Prison staff who connive with the inmates should be prosecuted

At a time our country is facing serious security challenges, it should worry those in authority that we have experienced, within a period of five weeks, three jailbreaks. The latest of such jailbreaks, at the Enugu prisons, came barely a week after that of Koton Karfe where many of the prisoners who escaped are still on the loose. And that itself was just three weeks after another jailbreak at the Kuje Maximum Prison in Abuja, in the course of which two notorious suspects escaped!

Last Tuesday, the federal government responded by dismissing 23 prison officers for alleged complicity in the three jailbreaks and the escape of prisoners. The officer in charge of Nsukka Prison, Mr. Okonkwo Lawrence and 10 others were also suspended following the escape of 15 inmates from the prison last week. However, from every indication so far, it would take more than suspension or dismissal of some bad eggs to contain this dangerous trend.

Across the country, the prisons where convicts and suspects are sent for punishment or custody have over the years become sources of internal security threat thanks to fire incidents, jailbreaks and armed terrorist attacks. While jailbreaks are not new phenomenon in Nigeria, the rate at which they now occur is becoming disturbing. In one particular incident three years ago, gunmen invaded Oko Prisons in Benin City, Edo State and reportedly freed about 12 inmates many of whom are still at large, thereby constituting grave security risk to the country. At about the same period, some armed hoodlums invaded Koton Karfe Prisons, Kogi State, and freed 119 inmates. Only 43 of the lot reportedly were re-arrested.

As we have repeatedly argued on this page, the rise in prison attacks could be traced to the increasing wave of crime in our country—from armed robbery to kidnappings and of course the Boko Haram insurgency. The prisons which have been neglected over the years are now in a sorry state as they are congested and with little or no infrastructural development.

However, the most dangerous development is the complacency or connivance of some prison staff in aiding these criminals to execute their evil acts with military precision. That is why we believe that dismissal or suspension of some officials cannot serve as enough deterrence. Anybody found to have colluded with prisoners to escape should face criminal prosecution. Indeed, what the dismissal of 23 officials last Tuesday has proved very conclusively is that jailbreaks are difficult without some form of internal collusion.

Incidentally, a former Interior Minister, Comrade Abba Moro, had alluded to this ugly trend when he warned after the Koton Karfe’s prison break three years ago that comptrollers of prison would henceforth be held responsible for jailbreaks in their respective commands. Moro observed that the officers were not doing enough to safeguard the prisons, and pointed out that the ease with which inmates in Enugu, Bauchi, Port Harcourt and Koton Karfe were set free by hoodlums posed serious challenge to the service.

However, the sophistication with which some of these armed groups carry out their attacks also seems to overwhelm the prison guards who might not have been well trained in intelligence gathering and weapon handling. To that extent, we call on the authorities to equip and retrain those who man our prisons. Since most of the jailbreaks are both a reflection of the growing sophistication of criminals and the apparent inefficiency of prison officials, it is time to find a lasting solution to the problem.