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December 5, 2021

Jailbreaks: Aregbesola in the Eye of a Storm

Kuje Prison attack

Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola

Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, has come under barrage of criticisms over incessant jailbreaks across the country amid allegations of political misuse of the personnel of the NSCDC, Daniel Ogbebor dissects the many issues surrounding jailbreaks in Nigeria.

A Spree of jailbreaks

By the admission of the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, at a recent Ministerial Press Briefing at the Aso Villa, 4,860 inmates of the Nigerian correctional centres have escaped from those facilities between 2020 and 2021 alone following successful jailbreaks in Benin, Owerri, and Oyo, among others. 

Also, only 954 of that number have been rearrested. That was before the recent jailbreak at the Jos Medium Security Custodial Centre, which resulted in 9 fatalities and escape of 252 inmates. The 252 on the loose are apart from the 10 rearrested.

 As the man, who seats at the helms of the supervising Ministry for the Nigeria Correctional Service (formerly Nigeria Prisons Service), Nigeria Immigration Service, Federal Fire Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Aregbesola has faced scathing criticisms, over alleged failings of the Ministry in its critical roles in the nation’s internal security, including the management and protection of the nation’s correctional centres. 

Lawyers, NBA, AfBA, others Cry Out

 Civil Society Organisations, lawyers, among others, believe that poor leadership, poor welfare of inmates, injustice, slow pace of justice, congestion, and poor security of correctional centres are at the root of the menace.

Yunus Uztaz, SAN, believes wants security agencies to work in harmony, saying, “If the security system is intact, all these things will not happen”.

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 Human rights lawyer and Welfare Secretary, Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Kunle Edun, said overcrowded correctional centres overwhelm the security architecture in the prison.

 President of the African Bar Association, AfBA, Hannibal Uwaifo, harped on poor security, corruption, and poor welfare of inmates, also blaming nepotism in the appointments and promotion of men and Women of the correctional services.

 Distractions by local politics

However, the Special Adviser on Education to the Osun Governor, Alhaji Jamiu Olawumi, believes that the Minister of Interior is being seriously distracted from doing his job by the crises in the Osun State All Progressives Congress.

Speaking on a Rave FM, Oshogbo pooitical programme, Olawumi said: ”What is happening in Osun State is also affecting the Federal Government. How many prisoners have we lost to the crowd? Over 4000. We have never had it so bad in Nigeria because he has distracted himself with happenings in Osun. The Minister for Interior is distracted. He has capacity but is distracted. Prisoners are jumping fences and he is helpless. He is distracted by the crisis he is instigating in Osun. In this crisis, you cannot find any masquerade behind it other than Ogbeni Aregbesola”.

He advised the Federal Government and the Independent National Electoral Commission against the use of the men of the Civil Defence Corps for monitoring the 2022 governorship poll in the state, saying being an organisation under the Ministry of Interior.

 ”By the time they bring a fake uniform person to Osun, it will not only affect APC, but it will also affect PDP. That is why I am shouting out now because somebody is trying to dig a hole on the ship of progress while on the deep sea.

“INEC should listen and FG should take heed to what I want to say. The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps is being misrepresented in certain functions in Osogbo. They will not be able to supervise the election here come next year because we are seeing some people, perhaps fake Civil Defence officers, carrying guns and covering their events”.

Misuse of NSCDC worsens jailbreaks- HURIWA

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Writers Association, HURIWA, has petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari linking the poor security at the correctional centres and consequent jailbreaks to the misuse of the personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) for political gains in Osun State, allegedly by Aregbesola, when the situation in the country demanded a beef-up of security around the correctional centres.

 In the petition, which was made available to newsmen at a press conference addressed in Abuja by its National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, HURIWA said: “We wish to draw your attention to the clear and unambiguous symptom of a failed leadership in the Ministry of Interior due to political distraction on the side of the Minister, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola and the need for the Minister to be called to order or asked to quit and face local Osun State politics.

 “It is worrisome that in the face of the implications of the successful and attempted jailbreaks reported across the country in the last eighteen months, which have been adjudged to be the highest so far in the cycle of any administration since the return to civil rule in 1999, the Interior Minister, Rauf Aregbesola, appears more concerned with allegedly misusing the personnel of the security agencies under his Ministry for political gains in Osun State rather than fully deploy them appropriately where they are needed to secure the Correctional Centres that are the cornerstone of Nigeria’s judicial system.

 ”HURIWA has observed that reportedly, on a weekly basis, particularly on Thursdays, that armed men from the Correctional Services and those of the Nigeria Civil and Security Defence Corps (NSCDC) are stationed at the venues where The Osun Progressives (TOP); a caucus of the Osun State All Progressives Congress suspected to be loyalists of Rauf Aregbesola who are laying claims to the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state hold their meetings.

 ”Again, reports have it that on Saturday, August 14, this group, alongside some suspected political thugs under the protection of the armed men from the Nigeria Civil and Security Defence Corps (NSCDC) allegedly attacked the state secretariat of the All Progressive Congress, wherein some persons were reportedly injured in the process.

 ”Also, on the 16th of October, 2021, while the State APC held it’s State Congress at the Osogbo Stadium where all heads of security agencies in the State and INEC were present, only the NSCDC personnel went to another part of the State to provide cover for alleged Aregbosola’s political loyalists who also claim to be holding a parallel state congress.

 ”More worrisome is that there are indications of clear communication gaps between the Office of the Commandant General and the Minister‘s Office for the deployment of tactical and combatant teams of NSCDC to all Correctional Centers in Nigeria, which was allegedly declined by the Minister.

 “It has therefore become pertinent that Your Excellency implements sanctions in calling the Minister to order and direct him to appropriately deploy personnel of the Security Agencies under his Ministry to fortify prison security and other critical national assets rather than being deployed for political assignments.

 ”Deploying sanctions in calling Rauf Aregbesola to order would provide accountability for and be a deterrent to anyone involved in using their position to divert the attention of security agencies to personal interest”.

 In the same vein, HURIWA has also petitioned the Minister of Defence and Chairman of the Presidential Think-tank on Defence and Security, Major General Bashir Magshi (Rtd.), alleging arbitrary use of power, intimidation and harassment of Osun residents by men of the NSCDC.

 HURIWA charged Magashi to protect the political rights of Osun people by calling the Commandant-General, Ahmed Audi, and the Commandant of the Osun State Command of the NSCDC, Emmanuel Ocheja, to order.

 Aregbesola Fires Back

Meanwhile, Aregbesola, however, argues: “Whatever we are witnessing is a fallout of challenges we are having nationally”.

 ”Yes, attacks could be for specific causes in the centres or simply to harass the government.

 ”But how long can they continue to run from the state? The state is a patient bird. You can run but you can never hide. Whenever and wherever they appear to transact any business, their cover will be blown”, he said.

 Also, Aregbesola’s media aide, Sola Fasure, has equally countered  Osun Governor’s aide, saying Olawumi was not in a position to determine the agency of government to monitor election in Osun.

 Fasure said: “What is happening is not jailbreak, but an attack on correction facilities and it is novel. The facilities were not designed to deal with such attacks with the military ordinance and other heavy military equipment.

 ”He (Olawumi) also has no right to determine which agency will be involved in election duty as long as it is within the responsibility of the agency”.

 Meanwhile, as Nigerians expect President Buhari to immediately address the gale of jailbreaks, while the concerns over alleged rampant political misuse of the NSCDC continue, analysts believe that the buck stops at the President’s table.