By Tonnie Iredia
The grave impact which insurgency has had on the nation this year, may make many Nigerians think of nothing else that marks year 2014. But there are associated developments that would also go down in history as monumental. Incessant jailbreaks across the country would no doubt be one of them. If we are lucky to have no new cases before the year runs out in a couple days, we can then say we had no less than 5 breaks during the year.
In summary, there was the break at Kuje prison in which about 21 inmates escaped. We also had Bama prison in Borno State and Mubi prison in Adamawa State which saw the escape of about 200 inmates. Then there was the rather sensational break at the Ekiti prison when as a result of revolt by inmates, more than 200 escaped.
Almost immediately another jailbreak was recorded at the Minna prisons in which about 277 inmates escaped. It would appear that attacking a prison and setting its inmates free is not in any way a difficult task; hence, a jailbreak in Konton-Karfe Medium Prison in Kogi State led to the escape of 144 of its 145 inmates meaning that only one prisoner chose to stay behind.
As usual, many analysts have adduced different reasons for the trend. While some say it is due to poor living conditions in the prisons manifesting in lack of water and electricity supply, inadequate medical facilities and archaic detention centres, others contend that congestion in the prisons is the main factor. Are the arguments justifiable?
To start, with it is difficult to identify the part of Nigeria that has adequate water supply; even government departments do not have electricity supply. Again if our medical facilities were adequate Nigerians would not have scampering for treatment in India and other countries. In other words, the average prison is better than most Nigerian rural communities and urban slums.
If so, a jail break does not guarantee any escapee of a better location except he was an executive inmate. On the other hand, congestion alone cannot be used to explain jail breaks because only diehards can seek to sack the location of criminals or those awaiting prosecution. On this score, how do we rationalize the attempt by some detainees in the Department of State Security, in Abuja, to escape from custody half way through the year? Is the DSS detention centre, another word for prison also congested?
Judging by how the Minister of interior who supervises the Prison service explains the jailbreaks, those who ascribe the failure to his incompetence may have a point. For instance, speaking after 320 inmates were set free at the Federal Prison on Afao-Ekiti Road, Ado-Ekiti, the Minister, Comrade Abba Moro joyfully stated that “As I speak with you, a reasonable number of those inmates, about 46, have been recaptured and the search for others is ongoing”.
If to recapture 46 out of 320 which is a success rate of less than 15% is by the Minister’s standard reasonable, it is foolhardy to expect the service to do well. He actually confirmed this with the aspect of his statement which said: “”The attack on Ado Ekiti prison which was similar to that on Kontonkarfi in Kogi State, a couple of months back is the same pattern “ What this suggests is that the Prison Service and its supervisor cannot deal with even an established ‘modus operandi’.
He then went on is as characteristic of many current leaders to pass the buck by blaming those he described as “desperate people outside who possibly have friends and accomplices in jail” Painfully, he joyfully announced that “luckily only the section of the awaiting trial inmates was attacked” What a consolation!!
Of course Abba Moro is a lucky Minister. It was him it would be recalled that supervised the recruitment of workers for the Immigration Service where some fellow Nigerians died while struggling to partake in his convoluted recruitment process. Nothing happened to the Minister, not even after he assaulted the sensibilities of Nigerians by blaming the dead for the calamity.
Rather than getting sacked on the basis of ‘Ministerial Responsibility’ it is the Minister who is sacking officials ostensibly to give the impression that he is handling the situation, According to media reports, the reaction of the Minister to the jail break in Minna was to order the immediate suspension of Niger State Controller of Prisons, Musa Maiyaki as well as the Officer-in-Charge, of the Prison Mohammed Buena and all officers who were on duty on December 6, 2014, when the jail break occurred.
Ordinarily there would have been nothing wrong with the suspension if it was to give way for a thorough investigation of the incident as claimed. Unfortunately, history teaches us that our investigations always end up in nothing
Those in charge of our Prisons including their supervisors are fully aware of the challenges of the service which remain unaddressed. Shortage of staff is for instance a permanent challenge. But perhaps the greatest problem of the service and indeed of all federal agencies is the meddlesomeness of the political authority in the day to day running of the organizations.
Abba Moro in particular has been accused of giving mundane directives to heads of agencies under his care. In the case of the Prisons, there was the laughable statement the other day by the Minister that “the federal government had through my office prohibited the use of mobile phones by both inmates and prison officials on duty in all the formations nationwide. I handed down 30 days ultimatum to the prisons authorities to immediately recover all handsets from inmates serving jail terms or awaiting trial, threatening to deal with the management if it failed to carry out the directive”
The Minister could jolly well send a directive to all Prison officials asking all of them to note that today is Sunday!! If we want to be fair to all concerned such ‘zombies’ should not be made to take blame. The Minister and all those who appropriated their initiative are the ones to go on suspension.