What Kuje break reveals about Nigerian prisons.
Last week, two prisoners made their way out of the Kuje Medium Prison with personnel not even noticing their absence till the next morning. The two escapees, Maxwel Ajukwu and Amodu Solomon, both remanded on 10th November, 2015 for culpable homicide, only had to scale the fence of the prison to walk away without being detected around 7:00 pm on Friday, 24th June, 2016.
The two suspects are still at large more than a week after their escape raised some posers on the ability of authorities to secure inmates.
When the news of the “jailbreak” broke, there were speculations that Charles Okah, leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) was one of those who made their way out, but the Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS) insisted that he is still in prison.
The Public Relations Officer of the Service, Francis Enobore, confirmed that “There was an incident, but Okah was not involved. I can confirm that two inmates are missing after the jailbreak and they are still at large.”
Okah’s lawyer, Timipa Jenkins Okponipere of First Law Solicitors, also quickly released a statement to clear the air that his client was still in custody. The statement reads in part: “It is our client’s brief that he was quarantined in an isolation room within the Kuje Prison Clinic for a suspected Lassa Fever infection when news of the incident broke. On account of his popularity amongst the inmates, word quickly spread that our client was among the two inmates who escaped.”
It took almost 24 hours for the inmates and authorities to confirm that Okah had not escaped.
Daily Trust made efforts to gain access to the prison in order to ascertain if the suspected bomber of the 2010 Independence celebration in Abuja where 27 people were killed, was still in custody but was barred.
Reports claimed the escapees waited till 7:00pm when Muslims were praying, to make their escape by simply scaling the fence.
Enobore, who said it would be too early for the Service to disclose how the inmates broke out, noted that the Comptroller-General of Prisons, Ja’afaru Ahmed, had already set up a panel to investigate the incident within the shortest time. “All the officers on duty are already being questioned and I can assure you that anyone found culpable will be punished appropriately,” he said.
Daily Trust, at the prison facility, gathered that no explosive was used by the prisoners to break out. Residents, too, said they didn’t hear any loud sound or explosion. “It would obviously be an insider job because there was no gunfire and explosion all through last night. I didn’t hear anything,” a person residing close to the prison facility said.
The prison presently hosts high-profile inmates standing trial for corruption and other serious offences. Daily Trust gathered that report of a preliminary investigation conducted has already been submitted to the Comptroller-General of Prisons, who immediately ordered the removal and redeployment of the officer in-charge, Musa Tanko.
A source told Daily Trust that Tanko had been directed to report at the Federal Capital Territory Command of the Service where he would be interrogated while another officer has been directed to take over.
The source said only the officer in-charge had been transferred out of the prisons, but suggested that other senior officers including the Chief Warder, Stephen Gbabo and the officer on duty would also be redeployed out of Kuje Prison.
But the Service Public Relations Officer said redeployment cannot be the sanction that would be meted on any indicted officer, noting that “the removal of the officer in charge of the prison is to calm down the tension there and to allow for thorough investigation but that is not regarded in our own sector as a punishment.”
“The other officers are still in their respective posts. If you want to carry out an investigation of that nature and it requires key individuals in the yard, you don’t pull them out all at the same time. Otherwise, you end up solving one problem and creating another one.”
While hinting that the panel of inquiry has progressed tremendously, Enobore said the final chart has not been submitted to the Comptroller-General.
“He [CG] has vowed not to leave any stone unturned in unravelling the circumstances that led to that unfortunate incident. As soon as the panel submits its report, he has promised to act speedily and punish whoever is indicted,” the PRO said.
“The rules are clear. There is hardly any officer you see that has not been trained. We have our standing order which we regard as our holy book. If you leave what you have to do and something happened, the repercussion is clearly stated there.”
However, beyond punishing indicted personnel, it is pertinent to note some obvious lapses in the country’s prison administration which include inadequate personnel and congestion. As it is now, over 50,000 inmates are locked up in prisons around Nigeria while about 33,000 of them are still awaiting trial, leading to overcrowding.
This challenge, compounded by the snail-like pace of the criminal justice system in Nigeria and lack of logistics to convey inmates to courts makes prison administration a tall task for authorities.
Most prison facilities are overstretched, giving room for indiscipline in the system. The Kuje Prison, in particular, designed to accommodate 550 inmates following its expansion, is presently housing over 800 with over 600 of them on the awaiting trial list. Also, there is major encroachment into the prison’s premises, with residences and hotels within the facility’s perimeters. This alone constitute a serious challenge to the personnel on duty as a prisoner could easily get away after scaling the fence.
Ultimately, in the 21st century where Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are being deployed in almost all spheres of our life, Nigerian Prisons don’t have Close Circuit Television (CCTv) cameras installed. Insiders say that is what the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau, was referring to as gaps when he admitted knowing about security issues at the facility when he visited.
While insisting that the names of all the inmates in custody be known by authorities, Dambazau warned Prison officers to take their job seriously. “This place is a warehouse where we ensure that anyone who passes through here does not go out as a criminal. So, if we leave these gaps, we will never be able to achieve our objectives,” he said.
Similarly, the Chairman, House Committee on Interior, Hon. Jagaba Adams who led the House Committee on Interior to the Kuje Prison in the aftermath of the escape, pointed out that efforts should be made by authorities to install cameras to forestall recurrence. He also called for the recruitment of more personnel to effectively man the prison facilities for better management.
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