From Romanus Ugwu, Jude Idu, Abuja
No fewer than 64 terrorist inmates undergoing trial for insurgency activities and others total 879 inmates of Kuje Medium Correctional Service, Abuja, were among the escapees after the attack on the facility Tuesday night.
Minister of Defence, Bashir Salihi Magashi, who made the confirmed after visiting the Correctional Service yesterday morning emphasised that the attackers, mainly Boko Haram members, specifically came to free their members in detention.
Though the Minister said that only one Civil Defence personnel lost his life during the attack, the prison officers however displayed three corpses as additional casualties.
“We heard about the attack that started around 10.20pm or there about. Security forces actually reacted to it. What happened is that they came in numbers, gained entrance into the prison and released some of the inmates.
”We are trying to see what we can do to ensure that all escapees are brought back to the prison yard. The people that came for this operation, from available records, is believed to be from a particular group and most likely they are Boko Haram members.
“This is because we have a sizable number of Boko Haram members in detention at Kuje prison but presently we could not locate any of them. The number of Boko Haram inmates is about 64 and none of them is in prison again. They have all escaped,” he revealed.
Lamentably, a prison officer had while confiding in Daily Sun, alleged conspiracy by the security forces, claiming that despite the Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC), and submachine gun at the disposal of the security agents on guard, there was no single attempt to deploy the weapon.
“The terrorists that came for the operation did not touch the APC and the submachine guns, but burnt down the official and personal cars beside them. There was no single resistance from the security forces on ground to confront the attackers.
“As of Monday this week, they had beefed up security around the prison following an intelligence report of a possible attack. They increased the numbers of the army, police, Civil Defence and our own armed squad, yet none of them was courageous enough to attack the terrorists.
“In fact, the Civil Defence personnel who lost his life was the only one who tried to display gallantry, but he paid with his life because he could not listen when the military, police and his colleague warned him to go into hiding. The response rate from the security guards was not encouraging at all.
“Inside the prison is completely empty in the morning because virtually all the inmates escaped. From what I gathered, one of the terrorists had broken into the office they keep files and destroyed or burnt them not to trace any record about them. I also gathered that they made an attempt to break into Abba Kyari’s cell but it was difficult for him,” he explained.
However, asked why the army responded too late and equally failed to act on the security report, the Defence Minister said: “If people give timely intelligence at the right time, I am sure we would have reacted promptly. But when it is not coming at the time you don’t expect us to react. There is every likelihood that the situation is going to be interpreted on the basis of being quick or slow.
“From what we discussed now, I am sure that every security agent that came to Kuje Prison participated in every way possible to ensure that the prisoners did not escape. Our happiness is that many of them have been recaptured. There was reinforcement because the Brigade of Guards was fully in charge,” he said.
Equally reacting to the situation, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Interior, Shauib Belgore, explained that out of over 950 inmates in Kuje Correctional Centre, over 600 of them escaped after the attack, adding that over 300 have been recaptured, while others are still at large.
“The forces on the ground did everything to repel them but they were determined and had their way, reinforcement came 30 minutes later. They killed one of the guards, a Civil Defence officer who was trying to react to the situation.
The inmates here in Kuje prison are about 994. When they broke in, they came specifically for their co-conspirators, the terrorists, but in order to get them, some of the inmates in the general population escaped as well.
Some of them have returned, others have reported themselves to the police and some others successfully retrieved in the bush where they are hiding. For now, we have retrieved about 300 out of the over 600 inmates that escaped. They are still retrieving,” the Permanent Secretary explained.
Meanwhile, residents of Kuje Area Council have recounted their experiences during the attack on the Medium Prison, revealing that they saw the sporadic shooting and the inmates escaping in droves.
Narrating his ordeal, a resident whose house is a few metres away from the prison yard told Daily Sun that while some of the escaping inmates were shot on the legs to demobilise them, other stranded ones were picked.
Still struggling to overcome the trauma of the incident, a prison staff who was on duty during the attack told Daily Sun that a terrorist inmate had offered to accommodate them in his cell, but he rejected the offer and resorted to prayers for rescue.
“I saw death pass me by during the operation, but God said that it is not my time yet,” the prison officer recounted, adding; “they arrived by exactly 10.05 through the back of the prison. Everywhere was thrown into confusion. The inmates and some staff inside became restless.
“In the confusion, a terrorist inmate offered to help accommodate me, telling me that his cell is safer for me. But I rejected his offer. All the staff had assembled at a place where we locked ourselves inside one room.
“We prayed like never before and God answered our prayers because the attackers broke almost all the rooms except our own. How we survived is still a surprise to me,” the officer who did not want his name in print narrated.
He was however angry that intervention from security forces came rather too late, stressing: “We called them repeatedly, but we didn’t get the desired response. The attackers operated for two hours 30 minutes, and almost freed all the inmates before intervention came our way.”
Meanwhile, prison officers have dismissed insinuations in some quarters that the Deputy Commissioner of Police currently undergoing trials over his alleged involvement in drugs, Abba Kyari, escaped from the prison.
“I can confirm to you that Abba Kyari is inside the prison. The attackers only made an attempt but did not succeed in pulling his gate down. It is not true that he escaped with some inmates as insinuated,” he said.
While giving an update on the incident, the correctional Service officers stated that 443 of the escapees have been recaptured, bringing the total number of inmates in the facility to 578.
“Three of the attackers were killed in the encounter while several others escaped with bullet wounds. During the gun battle, a personnel of the NSCDC unfortunately lost his life and three officers of the Nigerian Correctional Service also sustained bullet injuries. Four inmates lost their lives while 16 others sustained various degrees of injuries.
The Controller-General of Corrections, Haliru Nababa, has ordered immediate deployment of the e-Corrections Information Management System (e-CIMS) to track all fleeing inmates and return them to custody.
“While appealing for prompt supply of credible information to rearrest the fleeing inmates, the Controller General assures the public that the biometrics of all the inmates are intact and will be used to track them wherever they hide.
“He expressed his appreciation to men of other security agencies for their support and gallantry even as he extends his condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and wishes the injured a quick recovery,” the statement signed by the Public Relations Officer, Chief Superintendent of Corrections, Umar Abubakar, read.
Speaking when he visited the Centre, FCT Minister, Mohammed Musa Bello, has ordered the Gomo of Kuje, Haruna Tanko Jibrin, to immediately summon the meeting of village heads in and around the Area Council to ensure that no foreigner infiltrated the community and to fish out such person if it happens.
The Minister, who visited the Correctional Service and shown round the damaged facilities by the Controller General of Prison, Haliru Nabab, said that he visited to see for himself the extent of damage done by the terrorists.
“I am here to ensure that all the necessary authorities within the locality are on alert to ensure that when anyone is found, such shall be reported to the appropriate authority. I have no doubt that whatsoever they cannot just escape from a community and terrain they do not know like that,” he said.