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Home Uncategorized Jailbreaks: Signs Of Nigeria’s Failing Prison System? GABRIEL EMAMEH writes

Jailbreaks: Signs Of Nigeria’s Failing Prison System? GABRIEL EMAMEH writes

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Jailbreaks: Signs Of Nigeria’s Failing Prison System? GABRIEL EMAMEH writes

OPINION : Jailbreaks: Signs Of Nigeria’s Failing Prison System ?

The recent #EndSARS protest that enveloped the country and later snowballed into phases of crime and exchanges between the people and security forces, took Nigerians by surprise. Wanton lootings and vandalisation of public and private properties were the order of the day, however, no one had envisaged that the protest could lead to jailbreaks and other attempted cases in some parts of the country, writes GABRIEL EMAMEH.

Since 2016, there have been no less than fifteen recorded jailbreaks. Recent ones appeared not to be coincidental, but suggest an age-long disquiet plaguing the Nigerian prisons system to which the authorities have turned a blind eye.

However the #EndSARS protest that has lasted for almost two weeks again has resurrected a nightmare that has long been ignored.

The protests, staged across the country, particularly in the south to demand the nullification of the police unit gone rogue, SARS, to police brutality and the reform of the regular police, gained momentum in an unprecedented manner that shook the government who immediately acceded to protesters demands without delay.

The protesters have put forward five major demands which include the release of all persons unjustly arrested and justice for victims of police brutality.

Others are, “setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct (within 10 days); psychological evaluation of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed, and increase police salary so that they can be adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens”.

In a swift reaction to assuage their anger and bring to book security personnel found wanting, the federal government disbanded SARS and moved to set up judiciary inquiries to look into the matter.

According to the statement issued at a meeting convened by the IGP with stakeholders, it was agreed that the demands of the protesters would be met without delay, but the protesters refused to back down.

In Benin for instance, the Lagos-Benin highway was blocked and travelers were robbed and raped by hoodlums who infiltrated the protest and hell was let loose as thugs and cultists hijacked the peaceful protests.

While the protest continued, well armed hoodlums attacked police stations, stole arms moved to the two major correctional facilities in Benin, one in Sapele Road known as White House Prison and the minimum Oko Prison and had about 1900 prisoners freed that was the aftermath of the attack on October 19.

The angry protesters had barricaded all the entry and exit points in Benin with bonfires, logs of wood and other heavy objects to obstruct movement and allow them carry out their operations without maximum resistance from security personnel who were already overwhelmed.

Following the development, the Nigerian Police and the Edo State Government confirmed and expressed regrets over the unfortunate attacks on Police facilities – Ugbekun Police Station, Oba Market Police Station and Idogbo Police Post by hoodlums and attacks on prison facilities leading to jailbreaks.

While the manhunt for the escaped prisoners continues, Governor Godwin Obaseki gave up till 30th October to escaped prisoners to return and complete their trials and jail terms. So far, only less than 200 of them have been captured or have willingly surrendered themselves.

Their presence in the society has sent out shivers and the fear that the rate of crime could rise as long as they are out there roaming among unsuspecting members of the public who are unable to identify them. Asides the dangers they posed to the public, lives of judges who sentenced them to jail and their families are also not spared either.

Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege has also expressed fear over the jailbreaks, maintaining that judges are exposed to danger.

Omo-Agege raised the alarm last week following a motion read on the floor of the Red Chamber by Senator Biodun Olubunmi (Ekiti South), on the need to reform and address the unrest in the country.

Deputy Senate President, Senator Omo-Agege said the demands of the protesters were not out of place, and it is constitutional for citizens to protest over what affects them directly. He however raised concern over the activities of the hoodlums and other groups who have highjacked the protest, adding that such has put the lives of Judges in imminent danger.

He condemned the conducts of the SARS personnel in the past, saying he was also a victim of their brutality.

He said the #EndSARS protest “is a call that everyone would identify with, provided the protests remain peaceful

“The genuine actions of our children have been high jacked. Those of you who know how difficult it takes to convict criminals will agree that those judges who sent these people to prison are no longer safe.”

He appealed that so long as the president has approved the demands as put out by the protesters, they should be ready to shift ground and give the government the chance to implement them since most of the requests are constitutional issues.

“Most of the requests made are constitutional issues and not the one the president can approve by fiat”.

“We are a country of law. We are governed by law. Give peace a chance and give us the time to look at the issues. We are here for them”, he added.

Although in the wake of the jailbreaks in Benin there were allegations that the breaches were orchestrated by government’s agents to discredit the #EndSARS protest, a resident in Benin, Jude Okolie told LEADERSHIP that the information was untrue and the plot was hatched weeks before the protest.

“What they are telling people out there is not true. The attacks on prison facilities were planned more than a month ago.

“I can confidently tell you that those who led the prison breaks were neither the government nor genuine protesters but cult gangs and criminals who had long wanted to have their leaders out of jail”, Okolie told LEADERSHIP Sunday disclosing that he got wind of information through a friend who works in one of the prisons in Benin.

While efforts were ongoing to track escaped inmates from the Benin correctional facilities, an attempted jailbreak was last Thursday foiled at the Ikoyi Prison in Lagos.

This came just 48 hours after the ugly incident in Benin City. Thanks to the swift intervention of a combined team of security personnel who came after the incident was reported and rounded up the suspects.

Similar incident played out the same day at the Afara Custodial Centre, Umuahia where an attempted jailbreak was also foiled by a combined team of security agencies after being alerted by residents in the neighborhood that protesters were threatening to attack the centre.

These incidents have raised silent questions as to how weak the prison system in Nigeria is. Recall that on June 24, 2016, there was a successful jailbreak in the Kuje Prison, Abuja, wherein two awaiting-trial inmates, identified as Maxwell Ajukwu and Solomon Amodu, escaped.

Twenty-six days after, on July 30, there was another jailbreak at the Koton Karfe Prison in Kogi State and 13 inmates were reported to have successfully scaled the prison wall.

Eleven days after the Kogi jailbreak, on August 10, 25 inmates also escaped from the Nsukka Prison, Enugu State, in another successful jailbreak. This incident led to the suspension of 11 officers, including the prison’s controller.

On August 18, the Abakaliki Prison, Ebonyi State, was thrown into pandemonium following a foiled jailbreak. The ensuing riot resulted in the death of six inmates while four prison officers were injured.

On August 29, mayhem broke out in the Kuje Prison, as inmates resisted a move by the prison officers to search their cells for illegal items. The riot happened 11 days after the attempted jailbreak at the Abakaliki prison.

Some human rights lawyers, who have closely worked with the prison service in the past, have also alleged that the successive jailbreaks in Nigeria suggest the deep rot in the Nigerian prison system that calls for urgent attention.

What does the Nigerian law say about jailbreak and attempted jailbreak? Barr William Usman, a Benin based lawyer said the extant law guiding the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019, which was signed into law on the 14th day of August 2019 and repealed the Prisons Act, Cap P 29, Laws of the Federation 2004 clearly spells out the conditions and penalties for best practices in correctional facilities.

He explained that the new Acts conforms to international law best practices, adding that the objective of the new law, is for promotion of public protection by providing assistance for offenders in their reformation and rehabilitation.

“Section 20 subsection 1, provides that a correctional officer may use firearms, teargas or such other weapon as may be necessary against the inmate escaping or attempting to escape from custody.

“Section 20 subsection 2.  provides that a correctional officer may use firearms on any inmate engaged in any combined outbreak, or any attempt to force or break open the gate or perimeter wall of the custodial centre and continue to use weapon if the combined outbreak or attempt is ongoing.

“Subsection 7, provides that a police officer on escort may do same in the circumstances above”, he said.

“Section 29 subsection 1, provided that a person commits an offence if he by any means directly or indirectly procured or attempts to procure or persuade inmate to desert the correctional centre or aid, abet or is an accessory to the desertion or even harbours an inmate who has deserted the correctional centre.

“Anybody who commits the above mentioned offences is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N3000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or both”, said Mr William.

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