Last Tuesday’s terrorists’ attack on Kuje Correctional Centre in Abuja and the escape of over 800 inmates, suggest complicity or negligence on the part of relevant authorities, writes Louis Achi
On Tuesday night, well-armed jihadists struck violently at the Kuje Custodial facility in Abuja, freeing about 800 inmates, including jailed Boko Haram terror group members and other high-profile inmates.
Four inmates and a security official were reportedly killed during the attack, according to an official. About 443 inmates are still at large while another 443 have been recaptured, a spokesperson said. About 63 of the inmates still at large are members of the terror group, Boko Haram.
Terrorists and other armed groups have carried out several jailbreaks in the country’s North-east and Southern regions in recent years, but the Kuje blitzkrieg is the first recorded in the capital city.
Meanwhile, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Kuje facility and for good measure released video of its members in action. In an eerie footage on Wednesday night, the terrorist sect showed some of its men shooting their way into the facility.
ISWAP fighters were seen marching in groups while vehicles and building were on fire in the 38-second video. The Islamic State’s A’maq Agency released the video with the caption: “Fighters of Islamic State attacked Kuje prison in Abuja yesterday (Tuesday) and succeeded in freeing dozens of prisoners.” The words were written in Arabic.
On Wednesday afternoon, shortly before his trip to Senegal, President Muhammadu Buhari toured the scene of the attack and expressed disappointment with the intelligence system while demanding a full report of the incident.
His words: “I am disappointed with the intelligence system. How can terrorists organise, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it? How did the defences at the prison fail to prevent the attack? How many inmates were in the facility? How many of them can you account for?
“How many personnel did you have on duty? How many of them were armed? Were there guards on the watchtower? What did they do? Does the CCTV work?” Meanwhile, palpable fear grips residents of the Federal Capital Territory over the unpredictability and fluidity of the security situation.
On his part, the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi, who visited Kuje on Wednesday morning, said the attackers headed towards the direction where Boko Haram suspects were kept, adding that none of the 64 Boko Haram suspects in custody could be located.
A security sources, on Wednesday, revealed that soldiers deployed to Kuje vicinity and the Correctional Centre’s environment that had mastered the terrain, were moved out and redeployed 24 hours before terrorists attacked the correctional facility. The source wondered why it was 24 hours after troops, who had come to understand the vicinity, were withdrawn and new ones yet to settle in, that the terrorists struck.
The attack on Kuje Correctional Centre was not the first of such incident in the country. It could be recalled that on Friday, October 22, 2021 heavily armed men had invaded the Abolongo Correctional Centre in Oyo, Oyo State, overpowered officials on duty, before gaining entrance to release hundreds of inmates.
On June 24, 2016, when Muslim inmates at Kuje Correctional facility, were breaking their Ramadan fast, Maxwell Ajukwu and Solomon Amodu, two high-profile kidnappers who were also inmates, had other plans. With the use of a plank, the two criminals scaled the high wall of the prison and escaped. Few days later, senior officials at the prison were queried for their suspected role in the jailbreak.
On July 29 2016, at least 13 inmates escaped from the Koton/Karfe Minimum Security Prisons in Kogi State, in a pattern similar to that of Kuje amid allegations that they also had support from prison officials.
No fewer than 15 inmates also escaped from Nsukka Prison in Enugu State on Aug. 9, 2016.
On June 3, 2018, 180 inmates escaped when armed criminals attacked the Minna Medium Security Correctional Facility located at Tunga area of Minna Metropolis. The attackers gained access after overpowering prison officials after a gunfire exchange.
On October 19, 2020, suspected hoodlums numbering about 100 attacked two Nigerian Prisons in Oko and Benin, both in Edo State, leading to the escape of about 1,993 inmates.
Hoodlums who hijacked the #EndSARS protest had also attacked the Nigeria Correctional Service facility in Okitipupa, Ondo State, and freed 58 inmates. However, an attempted jailbreak at the Ikoyi Correctional Centre on the same day was foiled. The attack, which was orchestrated by revolting inmates, was contained by a combined team of correctional officers and soldiers.
On April 5 this year, the trend of jailbreaks in the country returned; this time in Owerri, the capital of Imo State. During the operation, which led to the release of at least 2,000 inmates, the attackers had a free reign lasting about two hours.
However, with the claim by security sources that intelligence shared on the planned attack on Kuje Prison was ignored, coupled with the alleged removal of soldiers guarding the facility, many have alleged official complicity in last Tuesday’s incident.
Clearly, the nation’s poor security situation has fuelled incessant jailbreaks, which have resulted in more criminals returning illegally to society. Security experts blame the recurring prison breaks on an infrastructural deficit, overcrowding of cells, the prolonged trial of suspects, understaffing, poor remuneration and equipping of staff, inadequate technology, bribery and corruption, and other institutional challenges bedevilling the correctional centres across the country.
Statistics show the current administration has so far made the highest allocations to the prison sector in the history of the agency. But the constant challenge of overcrowding persists and has unfortunately not reflected these interventions. The sum of N4 billion was allocated in 2015; N14 billion in 2016; N16.6 billion in 2017; while higher allocations were made in 2018 and 2019, with each year having over 70 per cent recurrent expenditure.
It could be recalled that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had in a 2012 audit of the Nigerian prisons, submitted that prison structures across many parts of the country were old and dilapidated as most of them were built in the 19th Century by the British colonial masters.
The Azare, Bauchi, Ningi and Misau prisons, all in Bauchi State, built in 1816, 1820, 1827 and 1831 respectively, were ready examples. Curiously, pretty little has been done to rebuild the infrastructural deficit and institutional challenges.
In other climes, heads will roll when there is an attack on prison or a jailbreak. But with no one punished for alleged complicity or negligence in the previous incidents in Nigeria, criminals have continued to be released to the society through incessant jailbreaks.