Famous for accommodating rich and wealthy suspects and other VIP criminals, the Medium Security Custodial Centre in Kuje Area Council of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, is under fresh scrutiny.
Anxieties escalated last Tuesday when terrorists stormed the custodial center in a night-time attack that featured the detonation of several bombs and the deployment of Rocket-Propelled Grenades (RPGs), General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMGs), and an assortment of AK-49 assault rifles, AK-47 assault rifles, and service pistols.
Armed to the teeth, the audacious attackers overcame the might of the security agents, setting free more than 800 inmates held at the custodial centre. They killed one operative (personnel of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) identified as Iliyasu) and four inmates.
A security agent, who witnessed the attack, told Saturday Vanguard in an exclusive chat that he took cover to save his life when he saw how the custodial centre fell so cheaply into the terrorists; creating the opportunity for them to have a field day.
According to the operative, he had to put his phone in silent mode and clutched the screen tightly to his belly to prevent the low-intensity blue light from shining through, because he kept on receiving calls from his comrades and didn’t want his cover to be blown by any distraction.
He explained, “I received a call that night to come around the main entrance to the Custodial Centre because there was a problem. So, I asked a colleague who was around at that time to accompany me to the place.
“As we were about to start the car, we heard the bang of a detonated bomb and two more explosives were activated in quick succession. At that point, we knew that letting the attackers catch a glimpse of us would be suicidal, so we took cover immediately.
“I threw away the car key and the armory key that was with us at that time because we feared that would be looted without mercy if we were caught by the terrorists.
“Expectedly, phone calls started pouring in from many of my contacts. I had to put the handset in silent mode and clutched the screen tightly to my stomach so that the light wouldn’t expose my hiding place.
“I believe the attackers were led by some of the ex-terrorists who had been released from custody because they seemed to have a perfect knowledge of the location of everything as they carried out their attacks. They were even calling out the nicknames of some officers and asking for their whereabouts.
“After about two hours of the rampage, I started hearing ‘Let us go! Let us go! Let us go!’ However, I didn’t feel very comfortable coming out of my hiding place just yet. So, I stayed put.
“After about 30 minutes, the terrorists made a return to the Custodial Centre. This time was more reinforced than the first time. However, they couldn’t find any security operative on the ground so they left and didn’t return again.”
Asked what he would have done if the terrorists had nabbed him, the security agent responded, “I thank God I was wearing three-quarter shorts and a T-shirt. I would have told them that I was only an inmate running for his dear life.”
That is an embarrassment to the Nigerian state, because the highly successful jailbreak in Abuja, the seat of the country’s federal power, raises serious concern over the competence of those tasked to run the security agencies and the custodial centers.
In all, the attackers who have been identified as members of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) freed 64 of their fellows who were still detained at the custodial center.
In addition to these high-profile enemies of the State, hundreds of other suspected criminals also escaped detention and made their way back into society. That’s unleashing bandits into society again.
From time to time, violent crimes have been traced to these escapees in different parts of the country. Recall the case of 35-year-old Emmanuel Joseph, an ex-convict, who was nabbed barely two weeks ago for allegedly raping an 80-year-old woman, Mrs. Alice Mogbonjubola, on Lotogbe Street, in Ondo State.
Curiously, the ISWAP terrorists who attacked the Kuje custodial center did not attack homes in the neighborhood.
However, while some terrified residents fled to “safe” places like church and mosque buildings, others locked up themselves and their family members at home, waiting for the worst to happen.
Sharing her experience with Saturday Vanguard, Ms. Mercy, a 25-year-old woman from Akwa Ibom, who resides within the estate directly behind the medium-security custodial center, said she was having her bath at about 10:00pm when the attack began.
She said: “Not long after I returned home from my business, I entered the bathroom to have a bath when all of a sudden I heard the bang that followed the detonation of bombs in the neighborhood. The impact shook many of the buildings in the area including mine.
“So, I fled the bathroom with soap bubbles all over my body, grabbed a wrapper, and headed to the room where my children were sleeping. I mounted the youngest child on my back and held the other one tightly in my right hand.
“The sporadic gunshots were too much. I couldn’t flee my house because my children are too young. So, I stayed back waiting for the terrorists to attack us and kill me and my children. I was determined to die with them in my house than leave them behind and run. Fortunately, we were not attacked. So, I thank God for everything.”
This occurrence is not a coincidence, but a huge clue that the attackers were on a mission to set free some of their affiliates, who had been arrested for terrorism and kept in the Kuje custodial center.
After 24 hours, only about 430 inmates have been recaptured, the Nigerian Correctional Service said. So, this means that an estimated 50 percent of escapee inmates; some of whom are terrorists, hardened criminals, kidnappers, carjackers, and rapists, are on the loose.
Going down history lane, it might take a long time to recapture the fugitives. This situation has already exacerbated tensions in the nation’s capital.
In the aftermath of the attack, early on Wednesday morning, a viral advisory circulated among FCT residents via WhatsApp, cautioning people against giving car lifts to strangers or stopping in lonely places.
“Good Morning AD, Kindly take note of the following: 300 terrorists attacked Kuje prison with RPGs, and GPMGs, releasing hundreds of prisoners, leaving only a few after roll call by 2:00am. Boko Haram terrorists were all released. The attack lasted for two hours. They attacked through the back of the prison and planted bombs around the prison.
“If you are in Abuja today, be careful who you pick on the road. Don’t stop at lonely places.
Open your door and shut it immediately. Watch while driving. Tell others where you are headed.
This is real, these guys are definitely not going far less than 12 hours after the escape. They are still within Abuja to blend before leaving.
“Please go and read National Security Strategy Acts in the Laws Of The Federation 1990 as amended. Our National Security has been compromised. Feel free to share with loved ones in Abuja, please,” the advisory read.
Apparently, fundamental problems dog the Kuje medium security custodial center in Abuja some of which include overcrowding, physically old and dilapidated infrastructure as well as understaffing.
Above all of these issues, the recalcitrance of the custodial authorities appears to be the most noticeable impediment to a virile correctional system in Nigeria.
An officer of the NCS in Kuje, who didn’t want his name in print because of fear of vilification, told Saturday Vanguard that he had a premonition of the attack and shared his concerns with the authorities, but nothing was done to address them.
Speaking, the officer said, “Just last week, I was discussing with my friend that I have a deep gut feeling that danger was on the horizon. I don’t know why I felt so.
“I thought perhaps, it was because I was also concerned that the entrance to the custodial center was gradually turning into a commercial hub.
“Someone had come to set up a Point-of-Sale (PoS) mini banking service near the main entrance to the custodial center. Not long after, another person came around to do a similar thing, but I confronted the second fellow and asked him to quit. He withdraws his plans.
“I gave up after a third business person came near the first PoS shop to set up his own stand and added the sales of soft drinks and snacks to it.
“I was not against people engaging in business to eke a living, but the canopies and umbrellas they set up were not enabling us to see far into the open distance.
“So, I reported to the authorities that the menace was blocking our vision and not allowing us to work well, but the management ignored the alarm, and today we have been caught unawares.”
A tally by Saturday Vanguard put the number of jailbreaks in the Kuje medium security custodial center under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration stands as three attempts in seven years. So far, two attacks have been successful while one flopped woefully.
Prior to last Tuesday’s attack, on 24 June 2016, there was a jailbreak at the Kuje medium security custodial center where two high-profile inmates in the persons of Solomon Amodu and Maxwell Ajukwu were both awaiting trial for homicide escaped from custody by scaling through the fence.
However, two months later, on 29 August 2016, another attempted jailbreak was foiled at the same custodial center. The situation was quickly put under control and order was restored as no prisoner was injured or any property was damaged in the facility.
Some analysts blame the slow, crooked justice system and the refusal of State governors to sign death warrants of some condemned inmates for creating room for the attacks on custodial centers across the country.
According to the President of Yoruba Council Worldwide, Aare Omoluabi Oladotun Hassan, prisoners deserve to be treated well; they are still part of society. If that cannot be achieved, the inmates of the custodial centers will begin to plot how to escape their conditions.
He said that to get a good start, there is a need to build more modern correctional facilities and work should be swiftly completed on the new structures under construction.
“There must be a strong security build-up around our correctional centers in order to guide against further jailbreak that is so rampant nowadays.
“Most importantly, the prosecution of criminals must be speedily carried out and appropriate justice served on them in record time,” he told Saturday Vanguard.
To get around this, governments in some countries of the Western world are partnering with the private sector to build and operate friendly prisons. For instance, in the UK and North America, a private company, G4S runs some of the prisons.
Adopting non-custodial sentencing is another alternative, as is the case in Germany. So, Nigeria is not bereft of ideas on what to do to improve the security of its custodial centers.
Worrisome is also the fact that most of the awaiting trial inmates of custodial centers are there on state offenses. It is, therefore, an anomaly to keep everybody in federal prisons, because the prison system ought to be decentralized in a country where there is true federalism
To ensure a holistic prison reform, some experts have advised that the National Assembly should delete the prison system from the Exclusive Legislative List and place it on the Concurrent List.
This could be the game-changer because it will encourage the state governors to invest a chunk of their humongous security votes into the prison system and do so competitively amongst themselves.
credit: Vanguard News NG