During Luka Binniyat incarceration at the Kaduna central prison, now correctional facility. Two possibilities were obvious: Binniyat would have served a maximum of six years on two offences, which would run concurrently if found guilty. He was before a judge, now late, known more then as “The hatched man.” The other was a conditional freedom from his accusers.
The prerequisite for freedom demands that Binniyat penned a letter of apology to the Kaduna state government. It would then guaranteed his freedom; to walk away free and not be walled again or scramble for the daily square meter space to lay his “stubborn” head in his stinking, lice and mosquitoes infested-prison cell.
A certain day in 2018, Barr. Sam Atung phoned this reporter from Abuja and broke the news of how some senior citizens of Southern Kaduna extraction had embarked on a diplomatic shuttle to secure Binniyat’s release. He added that the Kaduna state government acceded to their plea for release but with a caveat that he must write a letter of apology to the state government.
I wasn’t excited about the offer. Not that I didn’t share in the pain of Luka; every second of his unjust incarceration was painful to me, but I had my reservation on the conditional offer of freedom for him. Thought, most comrades in the Southern Kaduna struggle at that time were electrified by the news. Like a hunger-stricken baby to his mom’s succulent breast, they were, but I didn’t buy it. The cherry news stuck half-way in my middle ear. I refused to let it sink into my oxygenated brain because I knew, certainly, Binniyat wouldn’t jump at the offer.
Meanwhile, Atung concluded the phone call by promising to call me as soon as he returns to Kaduna. He did. Himself and late Barr. Reuben James (former leader of the Southern Kaduna Lawyers Forum), invited me and we had a conversation. They tasked me to visit Binniyat at the prison and share the information with him and sought for his opinion.
I went to the prison a dispassionate man and met Binniyat but, contrary to sane expectations, I didn’t talk about the caveat, rather, we talked about sundry issues that bordered on his case. I was absolutely sure he will take the freedom offered with a pinch of salt. Secondly, I knew I wouldn’t accept a caveat after spending over 80 days in prison if I was in Binniyat’s shoe. Thirdly, I wanted Atung and James to discover the other side of Binniyat for themselves.
Life, they say, isn’t exactly a bowl of cherries. This saying crystalized when I jokingly asked Binniyat, “what have you missed the most in the outer world?” And he replied, “My daily chilled bottle of Star (lager beer),” I squawked and made a repulsive remark: “It seems you have not learned any lesson yet.” Did they bring me here to teach me a lesson or denied me my freedom,”? He asked. He concluded, “If it is to teach me a lesson, they have failed, woefully, I will remain the same man of conscious that I am.” In the words of the great philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, “He that is taken and put into prison or chains is not conquered, though overcome; for he is still an enemy.”
Having left the prison premises, I reverted to the legal luminaries and advised them on the need to go back to prison the next day to see the prisoner themselves. The next day, myself, Atung and James went back to prison and met Binniyat. Here comes the tipping point. Atung took the center stage and explained our mission to him. As soon as Atung asked Binniyat if he will accept a caveat offered by the government and write a letter of apology. Immediately the mood that greeted the atmosphere died out as Binniyat countenance went through an instantaneous alchemy. He was outraged as if gasoline was poured into a flaming inferno. And my doubt about the caveat, at least, was corroborated.
Seconds after Atung finished his narration, Binniyat unequivocally rejected the offer. “I rather serve the prison term than to apologize. Highest I will serve 6 years. It is not about me, it is about a whole race, I want to sacrifice myself for this struggle. No, no, I won’t,” he said. He replied while nodding his head in stark disapproval. At that moment, all hopes were jerked up to entropy.
But Atung added: “As lawyers, we are trained to lay all the options to our clients for them to make a decision and choose from the options. It is you that is in prison and it is you that knows how it feels to be here. Since you chose not to apologise, you have earned my respect.”
Binniyat refusal was the fag end of the day, not because I expected the outcome to be otherwise but, because all the people involved in delivering the message: the duo of Reuben James and Atung who took time off their business schedules left prison without a welcoming outcome and the elders who buried their pride and pleaded on behalf of Binniyat did it out of sincerity.
Binniyat didn’t only shove aside the “kind gesture” (was it actually a kind gesture? After spending 93 days behind bars over a bailable offence?). Nay, Binniyat ward off the chance to apologize. He rejected the caveat so that justice can flourish. He touted himself as being adapted to life in prison already.
How to bend those arrogant knees was a plausible conundrum to all interested parties and the desire to reunite Binniyat with his family was rejected by Binniyat himself. Though, we walked out of the prison as diplomats who couldn’t broker a fresh deal and Binniyat remained chained to his conviction by refusing to apologise, we knew we had done our best.