Nigerians are familiar with reports of Boko Haram militants attacking prisons and releasing inmates in a spectacular fashion. The daring attack on Bauchi main prison in September 2010 is one memorable example. In that dawn storming of the facility, some 700 inmates were believed to have been turned loose by the “Taliban” as the sect was initially called. It also marked the beginning of the sect’s expansion outside its base in Maiduguri, Borno State.
The sect struck again at Bama prison, in Borno State, in March, 2014, freeing several prisoners. A good number were recaptured and others returned, on their own volition. Then there was the Mubi prison storming in October, this year. Mubi is in neighbouring Adamawa State and has been severally attacked by Boko Haram’s armed marauders.
What is surprising, however, are attacks on jails far out of the reach of the sect’s militants. These are in states supposedly impregnable. Take Kogi State, for instance. On Nov. 3, gunmen attacked the prison in Kotonkarfe with explosives, enabling all 145 inmates but one in the facility at the time to escape. The other was killed.”One died, eight have been recaptured and four surrendered voluntarily. The rest are at large,” Kogi State government spokesman Jacob Edi was quoted as saying. Police Force Headquarters spokesman, Emmanuel Ojukwu was emphatic that what happened was “an act of criminality and had nothing to do with the five-year-old Boko Haram insurgency.
In Ekiti State, further south, on Dec. 1, gunmen attacked the central prison in the capital, Ado Ekiti, with explosives and machine guns, enabling all 320 inmates to make their escape. Two days later, 45 were rearrested but the rest 274 are still unaccounted for. Commenting on the attack, Mr. Abba Moro, the minister of interior, had this to say: “The attack on the Ado Ekiti prison which is similar to that on Kotonkarfe in Kogi State was carried out by desperate people outside, whose friends and accomplices were in jail and had attempted to forcibly release them…
“What these attacks have brought to the fore is that there is need for reinforced perimeter fencing in our prisons, which is being done now at Kotonkarfieand because of the ease with which both prisons had been attacked and broken into, the need to reinforce our concrete fencing of the prison becomes an imperative need”.
Not quite a week after he spoke those words, the medium security prison in Minna, Niger State was stormed by gunmen. In this latest attack on Dec. 6, over 200 inmates were freed but only14 recaptured after two days, according to Superintendent Ibrahim Gambari. In response to the latest prison attack, the Controller-General of Prisons, Dr. Peter Ekpendu, has ordered the removal of the Controller of Prisons, Niger State Command, Musa Maiyaki, the officer-in-charge of the medium security prison, Mohammed Bena and other officers on duty during the jail break.
It is a fact that our prisons are old and security is porous. Many have inmates whose numbers far exceed the prisons’ holding capacity.Only 18,042 of 56,785 inmates have been convicted of a crime, according to statistics dated June 30 and posted on the website of the Nigeria Prisons Service. Besides poor structures, the prison staff are poorly trained and ill-equipped. They are easily outgunned by attackers with superior fire power.
However, what we find very disturbing is a suggestion that links these attacks to politicians. Coming with just two months to general and presidential elections, which, in our case, are always problematic, these attacks, if indeed they are the handiwork of politicians, should worry everyone concerned about the future of not only our democracy but that of the country generally. Already with the Boko Haram insurgency a hard nut to crack, we cannot afford to have former prison inmates, some of them killers, on the loose. The authorities must act fast to secure our prisons and also decongest them.