have come to pass. Andrew, a member of the Trinity apostolic Church in Mile 12 is also undergoing pastoral training at the Yaba-based Calvary Bible School.
“The greatest consolation to me is that throughout my three-year jail travail, my wife waited for me. Many women would have run away. I remember on day like that, I was asking her how faithful to me she was and whether she could afford to wait if for any reason, I had to travel for long. She did not only say she would, but actually demonstrated it during the period of my incarceration”.