I went to hell in that small room in prison. We were 27 that squeezed into a tiny room. If you are sleeping and want to turn, you must stand fully erect
■ Escaped from US, British justice, before serving 10-yr jail term in Ghana
■ Now devotes her days to campaigning against drugs, reforming youths
Iyabo Yomi, an indigene of Lagos State, once typified the ‘get-rich-quick or die-trying’ mentality that drives most people who go into the narcotics business. Though she made piles of money, lived large and acquired assets, she still lost everything after she was arrested in Ghana and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Prior to her being caught, tried and sent to jail, she had on two occasions broken out of prisons in the United States and Britain. While she was serving the prison term in Ghana, Iyabo had her Damascus Road experience, when she met Christ and became a born-again Christian. Since finishing her sentence and returning to Nigeria, Iyabo has dedicated her life to campaigning against the drug trade and helping to reform addicts and prevent others from getting into the ruinous trade.
How it all began
I was in search of green pastures like every other young fellow. I had barely completed my secondary school education at Abeokuta Girls Grammar School and decided to seek for greater opportunities outside my country like my other classmates. I travelled to London for my Higher School Certificate (HSC), also known as General Certificate of Education, Advanced Level (GCE, A’Level) and my late
aunt gave me a parcel to deliver in London not knowing it was cannabis. When I got to the entry point in London, I was asked to present all that I came with and I gave them the package and it happened to be cannabis. I was arrested and given a suspended death sentence at Holloway Prisons in London. But because I was naïve and young I was deported to Nigeria immediately.
It was while I was at Holloway prison, before my deportation, that my eyes were opened. When I came back to Nigeria, I began to fish and discovered a big cannabis market at Idi-Araba then. At Holloway, my auntie gave me 3.7 kilogrammes of cannabis and there I met people with tonnes of cannabis. That was when I had a wrong turning point in my life and embraced crime. My eyes became wide open and the quest to get rich heightened. While in prison in London, I got tutorials in London – where to sell, who would buy and the kind of money the illicit drug business could give. Instead of coming out a repentant fearful girl, I was rather hardened. I told myself, where I fell down, I must rise.
On my own, I travelled to London with cannabis for the second time. The package was 5-kilogrammes which was then worth N1,000.00. About 17kg worth of cannabis gives you a lot of money in London. In London then, I had teachers and mentors who perfected me on the job. Now, I knew where to get my stuff, where to sell and how to charge. At a stage I developed a long chain of clientele who were at my beck and call. When I started the business in London, I made some successful trips but later I was arrested for the second time. I was not living in London but just visiting and returning. When I finished my transaction, I would buy clothing for sale. That was how I covered up my real activity until the long arm of the law caught up with me. It was easy to go to London then because visa was issued at the entry point. It was easy to pick up a passport, use it once, discard it and get another one. When I got to London the seventh time before I was arrested again, I was pregnant. I was given a suspended death sentence for 18 months for the second time. My heart was still hardened and I was willing to continue. I was arrested for the third time in London for cannabis and I was handed three years imprisonment which ran concurrently in Style prison in Manchester. It was there I delivered my child.
Pregnancy and child birth do not hinder the rule of the law. The moment you commit the offence and you are apprehended by the authorities, the law must take its full course. When I got to Style prison, I arranged with a girl I met there to take care of my baby while I was serving my term because it is allowed by law. The girl did not know about my plan to escape from prison. She used to come to the prison to visit me with my baby. When I perfected my plan to break out from prison, I told her not to visit me anymore and also told her my reason.
Escape from prison
I had made plans already and there on a fateful Sunday, I jumped over the fence and ran away and nobody saw me. When I went out I had some friends who had been released earlier, I traced them with the address they gave me. When I learnt that prison officials were looking for me in London, instead of going back to London to carry my baby, I told one of those girls to keep them safe and it was the era when you could get visiting passport. I went to the post office with someone’s birth certificate and got a visiting visa which enabled me to travel to Holland instead of Nigeria. When I got to Holland, I went to the Nigerian Embassy and told them that I lost my travel documents. They prepared some travel documents that enabled me travel to Nigeria; that was how I got to Nigeria in 1983.
Era of business boom
Upon my return, I graduated from cannabis to heroine. I also raised my game in commodity and countries to transact business. I proceeded from London to United States of America (USA). I had a five-year multiple visa and travelled to America 12 times every year. I was going to America every month. For once I was suspected and stopped at John F Kennedy airport in America. They put me in a car and took me to a hospital for X-Ray and found nothing on me. When those offi- cials put me in their car, I smartly dropped my handbag which contained my stuff in their car and came down empty handed; after all the brouhaha, they found nothing on me and in fact apologized to me. When I got back into their car, I picked my bag where the drug was hidden and continued my journey. Nobody saw me while dropping and picking because I wore bou-bou and had wrapper on; it was smartly done in their presence
You know there is the adage that every day is for the thief, but one day is for the owner of the house. I was again arrested in America and kept at a remand home in New York, but when I was handed my jail term, I was moved to Alderson prisons in Virginia. That was where I escaped from with a Columbian female friend I met in MCC New York. She was a dealer who lived in America.
We had help from an outsider. In front of the prison, you would see water, but I could not swim. On the other hand, one could not just pass through the gate; but at the back, there was a hill with barbed wire that served as a protector. We planned with the Columbian girl’s husband who was to stand at the hill and look at us. If we saw him, we were to smuggle ourselves out and meet him at the hill. So the man came down and cut the barbed wire and we ran to the hill; he carried us from there till date.
Turning point and life regret
As my drug business boomed, I thought I was a giant, I thought there was no one like me. The business was the reason why I was unable to contain any man. I had children because I wanted to have. I had my life, my freedom, power and my excess cash to contend with.
It was in Ghana prison that I lost entire goodies that the drug trade gave me, when I embraced Christ. My children did not know where I was because my mother did not tell them. While doing the business, I hid it away from my family especially my children because when I used to take drugs to America, I saw people that were destroyed by drugs. I saw people who became uncanny through drugs, and never wished to see my children look like that. That was why I transacted every business about the drugs outside my home. I saw breadwinners wrecked because of drugs taken, I saw raw beauties destroyed, saw the movers and shakers grounded because of drugs.
Yet seeing all that unbelievable sight didn’t change me. I was adamant and determined to make money. My popular language then was, ‘even if money is in the lion’s den, I must get it.’ But I had a lot of successful trips where I made lots and lots of money in foreign currencies. I counted $500,000.00, £100,000.00 with my hands. I was a dealer and spoke Pakistani language. My accomplices knew where to wait for me then and carry their cargo. With my experience and wealth, life became a bed of roses for me. I controlled wealth, power and freedom until the long arm of the law caught up with me in Ghana.
Ghana confession and experience
I was arrested in Ghana in year 2000. In 1999, I was based in Ghana and I travelled out of Ghana to Pakistan through Dubai and went to a city called Peshawar to procure drugs, in order to beat the millennium compliant mantra that was making waves then, instead of coming out through Karachi, I came out through Peshawar, another state in Pakistan enroute Dubai on an Ethiopian airline with my drugs on me. I crossed Peshawar airport and there was no problem. I concealed some of the drugs in my shoes and formed other packs like sanitary towel in my private area. When we transited, as I got to the narcotic section because one entrance was introduced, there were many hands and the airline operatives requested to talk to the passengers because that route is a danger zone for drug trafficking and most passengers could get drugs easily in the area. It was during the Muslim fasting period, I pretended as if I was having my monthly period so searching was mild around that area. That was how I played smart to beat security operatives and had a narrow escape to Ghana. On getting to Ghana and being aware that passengers from Middle East are thoroughly searched, a lady and myself were detained. That other lady swallowed her consignment. As they took us to the hospital, all the scanners that conducted the X-Ray could not detect anything on me because when they ask me to breath in, I held my breath and if they ask me to breath out, I would still hold the breath. With that the X-ray was ‘confused’ and did not detect me. The Ghanaian authorities named the other lady ‘the master’ and after due process, we were detained and sent to a remand home in Jet Fort prison Accra, Ghana. From there we started going to court. Although I got a bail from the magistrate, but because I was a foreigner, they insisted I must not go but complete my jail term. Judgment came up on September 15, 2000, and I was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment which ran concurrently without bail. That same day, we were taken to Nsawam Female prison on the way to Kumasi, Ghana. I started my journey there for the 10 calendar years. The kind of comfort I had in my heydays was a sharp contrast to the Ghanaian prison. I couldn’t stay in the Ghanaian prison, it was horrible for me. In fact, even with my past experience in prisons, I didn’t know I would spend 10 years in Ghana.
Then God remembered her
While in prison, I went through a lot of training and learnt a whole lot there. My family abandoned me and
I lost all the wealth I made through drug trafficking. Left all alone, I was almost dying and collapsing. Life and hope suddenly came back to me one day. My daughter came to visit me surprisingly. One day
in prison, my name was announced that someone was looking for me. When I came out, it was my last daughter who came to look for me. I could not believe it. I asked her how she traced me, she said she saw one of the letters I wrote my mother and copied the address from there. That was the day I knew God was working out something in my life, and it brought joy to my life because I had a fibroid surgery that almost took my life while in prison. I almost died of boredom, thinking and loneliness. My son also came and vowed not to sleep unless they saw me and that was how I regained my strength. The experience is not what I wish my enemy. I went to hell in that small room we slept in prison. We were 27 that squeezed into a tiny room. If you are sleeping and want to turn, you must stand up fully erect before you could turn and take another position. We slept like sardine in that room. We also had a ‘chamber bucket’ in that same room where we defecated and passed out urine. The offensive odour, sight and thought of it alone was so nauseating that I would vomit for days and fall sick. There were just two double decker beds for the 27 of us; the older women prisoners we met there slept on the bed while we the ‘freshers’ were jam-packed on the floor.
Jet Fort prison was a slavery centre before it was converted into a remand home. I imagined all the air-conditioners in my house when I was on the fast lane compared with the smoke pouring into my eyes and all over my body through the kitchen prison because I was in jail. It was hell. Food meant for prisoners were sold by inmates to inmates. Whenever ‘banga’ soup was made, the oil on top would be decanted by older inmates and sold to other inmates that had money. At a point all the money I took to prison was gone; there were no visits from anyone I knew in the whole world either in Ghana or from Nigeria; my life was gradually coming to an end. It was not funny at all. I had a lawyer who advised me to pay bribe, unfortunately the big sum was paid into the wrong hand. The temptation to run away was not strong because I used to go outside, but somehow the urge to do it failed. I was not motivated to escape. It was strange to me because I escaped from the prisons of world powers, why was Ghana not paving way for me? I came to the conclusion that God was about to do something in my life.
Freedom at last
When I finally came back home to Nigeria, as a born-again Christian, the family abandoned me but my children did not abandon me even though I was not there for them when they needed me. I feel terribly bad because I have lost everything that drug trade gave me – all the properties and machines for the industrial enterprise. I went through hell. Today, I thank God because I met with Christ, and have a good mindset. Most people died but I am alive. My advice is for people to desist from drug and all its related businesses.
READ ALSO: Are you ‘born again’?