By Omeiza Ajayi, Abuja
The Federal Government has condemned Monday’s invasion of the Nigerian Correctional Service NCoS Custodial Centres in Benin City and Oko in Edo state, saying it has begun a manhunt for about 1, 993 inmates who were freed from both facilities.
Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola disclosed this in a statement issued Tuesday in Abuja and signed by the Director, Press and Public Relations in the ministry, Mohammed Manga.
According to him, many of the fleeing inmates are convicted criminals serving terms for various criminal offences, awaiting execution or standing trial for violent crimes.
He said their release is, therefore, a breach of national security and constitutes a clear and present danger for the society.
The statement reads; “Two Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) Custodial Centres in Benin City and Oko in Edo State were attacked yesterday by protesters purportedly under the #ENDSARS aegis, freeing (at the last count) 1,993 inmates in legal custody and looting the centres, including the weapons in their armoury.
“They came in large number, bearing dangerous weapons and attacked the officers on guard duty. They were unmistakable on their mission, which was to force the cells open, free the inmates and carry out other nefarious activities.
“The situation has been brought under control while security in and around the custodial centres nationwide has been beefed up. An investigation has commenced determining the full impact of the attack.
“Peaceful protest is legitimate and guaranteed as a fundamental right of citizens, operating as individuals and groups. However, attacking a custodial centre is a criminal act which detracts from the advertised objectives of the movement and capable of imputing impure motives to its drivers.
“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 in our responsibility and we shall not disappoint the people.
“We urge the #ENDSARS protesters to remain peaceful, embrace dialogue, screen their rank and file and flush out those with criminal intents and, more importantly, steer clear of the custodial centres.
“This is to assure Nigerians, especially Edo State residents, that in conjunction with other security agencies, we have commenced the tracking and apprehension of all the escaped inmates before they do any harm. Anyone who notices any person or persons that might have escaped from the custodial centres should, as a patriotic duty, inform the nearest security agency”.