BY JIMITOTA ONOYUME, Port Harcourt
JAILBREAK is not new in Rivers State. The other time militant inmates made frantic efforts to escape from the Port Harcourt Prison, using a ladder. Five of them succeeded. This happened on August 7, last year.
The state had also recorded one during the reign of Dr Peter Odili as governor of the state. So not many were surprised at the Saturday incident at the Federal Prison, Ahoada East Local Government Area where four inmates allegedly escaped.
Vanguard Metro, VM, gathered that security operatives got hint of the plot by the inmates to escape so they were on red alert. A security source told VM that they had expected it the previous Thursday but the inmates did not make real the plot.
So security men had relaxed but remained vigilant. VM gathered that the inmates had been grumbling over what they considered congestion in the various cells. They said facilities at the prison had been completely overstretched because of the congestion.
They had reportedly complained to the management of the prison but nothing was seemingly done. The failure to respond to the complaints and grumbling of the inmates, a source said, fuelled their plot to organise a jailbreak.
A source within the prison also told VM that the inmates were not happy that Chief Judge of Rivers State and his counterpart in Bayelsa State had not visited the Federal Prison for some time. Usually such visit comes with the hope that some of the prisoners could be pardoned. According to the source, the prisoners felt they were deliberately being ignored by the two states. So to attract attention they had to organise a jailbreak.
It was not clear why they chose the sallah period to execute their plot but VM gathered that the inmates felt it was probably a time that security could be relatively relaxed in the area. The sources said they had secured outside assistance for the jailbreak. But unknown to them security operatives were already on red alert.
The source said that was why it was not difficult to quickly mobilise to foil it.
How inmates went about the plot
VM gathered that some of the inmates came back from fetching fire wood and water that
Saturday evening. When they were asked to move into their various cells, the source said they refused. And suddenly there was tension in the whole prison yard. Some of the inmates allegedly forced open the cells of those on Awaiting Trial. This further heightened the confusion.
They said security operatives quickly mobilised to the area and started shooting sporadically. Two of the prisoners who were among those trying to escape through the ceiling allegedly died from gunshot injuries. Eleven others sustained bullet wounds while four successfully escaped.
It was not clear how the four who escaped made it in spite of the heavy shooting and presence of security operatives. But a source who lives very close to the prison said he was told that they were “spiritually fortified” such that bullets could not penetrate their bodies. “I was told they had local charms that made it impossible for bullets to penetrate them. You know these guys acquire all kinds of protective charms,” the source told VM.
VM also gathered that the prisoners broke into the office of the Chief Warder and disappeared with some documents. They also reportedly vandalised the prison’s clinic. Another source said the plot by the prisoners to escape would have been very successful if security men had not stormed the place early enough.
According to the source, the heavy presence of security men discouraged involvement of external hands the inmates had mobilised to help in the jailbreak process. “When their external collaborators saw the timely arrival of security men they became afraid and ran for dear lives”.
Deputy Comptroller of Prisons in Ahoada, Mr. Aderibigbe Lawal could not be reached for comment on the development. But confirming the escape of the four prisoners, the Minister of Interior Affairs, Mr Abba Moro, said effort was on to re-arrest them. The Minister who spoke through his Special Assistant, Mr George Udoh, in Abuja, said those injured had been treated and brought back to the prison.
“The Nigerian Prison Service, NPS, is seriously on top of the situation as the agency is working hard to restore peace to the area. We want to appeal to the general public to cooperate with the government in its bid to transform our prison service. The public should also not hesitate to make available vital information to the security agencies to get rid of crime in our society,” he said.
Also, the Rivers State Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Ben Ugwuegbulam, confirmed the death of two prisoners, saying that they died of fatal injuries from bullet wounds. “Around 1700hrs (5 pm) on Saturday, inmates of the Federal Prisons, Ahoada attempted breaking out unlawfully from custody. Ahoada Police Area Command swiftly mobilised to the scene and together with other security agencies, cordoned off the entire perimeter of the prisons.
“Consequently, the escaping inmates retreated to the confines of the prisons. Two of the inmates that tried escaping through the ceiling were shot at, to prevent their escape and were fatally-wounded (killed) in the process. The situation has been brought under control.”
At the time of this piece, Chairman of Ahoada East Local Government Area where the prison is located, Chief Cassidy Ikegbidi, said peace had returned to the area as people were going about their businesses. Chief Ikegbide who spoke through his Press Secretary, Mr Blessed Oyaghiri, condemned the attempted jailbreak just as he lauded security operatives for the timely response.
Security was still heavy around the prison at the time of this report. People were seen discussing the development in groups in Ahoada East local government area when VM went round the town.