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The Boko Haram jailbreak

By Ochereome Nnanna
SOME security beat reporters have written stories of how the former Inspector General of Police, Mr Ogbonnaya Onovo, was shocked at his sudden removal.

According to one of the reports, Onovo was about to preside over a meeting of the Police High Command to strategise on how to deal with the jailbreak in Bauchi City plotted and carried out by outlawed Islamic sect, Boko Haram, when he was suddenly summoned to the Presidential Villa and handed his sack letter.

This is true to type about the attitude of our security agencies to threats in the system. They are very adept at chasing the horse after it has escaped from the stable. It is when lives and property have been lost, the country thrown into confusion, that those empowered to safeguard us spring into action.

Here in Nigeria, little effort is invested in crime prevention and investigation. The red and black spots of Nigeria are well known because they are constant scenes of stereotyped breakdowns of law and order. Yet, very little is done to watch them and catch trouble while it is about to stir from its catnaps.

Besides, this is a country where lessons are never learnt from our many ugly experiences. The same ugly things happen again and again in exactly the same fashion. Though one is not a security expert, commonsense (which, in Nigeria, does not appear to be so common among those running the affairs of our society) dictates that when you arrest a group of violent individuals deranged by their misguided understanding of their religion such as the Boko Haram sect, special efforts must be made to ensure that they are kept safely out of reach.

One does not have to be an expert in security studies to predict what happened in Bauchi recently, when members of the sect regrouped, attacked the Bauchi prisons, set it ablaze, overpowered prison officers and released over 800 inmates, about 200 of whom were Boko Haram adherents. Given the upheaval the sect caused in Borno State last year, it was not a very intelligent thing to do to lock them up in Bauchi or anywhere around their theatre of operation.

They should have been taken to any suitable prisons in the South West, South-South or even South East. They should not have been put in one prison as a bunch. They should have been spread thin around country. If that had been done, their members would not have the motivation to regroup and break any jail. Even if they did, a vigilant Police Force and Secret Police (SSS) interested in maintaining the law and order would quickly sniff them out before they regroup.

Sometimes, one is forced to reach the conclusion that some of these murderous sects which operate in the North are being quietly encouraged and supported by people in authority. Indeed, it came to light that a former commissioner in Borno State was a financier of Boko Haram. The man was killed before we had the pleasure of learning from him if there were more prominent accomplices probably linked to violent, foreign-based Islamists such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

I have no doubt that if government is truly interested in nipping religious violence in the bud, it can. We saw this during the days of Governor Ahmed Makarfi of Kaduna State. After the year 2000 Sharia riots which claimed thousands of souls, Makarfi evolved a community-based, inter-religious outfit that worked together to monitor potential sources of conflict and addressed them.

Since then, we have never had another riot in Kaduna. There are areas in the North that never witness riots. These include Niger, Jigawa, Zamfara and Katsina, despite the fact that they are predominantly populated indigenously by Muslims.

On the other had, Kaduna, which is almost equally shared by the Christians and Muslim indigenes, Bauchi, Gombe, Yobe and Borno, which though have Muslim majority but also have an appreciable population of non-Muslims and Kano which is predominantly Muslim, are religious flashpoints. Jos, Plateau State, is just a newcomer. It is a puzzle that the security agencies of this country must tackle.

Sending dangerous suspects (or those perceived as such) away from their primary areas of operation is not a new strategy in our security circles. When the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi was fighting the Federal Government over human rights abuses in the 1980s the military regime once sent him away to Gashua in today’s Yobe State.

Gashua is in the middle of nowhere in a manner of speaking. When General Olusegun Obasanjo and the late Lt General Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua(rtd) were condemned by the Abacha regime for alleged coup plotting in 1995, they were initially taken to Kirikiri Maximum Prisons in Lagos. Later, Obasanjo was transferred to Yola Prisons, while Yar’Adua was posted to Abakaliki Prisons after a brief stop-over at Enugu Prisons.

On each of these occasions, the prison officials believed that these prominent individuals had a lot of supporters who would come visiting them and through whom they could continue to influence a lot of things outside. They were sent away to reduce such influence.

In some cases, top prison officers were often transferred to other stations as a result of the “popularity” these VIP detainees were able to develop among both fellow inmates and prison staff.

Religious fanatics are fierce people who have been psychologically reconditioned and can infect others with their fervour. Some of these people are known to win new converts even in prison. This is why their cases have to be handled with care and expertise, which is, sadly, not the case in Nigeria.

Many people have spoken well of former IG Onovo’s fine qualities as a policeman, but unfortunately for him, and the SSS former boss, Afakriya Gadzama, the jailbreak made them look unsuitable to remain in office.


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