Lawyers: Attack on prison facilities, recipe for lawlessness
AKEEM NAFIU writes that lawyers have asked the Federal Government to promptly arrest the worrying trend of jailbreaks across the country which again reared its ugly head recently when gunmen attacked the Kabba Correctional Centre in Kogi State killing two prison officials and freeing many inmates
Some senior lawyers have expressed deep concerns over the incessant attack on prison facilities across the country by gunmen through which many lives are lost and inmates freed.
The lawyers while demanding an urgent intervention by the Federal Government to addressing the menace noted that allowing the trend to continue will expose the entire country to further security challenges.
The country was last week Monday hit by another sad news of gunmen attack on the Kabba prison facility in Kogi state. The attack like the previous ones before it, left on its trail, loss of lives and ‘unlawful’ release of inmates.
The attack is coming barely five months after a similar incident occurred at a prison facility in Owerri, Imo state, where a total of 1,844 prisoners were freed by gunmen.
A statement signed by Sola Fasure, an aide to the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, indicated that security officers on duty at the time of the incident comprising of 15 soldiers, 10 police officers and 10 armed guards of the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS) fought gallantly to repel the attack.
He however regretted that as at the time of issuing the statement, the whereabouts of two officers of the Correctional Service are unknown while one soldier and a policeman lost their lives during the attack.
The statement reads: “The Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, has been briefed by the Controller General of the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCoS), Haliru Nababa, on the unfortunate attack on Kabba Medium Security Custodial Centre, in Kabba, Kogi State, by yet to be identified gunmen.
“During the attack, security officers on duty which comprised of 15 soldiers, 10 police officers and 10 armed guards of the NCoS on duty fought gallantly to repel the attack. Regrettably, two officers of the Correctional Service are yet to be accounted for while one soldier and a policeman lost their lives during the attack.
“The Kabba Custodial facility had 294 inmates as at the time of the attack, many of whom escaped after the gunmen used explosives to destroy three sides of the perimeter fence. However, there remains 28 inmates who didn’t escape. Some have also voluntarily returned to the facility as at this morning.
“The Controller General of the Nigeria Correctional Service, Haliru Nababa, is currently monitoring the situation. A tour of the facility is also ongoing. A Crisis Response Centre has been activated and a Special Taskforce mobilized to recapture escaped inmates whilst an Inter-Agency Security Task Force is already on the trail of the gunmen who attacked the facility.The public is advised to stay calm as the situation is under control.
“The Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, assures the citizenry that Nigeria’s security forces will find the attackers and bring them to justice. We shall leave no stone unturned to bring them back to custody. We are also putting INTERPOL on notice with their details, in case any of them attempts fleeing outside our shores.
We urge the people, especially the communities around the custodial facility, to be vigilant and report any strange and suspicious persons or activities to the nearest law enforcement agency.
“To the fleeing inmates, escaping from lawful custody is a serious criminal offence. Law enforcement agencies and citizens are lawfully empowered to use all necessary means to arrest and bring you to justice. You should therefore know what you are up against.
You will however be eligible for mitigation if you wilfully surrender yourselves at the nearest law enforcement office.
“The Nigeria Correctional Service shall not be cowed by elements seeking to compromise the security of our nation; we shall deal with this situation with absolute resolve. Further updates will be provided after the end of the preliminary assessment”.
The Kogi state government had in the meantime assured residents that security operatives and other stakeholders are working assiduously to unmask the perpetrators of the dastardly act.
In a statement issued on the day of the incident, Commissioner for Information and Communications, Kingsley Fanwo, urged Kogi citizens and citizens of neighbouring states to volunteer information that would ensure the apprehension of the attackers.
While asking people to go about their normal businesses, Fanwo said security agencies were doing their best to ensure security of lives and property in the face of the unfortunate breach.
“We can confirm that some gunmen attacked the Kabba Custodial Centre but investigations are still on to clearly ascertain the number of inmates that escaped from the Centre. We also lost two security operatives.
That is the number we have at the moment. “We have confidence in our security agencies to unmask the masterminds responsible for the attack and get them apprehended.
“Our security network has led to the re-arrest of the majority of the inmates that escaped as some have also come back to the centre on their own. Security agencies, traditional rulers and local hunters are working in synergy to ensure normalcy”, he said.
However, the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCoS) has announced the recapture of 114 of the 240 inmates who fled from the Kabba prison facility after the attack by the gunmen.
A statement signed by Spokesperson for the NCoS, Francis Enobore, indicated that the feat was achieved through the ingenuity of the Controller General of Corrections, Haliru Nababa.
The statement reads: “Following the attack on the Medium Security Custodial Centre, Kabba in Kogi State on September 12, 2021 and the swift intervention of the Controller General of Corrections, Haliru Nababa, a total of 114 escapees have been recaptured.
“The CG who personally led a team to the Custodial Centre for onthe- spot assessment, directed immediate Search Party Response Team to go after the escapees even as security has been beefed up through the deployment of additional Armed Squad personnel to fortify the facility.
“The CG commends the collaboration and support extended to the Service by sister security agencies including the Vigilante groups which have assisted in recapturing the fleeing inmates.
“He advised the escapees to turn themselves in within the next 24 hours or risk prosecution if arrested. He noted that it will be of no use for them to keep hiding since their photographs and biometrics have been captured and are intact”.
Previous jailbreaks Imo
On April 5, 2021, some gunmen attacked a correctional facility in Owerri, Imo state, with rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices. A total of 1,844 prisoners were freed in the process.
The attackers who were said to have stormed the facility at about 0215hrs gained entrance into the yard by using explosives to blast the administrative block. The Imo state police command headquarters was also attacked during the invasion.
Speaking on the invasion, Spokesperson for the NCoS, Francis Enobore, revealed that the attackers arrived the facility in their large number in several Hilux pick-up vans and Sienna Buses armed with sophisticated weapons and immediately engaged security personnel on duty in a fierce gun battle. As at the last count, only 184 out of the 1,844 inmates that escaped from the facility has so far been recaptured.
On October 19, 2020 during the #EndSARS protests, hoodlums broke into two correctional facilities in Benin and Oko, both in Edo state. Information from prison authorities revealed that a total of 1,993 inmates escaped from both facilities.
Condemning the attack, Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, in a statement signed by the Direc-tor, Press and Public Relations in the ministry, Mohammed Manga, disclosed that many of the fleeing inmates are convicted criminals serving terms for various criminal offences, awaiting execution or standing trial for violent crimes.
He described the unlawful release of the inmates by the hoodlums as a breach of national security, saying it portends a great danger for the society.
The statement reads: “Two Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) Custodial Centres in Benin City and Oko in Edo State were attacked yesterday by protesters purportedly under the #ENDSARS aegis, freeing (at the last count) 1,993 inmates in legal custody and looting the centres, including the weapons in their armoury.
“They came in large number, bearing dangerous weapons and attacked the officers on guard duty. They were unmistakable on their mission, which was to force the cells open, free the inmates and carry out other nefarious activities. “Peaceful protest is legitimate and guaranteed as a fundamental right of citizens, operating as individuals and groups.
However, attacking a custodial centre is a criminal act which detracts from the advertised objectives of the movement and capable of imputing impure motives to its drivers. “It must be reiterated that the custodial centres are high security zones.
The primary duty of the institution is to keep custody of convicted criminals and awaiting trial suspects; this comes before their reformation. It is integral to the justice administration system.
“Most of the inmates held at the centres are convicted criminals serving terms for various criminal offences, awaiting execution or standing trial for violent crimes.
Their being let loose gravely imperils lives and property. It is an unacceptable and intolerable threat to national and communal security”.
On October 22, 2020, while the #EndSARS protests lasted, some hoodlums broke into the Nigerian Correctional Service (NSC) facility in Okitipupa, Ondo state, freeing 58 inmates.
The hoodlums who were said to have pulled down the fence of the facility and set many of the prisoners free, also torched the headquarters of the police area command in the local government, following which many police rifles were carted away.
Meanwhile, the incessant attack on prison facilities across the country has been condemned by some senior lawyers. The lawyers while baring their minds on the issue at the weekend said the menace depicts another sordid case of security breach in the country.
The men of the wig and gown while seeking for a prompt intervention of government at ending the menace, also put forward suggestions on how to deal with the problem. Speaking on the issue, a rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome, expressed deep concerns over the menace saying it portends great danger to law-compliant citizens if left unchecked.
He also advocated for a complete take-over of prison system by state governments as a way of tackling the menace. Ozekhome said: “The frequent escape of prisoners from some prison facilities is quite worrisome.
Here are convicts who have been subjected to due process of law, having been tried and convicted; yet having a free reign in a decent society of law-compliant citizens. It affects the society adversely. Recidivism is sure to occur. Innocent citizens are easy preys.
“Having said this, it is time to ask the question; what is the business of the Federal Government in building and maintaining prisons in states in a supposed federalist form of government? Nigeria is being operated as a unitary country.
The years of injustice in the system, coupled with the lopsided nature of governance where monkey works and bamboo chops has made the average Nigerian to lose interest in the unity and oneness of Nigeria.
“Prisons are supposed to be reserved for states where the offences are committed, tried and penalized. Even prisoners know this”. Speaking in the same vein, a senior lawyer, Dr. Fassy Yusuf, lamented the danger posed to the society by incidences of jailbreaks across the country.
“The jailbreak and bombardment of Kabba Correctional Centre was another sordid case of security breach in the land. It’s an indication that our security architecture has broken down. It is unfathomable that terrorists, not bandits, will be operating for about four hours or more in a town and our security forces could not come to the aid of the Correctional Service.
“The prison officials were left to sort things by themselves and the whole town was under siege. I do not know the next target, but my appeal to those in authority is that they must find a solution to the insecurity problem of the country.
Otherwise, insecurity will consume the whole country and if we are not careful, sooner than later, there will be no country called Nigeria again. “I understand a number of the escapees have returned but the daredevil among them, particularly those on the death row and those awaiting trial for heinous crime, will not return.
This poses a great danger to the society at large. One can only hope that government will do something desperate about the situation because a desperate situation requires a desperate remedy. I hope government will prove its critics wrong by addressing the situation holistically”, Yusuf said.
On his part, Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu advocated for massive employment and engagement of youths and strict adherence to internal security measures as a way out of the problem.
He said: “The implications are not far-fetched. It exposes the entire country to further security challenges. It’s an indication to other unscrupulous elements of the possibility that further breach of our internal security is possible. It comprises the entire criminal justice system with greater possibilities of more criminal behaviour in the society. It establishes how close the country is to a failed state.
“It can be cured through adequate security measures, massive employment and engagement of youths and strict adherence to internal security measures; provision and improvement of securty infrastructure and technology”.
A rights activist, Mr. Kabir Akingbolu, also decried the danger posed by the menace saying it is a recipe for lawlessness. “Without mincing words, attack on prison facilities in the country is a dangerous signal and recipe for lawlessness and breakdown of law and order.
Unfortunately, Nigerian security architecture is not only poor but also ineffective to tackle incidences of this nature. “That apart, there is no functional data base or record in Nigeria to know who is who.
In saner and working climes, you can rarely commit an offence and go five kilometers before being caught. What I am saying in essence is that out of every ten criminals who commit crimes in saner climes, at least seventy to eighty percent of them are apprehended.
But in Nigeria, out of every ten offenders, rarely can ten percent of them be apprehended. “In effect, most of these miscreants are still living in the midst of the people but are unknown because of poor data records and as a result of that, there are tendencies that criminalities will continue to be on the rise and if care is not taken, this may breed a complete lawless society that is largely unsafe and habitable. It’s very sad”, Akingbolu said.