…1,818 prisoners still on the run
…’Fleeing inmates awaiting execution, serving jail terms, standing trial’
By Ozioruva Aliu& Omeiza Ajayi
Following last Monday’s prison break in Benin City, residents are now at the mercy of armed robbers as many robbery cases were recorded in various parts of the city in the last five days.
The prison break, which resulted in the escape of 1,993 prisoners from two correctional facilities, made the state to be flooded with escapee prisoners, who are believed to be responsible for the attacks.
Ever since the incident happened, robbery incidents have been recorded in some parts of Benin including Ekhuean, Upper Sakponba, GRA, and First East Circular.
For instance, last Thursday, a police officer was disposed of his service pistol and uniform along Reservation Road.
The police officer in mufti carrying a bag containing his uniform and service pistol was forced to hand over his bag to a group of young men in an unmarked white Toyota Sienna.
A few metres away theydragged the handbag of a fruit seller along the road while displaying his wares.
Last Thurday, a sales girl in one of the business centres in GRA was also robbed of her phone and handbag in a commercial bus by the driver and his conductor.
Hoodlums who hijacked what had been peaceful #EndSars protest had released the inmates at Oko Prison and another facility called White House on Sapele Road.
Of this number, as of press time, 1818 were still at large while 163 have either been recaptured or returned willingly. Specifically, six were gathered to have returned.
However, among those still at large is a notorious killer cultist who is also a serial killer.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that he was sentenced to death in 2018.
His fellow cult members were said to have held a welcome party for him at an undisclosed location in Benin.
He was sighted in a short video on social media, washing his gun while being hailed by his gang members.
Besides him are other hardened criminals who had kidnapped prominent persons like the Managing Director of Ogba Zoo a few years ago. They killed three policemen enduring the operation.
Also among the escapees are some suspects, who a few months ago kidnapped and murdered a legal practitioner, Osiobase Omo-Iyoha. They buried him in a shallow grave behind their house.
Also on the run are the suspected killers of a100-level University of Benin student, Mary Uwaila Omozuwa, who was allegedly gang-raped and murdered when she went to read in a church close to her residence.
Indications that all was not well with the demonstrations emerged last Sunday, a day before the prison break when the protests became violent in several parts of Benin.
There were reports that protesters were harassing and extorting motorists, setting bonfires across the state capital, which left many people stranded for hours.
READ ALSO: #EndSars protesters resist thugs in Calabar
Some people who were trapped in the ensuing traffic, and those who tried to trek home, were robbed of their belongings. Others were reportedly raped.
By Monday morning, as early as 6:30 am, all the major roads and adjoining streets across the state capital were blocked, parents who were taking their children to school could not proceed and schools were hurriedly closed. It was a harvest of bonfires across the state capital.
At the same time, a crowd had started gathering by the Central Hospital Junction in front of the Correctional Centre, Sapele Road, mounting bonfires and chanting #EndSARS slogans with many oblivious of what would happen thereafter.
After the hoodlums believed they had gained enough numerical strength, they surged forward and began their destructive activities.
They pulled down the signpost and the security post in front of the building and started throwing stones and whatever objects available at the facility.
The sentry was easily overwhelmed while the back-up started shooting from the rear of the prison building. In what looked like a coordinated attack, while the protesters were shouting in front of the gate, some of the prisoners had found their way to the top of the prison fence and their sight further emboldened the crowd and they ran towards the gate to help the prisoners jump down.
Mission accomplished, the protesters took their protest to the Oba Market Police Station which was ransacked and its armoury looted with young boys publicly brandishing guns taken from the police station.
At that point, those still in doubt on the motive of the protesters were convinced that the protesters had a different agenda from the #EndSARS demonstrations as several pump action guns were brandished openly.
Thereafter, they started chanting “Oko is next” and proceeded to Oko Correctional Centre which is about five kilometers from Ring Road where the protesters were.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that the management of Oko facility had immediately called for reinforcement from sister security agencies particularly the police and military but the support did not come.
The prison arms guards kept the protesters at bay for over four hours while they hoped for the much-needed back-up. The protesters kept surging forward from the gate until the prison personnel exhausted their ammunition and the protesters struck.
It was gathered that while the protesters were outside, the prisoners were already rioting inside the prison, an indication that the attacks were coordinated and some of the inmates were aware of what was going to happen.
The protesters, having overpowered the armed guards, gained entry into the facility, vandalised and looted all the shops on the sides of the road leading into the building. They destroyed all the vehicles parked outside the residential buildings inside the facility. They ransacked homes and offices carting away valuables including electronics, generating sets, sewing machines and other valuables that could not be quantified.
A source in Oko narrated thus to Sunday Vanguard: “It was a harrowing day for all of us in Oko. We have heard that they went to the Sapele Road Centre and were anticipating they would come to Oko and we quickly called for reinforcement from the police and the army which never came. If we had reinforcement, we would have been able to repel them because we held them for over four hours until we ran out of ammunition. We tried to tell them that we share their grief about police harassment but all those fell on deaf ears.
”They came in their thousands and their mission was to free the inmates. They have been communicating with the inmates because even before they broke into the facility, the inmates were already rioting inside the place. We are lucky we didn’t lose any of our men but some of them are critically ill as a result of beatings and machete cuts they received from the hoodlums.”
Hijack of EndSARSprotest
Narrating what happened, a protester, who pleaded anonymity said: “We had gathered ourselves from Ekheuan Road, armed with Nigerian flags and our plan as was being done at the Ugbowo axis of the city and Lekki Toll Gate was to march peacefully to Ring Road, after which we would take over the road. We had already warned our people not to harass road users. While we were marching to Ring Road close to Oba Market, we saw people running towards our direction and on enquiry, we were told that the Benin Prison had been broken and prisoners set free and Oba Market police station sacked. We saw some of the prisoners finding their way, one said he had been there for 37 years. Another said 26 years and some others were asking for directions to find their way. Immediately, we mobilised our members and went back to Ekheuan Road.”
Awaiting execution, serving jail terms, standing trial
On implication of the jailbreak, Director of Press and Public Relations, Ministry of Interior, Mohammmed Manga, said some of the escaped inmates pose threat to lives and property.
He said: “It must be reiterated that the custodial centres are high-security zones. The primary duty of the institution is to keep custody of convicted criminals and awaiting trial suspects. This comes before their reformation. It is integral to the justice administration system.
“The integrity of the custodial centres is therefore fundamental to justice. Inmates of the centres are expected to pay their dues to society, undergo reformation and be reintegrated into society as changed-for-better persons. When this process is disrupted in any way, the integrity of justice and societal renewal is subverted, with dire and unimaginable consequences.
“Most of the inmates held at the centres are convicted criminals serving terms for various criminal offences, awaiting execution or standing trial for violent crimes. Their being let loose gravely imperils lives and property. It is an unacceptable and intolerable threat to national and communal security. Government’s primary duty is to protect lives and property and keep the people safe. We shall not be shirking from our responsibility and we shall not disappoint the people.”