Kirikiri, the relatively quiet town in Lagos State which gives the famous prison its name, woke up last Saturday to a crowd that had turned out to celebrate the release of Olabode George, the former chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, who ended his prison term that day. Over 1,000 George supporters, dressed in ‘uniform' traditional attire popularly called ‘aso ebi' along with elaborate headgear, flocked to the sleepy town.
Stella Onyekwere, a fruit seller, said that there were so many visitors that it was difficult to get through them to her home near the Kirikiri Medium Prison.
"The number of people that came here today, I have not seen it in Kirikiri before," she said. "They were plenty. You see them with different uniforms. See the women with their gele. People full everywhere."
A few residents said that the unprecedented turnout made them afraid.
"Come and see the security people that came to guard him (Mr. George)," said Mrs. Onyekwere. "They were many and they were wearing their black. That black suit is not ordinary o. If you see the kind of guns they arranged inside the suit, you will fear."
According to another Kirikiri resident, who identified himself simply as Samuel, some of the supporters of the released prisoner had been in the neighbourhood since Friday night to beat the restriction of movement due to the Lagos State monthly environmental sanitation.
"In fact, they have been busy since yesterday night; that is when many of them came," he said. "So this morning, they were ready. Many politicians were here. I saw this Alao-Akala (Oyo State governor) and other PDP governors. Even (Goodluck) Jonathan, came here in the night around 3am."
"But seriously, this is not good now," Samuel went on to say. "Somebody that stole billions of naira, they were coming to celebrate him like this, but there are many innocent people inside there (Kirikiri Prisons). If it was a poor man that stole money, they would have left him to die there and they will bury him there. That's why you can't blame people who are doing everything possible to make money."
Hours later, the release of Mr. George from prison was the talk of the town. At each stretch of shops, restaurants, and bars, people were discussing it, either quietly condemning the jamboree or loudly telling how they scrambled to pick the cash that Mr. George threw in the air for his supporters. Posters bearing the image of Mr. George were posted on walls with the People's Democratic Party (PDP) logo and the inscription, ‘The Joseph of our Time.'
While the fanfare was going on, restaurant owners made a killing by doubling food prices. Eno Akpan, who runs a restaurant in the area, said she regretted opening her shop late after the environmental sanitation. She had sent her daughter ahead, who sold plates of rice for N300 instead of the usual N150.
"If I knew it will be like this, I would have prepared everything," she said. "I can even sell a plate for N1,000 and they will buy."