·Umahi declares state of emergency, vows to reform prisons in the state
Benjamin Nworie in Abakaliki
About 13 inmates in Abakaliki Prisons in Ebonyi State and one prison guard were believed to have been killed in the early hours of yesterday, when the inmates of the prison rioted over the poor meals served to them by the prison and attempted to escape from the facility.
During the riot, the inmates allegedly snatched a rifle from one of the guards in the prison yard and shot some at them, prompting the officials to defend themselves.
In the course of the riot, the leader of the inmates, who allegedly incited other inmates against the officials, was allegedly killed.
The Ebonyi State Comptroller of Prisons, Mrs. Oputa Emilia, confirmed the incident, saying three persons were injured but denied that lives were lost.
She admitted that the angry prisoners broke part of the fence, adding that the situation had been brought under control.
THISDAY gathered that during the mayhem, inmates created openings in the prison walls in a bid to escape before riot policemen arrived the scene, shot into the air and tear-gassed them into submission.
The gunshots were heard intermittently as the police and soldiers battled to recover the rifle allegedly snatched from one of the prison guards.
A source disclosed that the inmates were actually killed in self defence and their bodies evacuated secretly. However, another source said two officials were killed during the incident while five casualties were recorded on the part of the inmates.
The source added that three of the officials sustained serious injuries and were taken to the Federal Teaching Hospital (FETHA), Abakaliki, for medical attention.
The source said: “Had it not been for the rapid response of the combined team of prison officers, the police and army drafted to the scene, the inmates would have started escaping from the prison having over-powered the guards.”
She admitted that the angry prisoners broke part of the wall but maintained that the situation was brought under control.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, George Okafor, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), said the command was still working to resolve the crisis, adding: “There was an attempted jailbreak and the prisons called in the police. We cordoned off the area and restored normalcy to the area.”
Last April, a similar incident took place at the Afikpo Federal Prison in Ebonyi State when the inmates wielded dangerous weapons against the officials while also protesting over the poor quality of food.
Though no casualties were recorded in the Afikpo attempted jailbreak, female inmates were reportedly raped while some officials sustained minor injuries.
Meanwhile, the state governor David Umahi immediately declared a state of emergency on Abakaliki Prisons.
He made the declaration when he visited the prison after the riot and botched jailbreak by the inmates.
Umahi had just returned from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, where he attended the Peoples Democratic Party national convention when he rushed to the prison.
The governor, according to a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Emma Anya, said: “Early in the morning, I was told of an attempted jailbreak by inmates of Abakaliki Prisons. The Commissioner of Police (Peace Ibekwe-Abdallah) reported the incident to me, but assured me that they (police) were reinforcing.
“She told me she had contacted all the security chiefs in the state. They successfully prevented the inmates from escaping.
“Luckily, I am told that the prisoners were not complaining of maltreatment and malnutrition. I was told that those who attempted the escape were those awaiting trial. I was told that there are so many of them awaiting trial. This is not good for us.”
Umahi directed the state director of prisons, Adaobi Oputa, to compile such cases and send to them him to enable him work with the state’s chief judge, Justice Aloy Nwankwo, to fast-track justice.
He decried the level of infrastructure decay at the Abakiliki Prison, saying the condition was not good for the inmates and recalled that the structure was built in the 1960s.
He promised to partner the prisons authorities to modernise the facility.
“Ebonyi State Government could suspend one or two things and would want to at least de-roof some of the buildings and re-roof them,” he said.
The governor also said his administration would provide sporting facilities in the prisons in order to keep inmates engaged.
“Recreational and sporting facilities will be provided. I believe such things will engage those in the prison and keep them form thinking of ways to escape.
“When they are engaged, they will not have time to think about crime. What we have here cannot reform anyone. It will rather harden them. We have to reform them and reintegrate the good ones into our society,” he added.