Costly mistake – The Nation

  • A typographical error costs a man 14 years in prison

How costly can a typo be? Ask Derrick Addai. He will tell you as costly as 14 additional years in prison, even after state pardon. It is one of those surreal stories. But it exposes, in all its grim and ugly Technicolor, the dirty underbelly of the Nigerian condition.

Addai, 48, had been convicted in Thailand for peddling drugs. He had spent five-and-a-half years from his sentence before former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in 2005, visited Thailand; and negotiated the transfer of some Nigerians serving terms in Thai prisons, to complete their jail terms in Nigerian prisons.

Later, a state pardon would come. But that was when Addai’s 14-year odyssey started. The list of the pardoned was 20. But one name was duplicated, making that list effectively 19. Addai’s was the name left out. Though somewhat he got to know and cried out, the sloppy bureaucracy was enjoying a snooze.

Volunteered Addai: “They asked the officials to bring the letter to the office and when the man who wrote the names saw it, he insisted that that was not the list he sent; and asked me to give him two days. But the two days never came till now.”

Indeed, years continued to count. But he was trapped, apparently forgotten, in jail. It was only 14 years after that relief came; and that was because influential persons, like the Osile of Oke-Ona, Egba, Oba Adedapo Tejuoso and the Director-General  of the Prison Rehabilitation Mission International, Bishop Kayode Williams, himself an ex-convict but now devoted to proselytising in jail houses and looking after prisoners’ welfare, intervened.

Had these citizens not intervened, perhaps Citizen Addai would still be in jail? That is a terrible oversight that should not be allowed to happen to anyone ever again. Still, that is only a golden wish. There is no evidence that it is not already happening to others, no thanks to bureaucratic slothfulness and sloppiness — a function of a very poor work ethic.

No matter his fate, at least Addai has survived to tell his story. What if it had been a case of capital punishment, and somewhat state pardon came to save the condemned from the gallows, and the omitted name got hanged?

That underscores why the prison and allied bureaucracies must be revamped. Such slothfulness must be frowned at. Aside from preventing the repeat of such (that can be done by training the bureaucracy to be more dutiful, efficient and effective at their jobs), stiff sanctions should also be put in place to punish such sloppiness, just to insist it won’t ever be tolerated again.

But mistakes like these also stress the need for a mechanism to, as routine, monitor the justice system. If that had been there and had been vibrant, cases like Addai’s would have been subjected to prompt review, and corrected much earlier. But it is never too late to make amends and avert future cases.

Addai deserves congratulations for coming to the end of his harrowing experience. But now that he is out of jail, he should put the remaining of his life to lawful, productive use. It is good that he is already in touch with Bishop Williams, and his post-prison rehabilitation ministry. He should grab this second chance at freedom; and shun a life of crime.

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