Home News 100-year-old, death row inmate seeking pardon

100-year-old, death row inmate seeking pardon

Death-row inmate Celestine Egbunuche has been dubbed Nigeria’s “oldest prisoner” amid a campaign calling for his release.

He is 100 years old and has spent 18 years in jail after being found guilty of organising a murder.

Small and slightly hunched over, he looks wistfully into space as he sits on a tightly packed bench inside a stuffy prison visitor’s room.

His son Paul Egbunuche, 41, is always sitting protectively close to him – and does the talking. He is in jail on the same murder charge.

They were both accused of hiring people to kidnap and kill a man over an alleged land dispute in Imo state.

Paul maintains their innocence. They were detained in June 2000 and eventually convicted and sentenced to death in 2014.

The family of the man who was killed are no where to be found – even the Nigeria prison service has been unable to find them.

Speaking to Source, Paul says his father isn’t really able to talk much any more and is no longer aware of his surroundings.

“When you ask him something, he says something else. The doctor told me that it is his age, he has become like a little pikin [child].

“There are some times when he will ask me: ‘These people here [inmates], what are they doing here?'”

Paul says he rarely leaves his father’s side now; he has been his primary carer since his health began to deteriorate in prison.

These health problems include diabetes and failing eyesight – and he uses what he can to manage them.

“The only thing I’m using to manage him is food, unripe plantain, and they [officials] give him some drugs.”

Father and son share a cell with other death-row prisoners, who are separated from the general population.

“When I wake up in the morning, I will boil water and bath him,” Paul says. “I’ll change his clothes then prepare food for him. If they open up [the cell] I’ll take him out so the sun will touch him.

“I’m always close to him, discussing with him and playing with him.”

Paul says the other inmates sometimes help him care for his father and that many of them want his father to be released.

It was after his father’s 100th birthday on 4 August that events were set in motion that may lead to his release.

Egbunuche may get a second chance as he has been recommended for a pardon by Imo state’s attorney general, Miletus Nlemedim.

It is now awaiting approval from Governor Rochas Okorocha.

Mr Nlemedim says numerous factors are taken into consideration when an inmate is recommended for pardon – age, time served and the approval of the prison staff.

The family of the victim has not been consulted about a possible release.

“What we do as a government is to try to remove ourselves from sentiment,” he says.

According to Mr Nlemedim, the state’s Ministry of Happiness offers the chance for reconciliation after a prisoner is released.

In this case Mr Ezeona says it may be unlikely to happen given the length of time that has passed and poor record-keeping.

Nonetheless, he is still confident Celestine Egbunuche will be pardoned.

“If we can’t pardon a centenarian, who can we pardon?” he says.

Paul too is confident that his father will be pardoned – and is hopeful that he too will get a reprieve so he can care for him.

“It’s good for him to be released. So he will die peacefully in his house rather than in prison,” he says.

 

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