My first daughter resembles me so much than I had wished. I wanted her to copy her mother’s beauty but she turned out to look like me.
Mimi, my daughter is also so attached to me more than her other siblings. She is my Ada (i.e first daughter). Most first daughters are closer to their dads than they are to their mums.
She had followed me to court a couple of times that the hearing dates of my matter fell on school holidays. She was in court when the case was adjourned for judgment; so, she knew the judgment date. But she had to go back to school before then. She is a boarder hence when the judge didn’t go well, I was relieved that she and her other siblings in boarding school would be carefully managed into the new reality when they closed for Christmas holidays.
My inquisitive daughter wouldn’t wait for her school to close by the weekend to hear the news of my acquittal from the court. A whole lot had been stalled by the court case that restricted my traveling overseas. My children were hoping for a family vacation abroad once the court freed me, the first since 2011.
I had promised my kids a France-UK-Rome-USA round trip and had already paid for it but all that had to be canceled in August 2012.
I had gone to EFCC to notify them that I would be traveling on the 10th of August with my family on vacation and would be away for a month. They immediately detained me and demanded my passport. They hurriedly arranged my casemates and me on 12 August 2012. It was like an ambush.
I had to cancel the tickets and hotel reservations to a huge disillusionment to my children.
It was this same court case that restrained me from resuming as the Managing Director of Orient Bank of Uganda in 2013. I had to decline the offer hoping for a better opportunity thereafter. It’s not good to go to a new place, a new country with controversial baggage. It was an opportunity that would have placed me higher in my banking profession than I am now. But as we tell the unfortunate in Nnewi, “do you know what God saved you by a lost opportunity”.
Back in her school, my daughter wanted to hear the good news, that the nightmare was over. I learned that she suddenly noticed a change in the attitude of her close friends especially the day-students. They appeared to have something to tell her but couldn’t voice it out. They had heard on Channels News about want to happen; that her father had been jailed for 5 years. She too was feeling something she couldn’t place.
My wife had visited my daughter in school a day after my conviction to drop materials she had requested via email. My daughter was surprised that her mum didn’t make any effort to see her. She tried to call me with a day student’s phone and I was not picking my calls.
When my daughter couldn’t bear it anymore she just found her way to the Internet. She typed my name and the story that greeted her made her shout and collapse into the hands of her friends who had been following her around like personal guards. She was wailing uncontrollably, making the school management to call her mum to come to pick her. Her other siblings were to break for Christmas by that weekend.
My direct supervisor and the acting managing director of my bank as he then was, did something that makes a staff become loyal to an organization for life and even in death. He called my wife that he would be visiting my home to explain what happened to my children, neighbors, and townsmen in Lagos.
That was novel and staff affairs management taken to another level! Some employers wouldn’t go this far. But Keystone Bank Ltd did. They did what an American or Israeli government would do for a family of a faithful soldier in captivity.
My Oga arrived at my house as scheduled. He told my kids that their father was not a criminal, that he had just encountered an occupational hazard, that I just sold a bank’s product and never compromised in any way, and that the bank would do all that was legally possible to secure my release. He assured them that they would lack nothing while I was away. That was reassuring enough. Suro, the bank did more than they promised, making my traditional ruler, my uncle to send them a letter of appreciation and commendation.
My Oga also addressed my neighbors and a score of Nnewi community mostly from Ezeoguine Royal Family in Lagos, telling them that my integrity was intact and that bank was pleased with me and could attest to my reputation and professionalism. He promised to get the best of the legal minds in Nigeria to argue my appeal up to the Supreme Court. He took all the anxious questions from my neighbors and townsmen and answered them to great applause. The meeting ended with an earthshaking prayer led by my priceless cousin and chairman of my extended family. He demanded a miracle from God.
My boss’s visit to my house and particularly his meeting with my children was very significant to me. The kids were already feeling disappointed in me. My son particularly would be wondering how come I was not practicing in my office what I preached at home. He is like me in radical thoughts. He questions the unquestionable.
I had at every opportunity taught my children the need for integrity, charity, and the gains in abhorring criminality as Mama Obiora, my mum, had taught me. I would boast to them that I could explain every asset I have. They had seen me on many occasions dash out those the used vehicles I no longer needed to relatives and strangers. I had flogged them mercilessly for little misbehaviors like taking anything they didn’t keep without permission. I was trying to be a perfect dad like most of the priests, pastors, and general overseers of Nigerian churches who look sinless and perfect. I hide my worst sides from my kids and manage not to commit professional lies in their presence.
One of the most painful parts of my court conviction was how my eldest daughter who I enjoined not to cheat in her upcoming GCE and SSCE exams would view me. Wouldn’t she think that I was a pretender who committed fraud in the secret and would preach holiness to her and her siblings like “solu okwu ọnụ m hapụ ije ụkwụ m” or “menemene n’iru kwọmpete n’azụ” (i.e a mark of an artful pretender).
The magnificent efforts of my office Ọga to sanctify or canonise me before my folks and a promise of an early resolution and my vindication didn’t entirely remove the trauma from my last child, a 13 year old.
Ọma, my last child resembles her mom but got all my good traits. She insisted on visiting me in prison. She wanted to talk to me. And she was obliged.
I was surprised to behold my entire household in prison on that fateful Sunday about 5 days after I was jailed. We had our family lunch together.
As I cleared my throat to explain to my children what happened and how I ended up in prison, they chorused “we already know, your MD was in our house”. And my 13 years old continued, “Daddy we are so proud of you. Never mind what has happened to you, you will come out celebrated”.
And I cried for the first time since I arrived at Kirikiri Maximum Prison.
I was broken.
I was amazed at the confidence with which my daughter spoke to me, how motherly she was, how convincing she was. She ended by saying “as you have always told us, “the just shall live by faith”. We shall continue praying for you so that you would soon be released sooner than you can imagine because you don’t belong here”.
I observed that my son was busy studying the entire prison environment as far as his gaze could go. I knew that he was diverting her mind not to focus on my ordeal. I had taught him “na nwoke na eli n’ude” meaning that “a real man masks his sorrow and doesn’t show the same by crying aloud”. He wanted to visit my cell. He wanted to check if it was hygienic. When I asking why he was more interested in the prison environment than my leaving the prison early he smiled and said, “Daddy I just wanted to know. By the way, your boss assured us that you would soon be out”, he said and continued his environmental scanning. “Boys would always be boys”, I enthused feeling happy that a man is being made out of him.
My first daughter was quiet all these while. She was moody and couldn’t successfully hide her sorrows. When I intently looked at her, she started sobbing making her siblings to reprimand her saying, “but we agreed that nobody will cry her. If you cry now what do you expect Daddy to do?” And we, including my wife, all cried as a relief and dessert for the family lunch we ate.
They stayed with me up till 5 pm and left.
It became a ritual of a family visit and lunch every Saturday and Sunday until they all returned to school. My children left with an assurance to pray me out of prison. We were spiritually confident that my appeal slated for April 23, 2020, would end in my favor.
All of a sudden, Coronavirus menace became pandemic and was spreading fast in Nigeria. The president had to lockdown Lagos, Ogun, and Abuja. It was becoming obvious that my appeal hearing on April 23 wouldn’t hold.
And I slipped into despondency. I didn’t pray for four days. I was feeling that what was happening was not in sync with my prayer points. I didn’t know that God had another plan. But I kept having this feeling of a miraculous release.
It was not until the early morning of April 28, 2020 (five days after my court of appeal hearing date was supposed to hold but couldn’t) that the man in charge of Kirikiri Maximum Prison sent for me.
“Anayo, who and what do you worship? What makes you thick?” the man in charge of prison asked me.
And I answered “I worship in that St. Stephen’s Catholic Church inside the prison sir. I’m a Catholic and pray my daily Rosary and I know that many people of God are praying for me including the members of Nnewi traditional religion practitioners”.
The man in charge announced, “I have your release order here. You have been pardoned by the state governor. You’re restored the way you were before you were accused and jailed by the state judiciary meaning that your conviction has been quashed and it’s not subject to appeal. This instrument makes you forever innocent of the offenses that brought you here and I’m happy for you but most importantly, don’t change; keep doing whatever you were doing that earned you this pardon”, he ended with another handshake.
I crumbled as Kanu Nwankwo did after scoring that clincher goal at Atlanta ’96. I cried like a baby. I was in state of confusion but had to compose myself to call my wife from a phone booth to come to pick me. I also called my cousin Azubuike who lives nearby and Echezona that has become a younger brother I lost in Tochukwu who died in 2008. They all arrived at the same time. They initially thought that I was joking.
Do you know that I forgot to carry the bag containing my clothes as I was rushing out of the prison into freedom? That freedom only God can give.
When I got home, my children chorused “Daddy, but we told you that you would be freed in a miraculous way”. I smiled and asked them to excuse me for some minutes that I wanted to discuss with their mother in private, in my room.
They looked at each other and smiled.And they never disturbed us.It is has been a long 141 days away from my bed.