SPENDING DECADES AWAITING TRIAL: A DIFFERENT PAINFUL KIND OF BRAIN DRAIN IN NIGERIA.

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Wole stood with his hands gripping the iron bars of his cell. His cell. He felt the urge to laugh, briefly wondering when he had started thinking of anything in this stinking place as ‘his.’

He decided to cut himself some slack. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to feel that way. After all, he had been there for years now. Years he could have been spent with his son, Bode; training him, loving him, telling him wonderful moonlight stories, holding him when he had an injury, supervising his assignments. So many phases of his son’s life had gone by in the years he had spent here. Drinking stale garri; eating hardened yams with rough edges still embedded in them; swallowing squishy semolina accompanied with the kind of egusi soup he never imagined could exist. Ah, egusi; his once favorite soup now turned to his worst feeding experience.

Wole thought back to the days he used to love egusi. He would go to his office in the morning and leave for home in the evening with a smile of anticipation on his face, particularly on Fridays. No amount of hangouts with the boys was worth missing his favorite meal. In his early years in the jail, he would often wonder, in rare amusement, if his Iyawo hadn’t intentionally decided to always cook his favorite food on Fridays in order to prevent him from staying out late on Fridays. He wouldn’t put it past her, that smart woman.

He started to smile but stopped as a foul stench invaded the air without permission. He truly wondered when he would get used to the odor of the jail. Sometimes, he felt positive that the fact that he still blanched at the foul smell meant he wasn’t completely gone yet. Many had become insane in their cells. Insanity that was mostly fueled by the wicked uncertainty of not knowing their fate and worse, not knowing if they would ever know their fate. Other times, like now, he wished he had become completely used to the offending stench so that it wouldn’t have the power to interrupt his thoughts; his wishes; his hope.

Wole decide to not the give the smell any more attention and instead focus on his thoughts. It was funny how life could change so quickly. He had been arrested by 9 p.m and as he was led out of the bar, he had glanced at the wall clock and had thought to himself, ‘By 8:45 p.m today, I was still a free man. How I wish I could go back.’

A small brawl in the beer parlor had escalated in the twinkle of an eye and before Wole could form any rational decision, the shirts of two men had been soaked in their own blood, their legs wide apart on the concrete floor, the beer parlor ominously deserted. Wole had been quite inebriated by then but not to point of not knowing whether or not he had killed someone. Anyway, the police had not cared about that. He was there. The shop owner was there. Broken glasses were everywhere. The dead men couldn’t tell who killed them. No one else could tell the police who killed them. As such, no investigation was carried out and they were both imprisoned. And for fourteen years, they had been awaiting trial in a jail they didn’t belong in.

Many Nigerians have relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbors who either have stories similar to Wole’s or they know someone who is in Wole’s position.

It is most painful to realize that as thousands of Nigerians are looking for ways to escape the country and contribute their human resource elsewhere, many more who could contribute to the society positively are wasting away in jail cells, while awaiting trial. Meanwhile, top embezzlers and murderers of the country are allowed to roam around the country and spew lies as long as they belong to the ruling party.

The men and women who have been unfairly spending years in jail are people’s children, spouses, family members who could have been adding to the GDP of the country.

Many people complain of the brain drain that happens when ambitious Nigerians get their long-awaited visas to developed and sometimes developing countries just so they can have a better life. A life where they are sure of a stable salary; premium healthcare and security; uninterrupted education and power supply and their pensions not being stolen by greedy, wicked public servants. Who can then blame them for running away and draining the country off their talents, gifts and innovations?

Nevertheless, allowing innocent citizens to wallow in jail cells while the money that should be used to fund their fair trials is being squandered atrociously; while their dreams are being stifled; while their families groan; while their children grow up without their guidance and their business and career ideas never see the light of day is a most pathetic, crushing evil form of brain drain.

And I truly hope it ends soon; for the individuals and the nation involved.