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Stop the jailbreaks

Incessant jailbreaks in the country have become a worrisome phenomenon in the country. Following an invasion by unidentified gunmen that killed four soldiers and a…

Incessant jailbreaks in the country have become a worrisome phenomenon in the country. Following an invasion by unidentified gunmen that killed four soldiers and a policeman, 240 inmates recently escaped from the Medium Security Custodial Centre (MSCC) in Kabba, Kogi State. The gunmen used explosives to destroy three sides of the perimeter fence. The spokesman for the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS), Mr Francis Enobore, confirmed the incident and said the attack took place at about midnight on Sunday, September 12, 2021. According to him, the heavily armed attackers in their numbers arrived at the custodial centre and immediately engaged the guards in a fierce gun duel. During the attack, security officers on duty comprised of 15 soldiers, 10 police officers and 10 armed guards of the NCoS.

The quick response ordered by the Controller General of the NCoS, Haliru Nababa, immediately led to the re-arrest of 114 escapees on Tuesday, September 14, 2021. While 28 inmates did not escape during the attack on the facility, some escapees voluntarily returned. The Kabba MSCC was established in 2008 with a capacity to keep 200 persons. As at the time of the attack, 294 inmates were in custody out of which 224 were pre-trial detainees and 70 convicted inmates. While the custodial centre at Koton Karfe located in the same Kogi State had witnessed three separate jailbreaks in 2010, 2013 and 2016, the latest jailbreak in Kabba, came a few months after gunmen attacked the NCoS and the police headquarters in Imo State, freeing 1,844 inmates.

It would be recalled that in June 2016, two notorious kidnappers standing trial for abduction, rape and killing of one Mrs Edith Chinedu Aliyu, escaped in a daring jailbreak from the Medium Custodial Centre at Kuje, Abuja. Some 36 dangerous inmates also escaped on Wednesday, December 27, 2017, from the Ikot Ekpene Prison in Akwa Ibom State, after attacking the personnel on duty. In June 2018, 182 out of the 210 prisoners at the Minna Medium Security Custodial Centre escaped following an attack on the facility by gunmen, which killed one prison officer and an Okada rider. A total of 1,835 inmates escaped from two Medium Security Correctional Centres located at Benin and Oko in Edo State during the #EndSARS protest on October 19, 2020.

Jailbreaks are becoming too regular in Nigeria. The fact that the Kabba custodial facility was overstretched with nearly a hundred inmates over its intended capacity provides a strong link between incessant jail breaks and prison congestion arising from prolonged trials or non-execution of death sentences. Many suspects remain on trial for too long because of needless adjournments by presiding judges. Others remain in perpetual custody because of the refusal by various state governors to sign their execution warrants. Overcrowded prison cells provide chances for detainees to conspire, mastermind and hatch their escape plans. In a remark in October 2017, to a delegation of justices of the Supreme Court and Appeal Court after his return from a medical vacation, President Muhammadu Buhari described congestion in Nigerian prisons as a national scandal.

The public is at the risk of the hardened criminals who escaped from the Kabba custodial facility and are still at large, just it is from other prisoners who escaped under similar circumstances. We, therefore, call on the NCoS to track and re-arrest the escaped inmates. To address prison congestions, the Chief Judge in every state of the federation is encouraged to periodically visit custodial facilities for instant disposal of cases in which suspects have been on trial for too long.

State governors who do not want to sign death warrants have an option to commute convictions into life imprisonment. The recent claim by Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State that governors do not sign death warrants for fear of erroneous sentence is a weak argument. Governors’ inaction simply amounts to a deliberate refusal to exercise the powers conferred on them by the constitution.

Also, many of our prison buildings are old and as such susceptible to easy destruction, which can aid escape. Something should be done about that. There must be a deliberate effort to check prison breaks as the frequency with which it occurs is an embarrassment to the country.

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