Nigeria: Kuje – of Sabotage, Inaction and Excuses Maximum Security Prison
Did you know that even though Nigeria has over 200 prisons (now rebranded and called ‘Correctional Centres’ though they correct and rehabilitate nothing, bring about no positive change to the lives of inmates who mostly come out as more hardened criminals, and the conditions therein remain one of the most disgusting and deplorable in the world – see my 2017 editorial: “Imprisonment in Nigeria: A Fate Worse than Death”), only two of the prisons, Kirikiri, Apapa, Lagos and Gashua, Yobe State seem to be Maximum Security Prisons? Majority of the Nigerian prisons are Medium Security and Satellite Prisons, the latter being akin to Minimum Security Prisons.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a maximum security prison is “a prison that does as much as possible to keep prisoners from escaping and watches them very closely”. Such facilities are well guarded to prevent ingress or egress, and specifically designed to accommodate the most dangerous criminals like murderers, armed robbers and terrorists (who pose serious threat to society), while the Medium Security prisons are for less violent criminals, like those who may have been convicted for drug trafficking, or white collar offences like fraud and corruption.
The first question that therefore comes to mind, is what hardened, violent criminals like Boko Haram terrorists et al, and such a large number too, were doing casually being housed in Kuje Prison, Abuja, a Medium Security Prison which is not secure enough for them, when they belong in an impenetrable Maximum Security Prison! Even the American Government that has Maximum Security Prisons all over the country, made use of Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, a military prison located within its Naval Base in Cuba, to house terrorists who they captured. There is no escape from there.
The fact of the matter is that, unfortunately Nigeria now has an uncountable number of terrorists who are just as dangerous and violent as those who are found in Guantanamo Bay; and arrangements for their detention cannot be taken as lightly as it has hitherto been. Nigerian criminals have graduated from small time crimes and armed robbery, to the highest levels of criminality – our local terrorists have more sophisticated weaponry than our security agents, and they partake in all the activities foreign terrorists do, like kidnapping, gruesome murder, bombing, suicide bombing etc.
The Kuje prison attack of last Tuesday night, a prison break to release terrorists, is certainly not the first of its kind in Nigeria. So, before the opposition PDP decides to take the hypocritical moral high ground, and start waxing lyrical about how negligent this Government is – the truth of the matter is that both the erstwhile PDP Government and this present APC administration, are both negligent – in 2012, there was a similar occurrence in Jimeta Prison in Damaturu, Yobe State, where 40 gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members attacked and orchestrated a prison break in which about 40 prisoners, mostly Boko Haram members, escaped. Seven inmates and one prison warden lost their lives during that incident, just as four inmates and one Civil Defence personnel were said to have been killed in the Kuje attack, and about 16 injured (including three prison staff). Recently, there have been other prison breaks in Edo, Oyo and Imo State, maybe about 12 in total, which shows what easy targets Nigerian correctional facilities are.
My second question is, knowing that Kuje Prison is so porous, why was security not beefed up, with so many terrorists being housed there, and with some of their colleagues calling for a swap of abductees for their fellow terrorists? I laughed when I read a statement issued by the Minister of Defence, saying that security operatives repelled the attackers. Repelled Indeed! So much so that, the terrorist attackers were alleged to have spent 15 minutes having a revival service – praying and preaching a sermon, before they continued with the attack and freed the inmates (as we say in Yoruba, ‘aye gba wòn’ – ‘they were comfortable/relaxed, they had space/time’), while all the dangerous prisoners except the ones who opted not to escape, got away! The bitter truth is that, just like over 500 prisoners who escaped from the Imo State prison last year are yet to be captured, so also is it unlikely that these terrorists and other dangerous criminals that escaped from Kuje prison will ever be apprehended.
Sadly, in the next week or two, all the top Government officials having visited the ‘locus in quo’, this incident would be forgotten and consigned into the dustbin of history (like the Imo incident); and, because there’s a total lack of accountability in our system, nothing will be done to secure the prisons and provide a maximum security facility for dangerous criminals; no one will lose their jobs, nor will anyone resign; life will just go on as usual until another violent incident, possibly of a more serious magnitude, occurs (like this was more serious than the 2012 Jimeta Prison attack). See particularly Sections 14(2)(b), 33(1) & 35, and generally, Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(the Constitution). Also see the case of Samuel v Controller of Federal Prisons, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State & Ors (2013) LPELR-20707(CA).
The Troubling Issue of Nonchalance and Inaction
What is even more troubling, is the allegation that the Prison authorities/security agencies may have been warned about the impending attack, yet Kuje Prison was not fortified, and no extra precautionary measures were taken. I would like to believe that the allegation that there was a change of Army guards stationed in the area the day before the attack, with no replacements to take over and assume duty, thereby leaving the Kuje facility as a sitting duck, is nothing but an unfounded rumour.
This nonchalance, omission, lack of concern, inaction and dereliction of duty by Government and its the relevant security agencies, is an extremely troubling trend. Governor Nasiru El Rufai alluded to the same thing, when he stated in a television interview that they had enough warning about impending attacks on the Kaduna Airport and Rail, as the Director of SSS had shown him a security report since January. He said “It’s not surveillance…. .I get enough information about these people. We know what to do. Those that are to do it, are just not doing it… ..We listen to their conversations, we know what they are planning. But, who will go and respond to them, is the issue. The Army is afraid of killing them. The Air Force is afraid of bombing them, because of media, human rights… “. Instead of Government taking any meaningful action after the Kaduna attack, the NSA (National Security Adviser), Babagana Monguno, simply denounced Governor El Rufai as nothing more than a parrot, or a canary who was singing more than he should!
One of the hallmarks of this administration, is making excuses for acts and omissions – a workman blaming his tools. So, it came as no surprise that the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, in his statement, blamed the incident on the fact that Nigerian prisons are only designed to contain internal riots, and not to repel external attacks. Whose fault is that?
Interestingly, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, surmised that the terrorists were aided by collaborators on the inside – ex or current staff. I concur. This has always been my position. That our security agencies, have been compromised and infiltrated by Boko Haram terrorists and other undesirable criminals. And that, no matter how efficient or good our security operatives may be, with moles and betrayers within their ranks, their efforts will mostly be thwarted. This is one of the reasons why I am a proponent of external assistance, to quell the insurgency and the insecurity Nigeria is facing once and for all; independent, objective people whose only mission is to secure the environment.
One good outcome of this recent Kuje attack, is the fact that it occurred in the nation’s capital and seat of Government. This may be the wake-up call that Government and all its security agencies need, to be up and doing. Hitherto, Abuja where most top officials of all arms of Government reside, had been a somewhat safe haven, with most of the violence occurring in other parts of the country. The fact that there are numerous violent terrorists on the loose, running around Abuja with gusto and relish, and Government functionaries and their families are now in clear and present danger of attack, may just be the trigger that is required for Government to take the issue of Nigeria’s insecurity more seriously. How do you even justify the omission of Government/security agencies to heed advance warnings of possible attacks? A further pointer to the fact that they may either be incompetent or compromised. So, for now, the forward that made the rounds on social media over the weekend, remains mostly the truth in Nigeria of today – that while the Government is unable to rescue its citizens from terrorists, terrorists are able to rescue their members from Government! Tragicomic. Let’s hope this ugly narrative changes “with immediate effect and automatic alacrity”, as Chief Eliyinmi of the Village Headmaster television series of the 1970’s was fond of saying, though this hope may be absolutely baseless if Government and its security agencies do not change their tactics.