The precarious security situation in the country again came to the fore on January 27, when six gunmen sneaked into the Owerri High Court premises and freed a notorious gang leader and 29 other criminal suspects, under a hail of gunfire. The raid, executed in broad daylight at the crowded court premises, was launched to snatch the criminal kingpin, Henry Onyekachi Chibueze, alias ‘Vampire,’ and two other members of his gang who had been in Owerri Prisons awaiting trial for murders, kidnappings and other violent crimes, from prison officials.
The scandalous escape of the suspects is not just a disgrace for the prison authorities in Owerri, it is a psychological blow to millions of Nigerians, especially the people in the South-East and South-South regions who, for five years, were terrorised by the suspected murderers. The arrest of the gang leader in July 2015 had brought much relief to many Nigerians to whom he had been a scourge. Now that he is on the loose again, there cannot but be great fear among his victims.
The cavalier manner he was allowed to escape questions the handling of the high profile suspect by security agents. Although five prison officials were said to have been injured during the escape, it will be difficult for the Prisons authority in the state to explain why a suspect of that standing was not physically restrained.
Let the Comptroller-General of Prisons, Ahmed Ja’afaru, ensure that a high-powered, independent investigation team made up of detectives from various security services, conducts a thorough probe of this incident. The scandalous tales emanating from our prison formations are sometimes so sordid and replete with corruption, debauchery, illegalities and impunity. These are responsible for reports of gangsters directing criminal operations from within prison walls and why Henry Chibueze was able to organise his escape. That it could be done without the connivance of prison officials stretches credulity in a situation where many of our prisons are abuzz with telephones.
That a military detachment was a few feet away but could not give a chase, and the Police Headquarters was equally a stone-throw away, are signs of the unpreparedness of our security agencies for emergencies.
We commend the Governor of Imo State, Chief Rochas Okorocha, for his efforts to calm the population and for offering N5 million reward for information that could lead to the recapture of the suspects. We urge the police to cast their net wide and liaise closely with Interpol on the search for the suspects.
We urge all arms and branches of our law enforcement agencies to work in concert to re-arrest all the suspects without further delay. It has also become necessary to boost security in all our courts and their premises to avoid embarrassing situations such as this. The launching of attacks on courtrooms and court premises to free suspects who are in the custody of security agencies is condemnable and must not be allowed to recur in the country. Let security of the courts be improved while suspects in prison custody are closely monitored to ensure that they do not launch escape bids of this nature.
The idea that gunmen would storm the courts to free suspects is antithetical to justice delivery. It is something that must be checked if we are not to make nonsense of our efforts to punish criminals and keep the society free from them.