ONE by one they led them out. Faces covered in black. Handcuffed. Their last seconds of life. Last moments of reflection. The last breath of this world. No time to even say goodbye. One by one their names were called. The other five had already gone – gone for ever – gone to the gallows. A cold sweat broke out on his brow. He was next in line. This was it. The end. The grand finale. The next few seconds would be the last he would ever spend in life…
The tale of Chuks Olisemeka is block-buster material. It could well pass for a best-selling fiction thriller. But this is no fiction. It’s the real story of a young man who came from condemnation to salvation, in both the literal and spiritual sense. The story of a man who came face to face with death in a way few people could ever imagine. The story of redemption amidst retribution.
From a humble home in Delta to wild parties in Lagos, dangerous dealings in cannabis in Tunisia and gun-training for armed robbery in the Saharan desert, from a condemned cell in Tunis’ maximum security prison to a Nigerian church he had never heard of before, here is Chuks’ incredible journey, in his own words:
“My name is Chuks Olisemeka and I come from Delta State. When my mother was pregnant with me, she separated from my father. Later in 1991, my mother died of sickness. From there my grandmother took care of me. I never knew my father and hardly knew my mum, Mrs Josephine. In the year 2000 after finishing secondary school, I came to Lagos. I didn’t know anybody in Lagos. What made me come is that some friends came from Lagos every December with flashy flashy things, spending money. When I asked them, they said they went to Victoria Island. One day I just decided by myself to come to Lagos, though I didn’t know anyone there and had no money. I was only 20. Some people dropped me in Ojota. At that time I still smoked so I bought a cigar and began smoking. I saw one guy like me who now bought a cigarette. We got talking and he now asked me some questions. When I introduced myself to him, the guy said he would help me for accommodation. We bought Indian hemp together and he then took me to his house.
“Every night we went to the clubs and enjoyed ourselves. I was helping in his brother’s electronics business in Alaba. One day we met some guys who came from Tunisia. Those guys gave us the guidelines about Tunisia that time, but we never said we wanted to travel as we were enjoying in Lagos. Some months later, my close friend Chima suggested we both go to Tunisia and I agreed. We went by road through the desert. We entered from Libya, through Tripoli. Those guys we met gave us the address of their place in Tunisia. We met some guys there and a Nigerian guy now introduced us to one man who was dealing in drugs. He had some boys working for him. Every night he would give you 200 or 300 grams and you would go to the club and hawk drugs. Cocaine. At the end of the day he would give you $300. From there he introduced us to the business. We were moving with guys who were into it before and from there we got our own customers.
“After about eight months in the business, I met Jack, an Italian man. Every time the man would normally come to me and buy drugs; he would buy in quantity. He was a big man, and always came with his boys. My friend called me and said let us travel to Morocco and from there to Spain. But already that Jack said he would introduce me to his business, so I was not interested in going to Spain. After about two weeks, Jack introduced me to his business – robbery business.
“I didn’t know how to shoot a gun, so every morning he took me to the desert with some guys and taught me how to use a gun. We started going on operations. We go with information. Some people will come from Europe and land in Tunisia, and stay in a hotel – so the manager of the hotel would give us information, and we would go there and rob. After robbing, he would give me $5000. It was not only in Tunisia we robbed, but also in Libya – because they share a border together. We were based in Tunis. On one operation in a company, we got $800,000 – so Jack now gave me $20,000. I know tomorrow I would see more money, so I would go to the clubs, gamble, buy expensive wears and move with high-class babes. Then something happened in 2004.
“This hotel manager now brought information that one woman came from Holland who brought big money for a contract, and the woman lodged in his hotel. Our boss called us and said we should go to this hotel. We reached there around 10am. We were five – four boys and one Algerian girl. We met the woman and collected the money. Two of our members were down and three went up – it was a five storey building. On the way down, we just heard guns from nowhere. Two of our members were shot. They died there instantly. They now shot the girl, but we didn’t know the place where the bullets were coming from. We used one woman as a human shield to cover us saying – if you shoot again, we will shoot her – and we now managed to drag ourselves out and enter our car. As we started the engine, they started shooting again. We saw almost five jeeps pursuing us, police vehicles – blowing sirens. We got to a bend at the traffic lights. We were supposed to wait but because of the pressure, we moved on. One lorry coming from the other side collided full-on with our vehicle. It somersaulted. That is why I have these scars. At that time, I never knew that my friend who was driving was already dead.
“The policemen came, and rushed me to hospital. I was in serious pain – blood covered everywhere and I couldn’t even open my eyes. The following day, they put POP all over me. Three men came and started interviewing me, and I opened up for them. They wrote everything down. The following day, they took me to our building – Jack was no more there, because he heard the information. They searched everywhere. They saw some drugs and carried them, including three vehicles. They padlocked the building, and took me back to hospital.
“The following day, they took me to court. I still had POP all over, and they had to carry me. When I reached court, the magistrate looked at my condition and said they should carry me back to hospital. I spent seven months in hospital. After seven months they took me back to court, and tried the case. After that, they took me to prison. From prison, I still went to the court. In August 2007 my final judgement came. After the judgement, they sentenced me to death by hanging. I had already given my life to Christ in prison. This guy Mr Charles normally shared the Word of God with me. But after the sentence they didn’t take me back to the same prison again. They took me to another prison where they put those who are condemned to death. We were five inside the prison room. I started praying there.
“On 15th August, I dreamt and saw myself in this big church with someone saying, ‘Welcome to Synagogue Church, Emmanuel!’ When I woke up, I didn’t understand the dream. I’d never heard of Synagogue Church before. On 19th August, some men came with a lady. They started calling names. When they had called the name, they would put a mask to cover the person and handcuff him. They now carried him outside to be hanged. I had already said today is the day I would die, but I still had this hope that God would do a miracle. When it got to my turn, the woman asked – ‘Where is this boy’s paper?’ They started searching and finally said they could not see it. So she said they should go and find my case file, that if they didn’t find the case file, they should not take me anywhere. The men carried the other five for hanging. Only me was left in that place. A week, two weeks, a month went by and nobody talked to me. It was only me in the cell. Some men now came and took me back to the other prison.
“It was 2008, February. One day the warden called me and said they wanted to hand me over to the Nigerian embassy to send me back to my country. I saw about three men, wearing suits who asked me for my name. They now signed all these documents and told me to carry my load. They took me to the airport and one man followed me down to Nigeria. After about three hours, we arrived. They now handed me over to some men who ushered me inside a motor. A few hours later, I saw myself in Ikoyi prison. They searched me and then took me to the prison cell. I was still praying to God.
“Another year passed in prison. It was July 2009 and I dreamed again – Welcome to Synagogue Church – Emmanuel! It was exactly the same dream I had seen in the prison in Tunisia. But this time, I saw rain fall on me as I entered inside the church, and I rejoiced with people inside. But I never knew the place. I had never heard of Prophet T.B. Joshua. Two weeks later, one of the wardens called me. He said they brought some papers yesterday and that I didn’t have a case to answer, that I should be released. I was just surprised, shocked. He gave me one paper, and told me I should carry my load. I didn’t have anything to carry.
“As I left the gate, I asked God: where shall I go? Direct me – I don’t know where to go. Rain was falling and suddenly that dream came to me – welcome to Synagogue Church – Emmanuel. I asked the warden – where is Synagogue? He said it’s far, in Ikotun. I asked where is Ikotun. God has directed me there. He looked at me and asked if I had money. The man gave me N500 and told me how to get to the church. It was a Friday.
“I finally found the church. I met one man and asked him – how can I see the pastor here? He looked at me and asked where I was from. I told him from a very far place. He said I should come back to church early on Sunday. I was still wearing the clothes I had in prison. It was Sunday. As I entered the church that morning, I recognised it from the dream. Everything was the same as I had seen it in that dream. I prayed that God should direct the man of God to where I am. God finally directed him to me in the second service. After prophesying to about four people, he touched me and said you are a murderer – and not in this country but another country. I had never met him before, but he knew me. He prayed and I found myself down on the floor. As he touched me, I believed all my problems had gone. That day I became a new person in life. The church now took care of me, gave me new clothes and a place to stay. God is really using that man (T.B. Joshua). Nobody in Nigeria can do that thing – you don’t know a person before and after praying for you – he puts you in his house, gives you money for clothes and feeding and treats you as one of his own. He is a real man of God.
“There are many things people can learn from me. God created everybody for a purpose. Instead of pursuing fast money which makes you go into crime in which you may die or find yourself in prison, you should follow Christ. Those who travel outside Nigeria and don’t know where they are going to or anybody there, there is no way they will not take to crime when they get there. It’s either you take to robbery or drug business or go into 419 – and after everything you will find yourself in bigger trouble.
“I regret a lot, because I wasted so many years in prison. If not the flashy things of this life, I would not go into all of that crime. If I had calmed down and given my life to Christ that time, by now I am supposed to know where I am going in life. But now – if God could give me another chance, I will worship Him, praise Him all my days. I believe God really has something for me in this life. He has a purpose for my living.
Following Chuk’s arrival in the church straight from prison, he remained there for almost two months for a period of rehabilitation and reformation, receiving the message of salvation and learning about the ways of God. He was then given N120, 000, three bags of rice and a Holy Bible to start his life afresh.