By Tony Osauzo and Lucky Ighomuaye (Benin), Emmanuel Adeyemi (Lokoja) and Stanley Uzoaru (Owerri)
In the wake of worsening security situation attributed mainly to mayhem perpetrated by armed bandits, gunmen and marauding herdsmen came increasing incidents of jailbreaks masterminded by criminal elements who forcefully set hundreds of inmates free from Correctional Centres. This occurrence which is also on the rise has heightened concern among the people.
In 2015, the new Koto Karfi Medium Correctional Centre commissioned about seven years ago was forcefully invaded by gunmen and over 112 inmates were set free while a prison officer on guard was reportedly killed and many others sustained injuries.
This was few years after the inmates in the old Koto Karfi facility located at the heart of the town organised a jailbreak where about 126 inmates escaped.
The old Koto Karfi Correctional Centre was built in 1924 with a capacity for holding 50 inmates, but as at the time of the jailbreak the facility was overcrowded with over 142 inmates. The Correctional Centre is noted for housing hardened criminals in the state.
Investigations revealed that due to the two jailbreaks, especially the invasion that took place in 2015, major repairs and reconstruction had to take place at the Correctional Centre, a situation which made the authorities of the Correctional Centre to move the inmates, most of who happened to be high level criminals like Boko Haram insurgents, kidnappers and other bandits to Kabba.
The old Kabba Medium Correctional Centre was built in 1940 with a capacity of 70 inmates, but it was overcrowded with over 200 inmates.
It was right in the heart of the ancient town, which probably made the Federal Government to construct a new one along Lokoja-Okebukun-Kabba Highway. The jailbreak that occurred at the facility claimed the lives of two soldiers and one mobile policeman while two correctional officers were declared missing.
Aside from this, in 2019 some armed bandits invaded an Okene High Court during a court session and shot sporadically, killing a warder and inflicting injuries on a police orderly, when they came to rescue their gang leader who had just been sentenced to life imprisonment.
The trial judge, Justice Moses Gwatana, narrowly escaped being killed when bullets shot at him hit his table. Till date, the whereabouts of the gang leader is still unknown.
Speaking with our correspondent on the causes of jailbreaks and armed invasion of Correctional Centres, a security expert, Chief Ojo Oladele, identified five major reasons for the frequent occurrence.
According to him, the slow pace of Nigeria’s judicial system in the dispensation of justice has constituted a major setback as some innocent suspects are mixed together with hardened criminals while awaiting trial for months.
He also said that anytime there was an arrest of a gang leader during an operation, if there was no summary death there would always be an attempt by his members to regroup, fully armed to rescue him at the premises of the court where he is standing trial or they forcefully break into the custodial facility to set him free
Oladele also attributed jailbreaks to overcrowding of inmates, negligence or connivance of custodial officials, poor feeding and inadequate amenities facilities at the centres.
The security expert also fingered some top government officials of having hand in sponsoring jailbreak, especially if they needed the services of a notorious criminal during election periods.
On measures to be adopted to curb the menace of jailbreaks, a retired Correctional Centre officer, Saliu Mohammed, urged judges to expedite the dispensation of justice to reduce congestion and to ensure custodial centres are well fortified.
He also said that there must be mass recruitment of custodial officials across the country as they have short supply of staff and also offer training and retraining of officials with necessary tools and equipment.
Mohammed also urged the government to provide every Correctional Centre with enough skill acquisition centres so that the inmates would learn one trade or the other and become better citizen after serving their jail terms, stressing that the Correctional Centres should be reformatory and not punitive.
On the effect of jailbreak to the society, another security expert, Taiwo Alabi, said that it creates fear among the people.
“When jailbreak occurs, the success emboldens criminals and causes rise in criminalities,” he said.
In Edo State, the desperation of inmates to exit from Correctional Centres has been attributed as the major reason for jailbreaks.
A medical doctor, Dr Bright Oniovokukor, who made this observation, noted that Correctional Centres are not a place of luxury or relaxation, but rather custodial facilities for holding people who have demonstrated some level of anti-social conducts.
On the frequent loss of security operatives as a result of jailbreak, he said: “The poor nature of security equipment in the custodial facilities puts the operatives at risk. If there are CCTV cameras in the centres, the risk that personnel are exposed to would be reduced and it may also check the frequency of jailbreaks and the attendant risk.”
“The majority of the Correctional Centres are old, too small and not clean in terms of hygiene. The dilapidated nature remains a potential risk for jailbreaks occurring. It is assumed that those in the Correctional Centres do not have any human right once they get into jail. One may be forced to ask, are there financial allocations to these Correctional Centres? If yes, how are they used? This is a question that needs to be answered.”
While affirming that most custodial facilities were built in the colonial era or immediately after independence, he said that the real reasons government has not built new prisons is because it sees custodial facilities as punishment ground for those who may have committed one offence or the other.
“The government may not have deemed it fit for that due to lack of political will. Government officials and politicians who have had a feel of it are beginning to think twice about the state of the facilities,” Oniovokukor said.
Also commenting, Dada Oyokhai, a journalist, said: “The people themselves do not believe that the building of Correctional Centres is an achievement on the side of the government. If a governor or the president should go on air to say he will be building 10 Correctional Centres, nobody will clap for them. So, to the people, it is unnecessary, but it is an achievement. It is still part of the working of the government.
“Those who are criminals, they need to be put behind the bars and if you do not build new ones and you are still relying on the old ones, it is still another problem on human rights. To me, it is our culture; we don’t see anything worthy in building Correctional Centres. I think one of the things government should do is that, building of Correctional Centres should be a thing that should be not only on the Exclusive List of the government, but on the Residual List and it should be seen as part of achievement.”
When contacted, the Public Relations Officer of the Edo State Correctional Centre, Aminu Suleiman, declined comment on the issue, saying that the request be re-directed to the Public Relations Officer of the Nigerian Correctional Service in Abuja.
Meanwhile, a visit to the Edo State Correctional Centre, Sapele road, Benin City, indicated that expansion works are ongoing.
In Imo State, the state Police Command is still mourning the loss of 15 officers who died during the jailbreak that occurred in April 2021. At least three Inspectors were among the casualties.
Most of the criminal activities perpetrated in the state have been attributed to the jailbreak, although the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Michael Abattam, has assured that the command would not rest until all those that escaped from the Correctional Centre are arrested.
At present, the state of the centre, according to the Spokesman of Owerri Correctional Centre, James Madugba, is not proper to harbour inmates.
Notwithstanding this, he said that the centre is trying to live to its reputation.
As the incidents of jailbreak continue to worry citizens in the country, the citizenry feel that the government should pay more attention on the security agencies in the country.
Former military administrator of Delta State, Air Commodore Luke Ochulor (rtd), called on the government to fully equip the security agencies and deploy more of them to the Correctional Centres.
He also opined that all the police divisions in the country should be properly secured with men and sophisticated weapons.