Law & Human Rights

July 14, 2022

How FG can win ongoing ‘jailbreak war’ in Nigeria — Experts


By Ise-Oluwa Ige

In this report, Vanguard Law and Human Rights chronicles cases of jailbreak in Nigeria between 2010 and 2022 with deliberate focus on how they were carried out in order to establish a pattern of attack; digs into existing literature on the social problem and interacts with experts to identify in clear terms, what the problems are and highlights what government must urgently do to cancel the emerging agenda of terror groups plotting to turn Nigeria to a complete failed state.

In the last 12 years, Boko Haram terror group and other criminal gangs have successfully launched not less than 15 organised attacks against key prison facilities located in different geo-political zones of the country to liberate their gang members either awaiting trial or serving separate jail terms in the affected custodial centres.

These are besides various attempts by inmates to breach the security of the custodial centres over various reasons including poor treatment, detention without trial, among others.

From Jimeta Prison in Damaturu, Shagamu Minimum Security Prisons in Ogun State, Olokuta Medium Security Prisons in Ondo State, to Koto-Karfe Federal Medium Security Prisons in Kogi, the narrative is the same.

On Tuesday, July 5, 2022, at about 10:30pm, a large number of heavily armed terrorists stormed the Kuje Medium Security Prisons located in the Federal Capital Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, with high explosives and guns, overpowered the minimally armed security guards on duty and freed over 800 of the 994 inmates in the facility.

The terrorists who released all the 69 Boko Haram suspects detained in the prison also attacked the record section of the prison to destroy available inmates’ records so that government would have nothing to fall back on to trace the released inmates.

For the inmates who were not members of the terror group, the terrorists allegedly shared transportation fare to them to aid their escape.

Media reports on the attack indicated that all the invaders left Kuje Correctional Centre in the same number they came, unscathed.

Less than 24 hours after the attack, President Muhammadu Buhari visited the facility to assess the situation.

Buhari, who, like most Nigerians, was shocked by both the scale and audacity of the attack rhetorically queried: “How did the defences at the prison fail to prevent the attack? “How many inmates were in the facility? How many of them can you account for? How many personnel did you have on duty? How many of them were armed? Were there guards on the watchtower? What did they do? Does the CCTV work?”

Apparently confused on which question to answer first, President Buhari faced the prison officials and released his verdict: “I am disappointed with the intelligence system. How can terrorists organise, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it?”

That was on July 6, 2022.

On July 7, 2022, President of the Nigerian Senate, Ahmed Lawan also led a delegation of the upper chamber of the National Assembly to the Kuje facility and declared that the event was an indication that Nigeria’s security architecture had failed.

Mr. Lawan’s remarks came about the same time that the Interior Minister, Rauf Aregebesola said that there was no defence for the Tuesday attack on Kuje Correctional Centre by men of the Boko Haram sect, saying the centre had enough men to protect the facility but unfortunately, they couldn’t hold their position effectively.

“We have a platoon of security officers deployed in here. We have the high grade of military, police and other security forces deployment for protection but strangely, something happened most of which I cannot say on camera,” he said.

FG boasts that Nigeria not likely to experience jailbreaks again (2021)

Vanguard Law and Human Rights recalls that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier assured Nigerians that jailbreaks would become history in the country.

A cabinet member and Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, who gave the assurance on December 3, 2021, said the government had already put in place a couple of measures to tackle the perennial problem.

Aregbesola spoke against the background fact that between 2010 and 2021 alone, available statistics showed that there were, at least, 30 different prison breaks in different formations of the prison service in the country which resulted in the escape of over 7,000 inmates.

In fact, of the figure, 3,300 inmates escaped from Nigerian correctional centres in just one year, worsening the country’s security situation.

Aregbesola who said the statistics were worrying, announced that the Federal Government had declared all custodial centres as critical national assets and that  extra armed guards were being mobilised to protect the national assets.

He disclosed that the Interior Ministry had started taking the DNA and bio-metric information of all inmates across the country as a first step to securing the prisons while also beefing up security across such facilities.

Besides, available statistics show that the current administration has so far made the highest allocations to the prison sector in the history of the agency.

For instance, the sum of N4 billion was allocated in 2015; N14 billion in 2016; N16.6 billion in 2017; while higher allocations were made in 2018 and 2019, with each year having over 70 per cent recurrent expenditure.

But it appears the impact is yet to show as the constant challenge of overcrowding still persists while aggrieved inmates are still itching to breach prisons’ security to escape.

Capacity of Nigerian Prisons and its Population

Vanguard Law and Human Rights reports that the Nigerian prisons are operated by the Nigerian Correctional Service, NCoS, formerly known as Nigerian Prison Service, NPS. The agency is headquartered in Abuja, and it is under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Interior and the Civil Defence Immigration and Correctional Service.

According to the Nigerian prisons,  there are currently 240 correctional facilities in Nigeria and the official capacity of the centres is put at 50, 153 inmates.

However, as at 2020, the population of inmates in the 240 prison formations in the country stood at 65,045 with 48,050 awaiting trial inmates representing 73.87 per cent; 15,678 convicts representing 24.09 per cent; 1,119 juvenile/minor inmates, representing 1.72 per cent and  198 inmates who are foreigners, representing 0.30 per cent of the total inmates in the 240 formations. 

The upsurge in population of inmates without expansion of available facilities to accommodate the inmates apparently remains one of the reasons there has been uprisings and various attempts to escape from the prisons.

Jailbreaks  2010 – 2021

There have been several cases of jailbreaks in some of the prison formations in the country in the past decades.

Available statistics indicate that between October 2020 and November 2021 alone, there were not less than 15 jailbreak cases in different geo-political zones of the country, but majority of them were unsuccessful.

For instance, jailbreak attempts were made on October 19, 2020 in Oko Prison, Edo State; October 22, 2020 at Ikoyi facility in Lagos; October 22, 2020 at the Ajara Umudu Correctional Centre in Abia State; and October 22, 2020 at NCoS facility in Warri, Delta State.

Similar attempts  were also made on April 9, 2021 in Bauchi prisons; April 12, 2021 at the Nigerian Prison Headquarters, along Okigwe Road, Owerri in Imo State; and April 22, 2021 at Kurmawa Prisons located within Emir’s Palace in Kano State, among others but they were quelled by a combined team of the NSCDC, NCoS, the Police and the Nigerian Army even though there were few casualties in some of the cases.

Vanguard Law and Human Rights however reports that notwithstanding the fact that some of the cases were unsuccessful, not less than 3,300 inmates were released into the free world between October 2020 and November 2021.

Expectedly, there were several jailbreak cases between 2010 and 2022 but this report will examine few of such cases which were successful with significant number of inmates released into the free world.

Methods of jailbreaks in Nigeria

There have been countless infamous escapes from prisons throughout history. For instance in the 13th Century, specifically, in 1244, whilst imprisoned in the Tower of London, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr crafted a makeshift rope made of bed sheets and cloths, lowered it, and climbed down. However, because he was heavy, the rope broke and he fell to his death. Also in 1922, a IRA bomb blew a hole in the wall of the jail in Dundalk County, Louth, Ireland. 106 IRA prisoners escaped. A few weeks later, these same prisoners returned fully armed, and took over the whole prison, freeing remaining prisoners.

These two instances and countless others took place in foreign jurisdictions, many years before Nigeria came into being. There have also been several cases of jailbreaks in the country in the last 62 years of its existence save that it was rare in the first three or four decades of its existence but very common in the last two decades.

Several studies also revealed that various techniques had been employed in the past by the inmates or external attackers across jurisdictions in the world to facilitate jailbreaks.

Some of these methods include physical method, rescue through airlifting of inmates, digging moats and ditches and creating blast within the prison facility.

However, a critical study of previous attempts in Nigeria as reflected in the Table above, showed that physical method has remained the key technique adopted by the perpetrators of prison breaks in Nigeria in recent times.

The technique involves the deployment of arms and explosives such as dynamite, to suppress the prison armed guards and other officials resulting in grave fatalities.

Analysis of attacks on prison facilities in Nigeria between 2010 and 2021

Indeed, of the 18 serious cases captured in the Table above, 12 were carried out by gunmen who were either Boko Haram terrorists  or armed robbers whose main objective was to rescue their gang members held in the attacked facilities, two of the jailbreak cases, however, occurred following protest by inmates; two others were spearheaded by thugs outside the prison walls who hijacked ENDSARS  protest while the remaining one was spearheaded by two inmates who attempted to scale the fence to escape from detention but they jumped to their deaths.

Statistics also showed that there were records of casualties in most of the jailbreak attempts involving inmates, prison officials and security guards on duty but that the inmates were more affected in terms of number of casualties.

Vanguard Law and Human Rights reports that both former President Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent, President Buhari, were in the saddle between 2010 and 2022, the period covered by this report.

Specifically,  Goodluck Jonathan was in charge between 2010 and 2015 while Buhari took over the mantle of leadership from May 29, 2015 and has remained in power till 2022.

The statistics from the Table above showed that nine (9) of the serious jailbreak cases took place during Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure while the remaining nine (9) cases took place during Buhari’s tenure which implied that if there is any difference between the two governments in terms of containment of security challenges, it is like drawing a distinction between six and half a dozen.

Besides, 10 of the 18 cases occurred in prison facilities located in the southern part of the country including Ogun, Ondo, Lagos, Ekiti, Edo, Imo, Oyo, while the remaining eight cases took place in the facilities located in the northern part of the country including Bauchi, Yobe, Abuja, Kogi, Niger and Plateau, suggesting that custodial centres in both North and South of Nigeria have their fair share in prison breaks.

Causes of jail breaks in Nigeria

According to former Abia State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Awa Kalu, SAN, jailbreaks are inevitable because the nation’s Correctional Centres are antiquated in view of the fact that some of them were built in colonial times.

Besides, he said it has to be borne in mind that all the indices that lead to a higher crime rate are present and are flourishing in the country and that there are many agencies which have legal authority to charge and prosecute suspects which has led to a high turnover in convictions, adding that  it does not appear that the courts are taking advantage of non-custodial sentencing, because so many judges (including magistrates) delight society by putting people in jail.

Aligning with the submission of Prof. Kalu, the Coordinator of Legal National Defence for Human Rights, Nzube Ojiugo, said what is happening presently in the nation’s custodial centres should be expected particularly when people who had a small brush with the law were kept in prison for long, awaiting trial in perpetuity.

“You lock up somebody who is presumed innocent for so many years and nobody is talking about trial and nobody is giving them information. They get to mix up with hardened criminals who are kept in prison for heinous crimes. Such situation breeds violence especially with several institutional lapses in Nigerian prisons which are glaring.

“There are also people who were arrested for terrorism and have been there for five years without trial, it’s natural especially for such people to revolt. And that’s exactly what we are seeing. And of course, one successful jailbreak motivates another,” he reasoned.

A human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, who also agreed with earlier contributors, recalled how the Minister of Interior few days ago, happily disclosed that  61,000 Boko Haram terrorists were presently held in prison custody in the North-East when it is common knowledge that majority of the so-called detainees (61,000) have been held for over 10 years.

He said since terrorism is said to be a federal offence, the governors of the North-East region have requested for the fiat of the Attorney-General of the Federation to have the suspects tried by the respective State Ministries of Justice “but for some inexplicable reasons, Mr. Malami, SAN, turned down the request. Hence, the suspects have been abandoned in prolonged detention.”

In an interview, a retired colonel in the military, who asked not to be named, described the incessant prison breaks Nigeria is experiencing as the hallmark of the security crisis in the country.

He said different armed groups are unleashing violence in almost all parts of the country and when you look at it, they are the ones leading these attacks on prisons.

“Correctional facilities which are expected to be the most secured government facilities in the country, are now constantly invaded. This is a ploy by these armed groups to increase fear and apprehension in the society,” he said.

What government should do to end jailbreaks in Nigeria

Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Falana, SAN, has strongly advised the Federal Government to take concrete steps that will lead to winning the war against jailbreaks in Nigeria instead of adopting a fire brigade approach anytime there is security breach in our prisons.

He said during a visit to the Kuje Correctional Centre last week, President Buhari asked certain rhetorical questions which would have been unnecessary if the Federal Government had complied with section 28 (1), (2) & (3) of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act which provide as follows:

“(1) There shall be provided monitoring devices to protect, control and safeguard correctional activities, including observatory towers, double perimeter walls, close circuit television, body scanners, e-monitoring devices, electrically activated alarm systems and other instruments of restraint.

(2) The Correctional Service shall establish and maintain a fully equipped armed squads, intelligence and investigation unit to enhance security, surveillance, monitoring, intelligence-gathering and protection.

(3) In deploying the facilities under subsection (1), priority shall be given to the security requirements of maximum security custodial centres.”

He noted that before the attack on the Kuje Correctional Centre, terrorists and other armed criminal gangs had successfully attacked 14 other correctional centres and freed thousands of convicts and awaiting trial inmates in many states of the federation.

“In order to secure all prisons in the country in line with the aforementioned provisions of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, the Federal Executive Council should urgently approve fund for the purchase and installation of the necessary security equipment,” he advised.

The respected silk further advised that since the government has disclosed that it still has “61,000 of them (Boko Haram suspects) in our custody in the North-East….we are compelled to call on the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, to ensure that the indicted sponsors of terrorism and terror suspects are charged before the Federal High Court.

“We also call on the members of the National Assembly who have been appropriating fund for the prosecution of terror suspects to monitor the prosecution of the indicted terror suspects.

Former Attorney-General of Abia State, Prof. Awa Kalu, SAN, in his contribution, advised that the nation’s antiquated prisons built in colonial times must be renovated, refurbished, renewed or reconstructed as the case may be.

He also said that it is high time that those who have authority to convict and sentence began to feel free and proud to impose non-custodial sentences, especially where the offence is not severe or abhorrent, and in addition, where the trial judge or magistrate is at liberty to impose non-custodial sentences (such as fines), where possible to decongest prisons.

“I believe that it is necessary for the purpose of reducing the population of inmates awaiting trial, for the chief judges of states to take advantage of the law which empowers them to visit correctional centres in order to release those who are charged with minor offences as well as misdemeanours, particularly those who have spent a longer time awaiting trial than they would have, had they been timeously tried, convicted and sentenced.

“I remember that before the abolition of the offence of wandering (by Decree), a lot of people spent up to five years awaiting trial for wandering. We live in an environment where disputes of a civil nature are converted to serious crimes which some agencies eagerly exploit unwarrantedly.

“Therefore, the situation requires a holistic approach and the earlier the Ministries of Interior, Justice, Comptroller General of correctional facilities as well as multiple prosecutorial authorities, sit together and fashion a solution, the better.

A stitch in time saves nine,” he added.

A former spokesperson of the correctional service, Mr. Austin Njoku who aligned with Awa Kalu on the state of the nation’s correctional centres also advised that government should give it a special attention.

His words: “If you travel outside the country, you will discover that a prison is built in quiet an isolated place where there are buffer zones, you cross hurdles and red zones before you gain access. If you are coming with a mind to attack, before you reach the first gate, second gate and third gate, the security will be aware that the person coming has an agenda.

“Think of any custodial center you will see in Nigeria, all of them are situated inside the town, you can’t stop people and motorists from passing and you don’t know who is who, so it becomes a problem.

“We should condemn most of the correctional centres we have now, they are not up to standard, they can’t hold the calibre of inmates we have.

“The agenda of these people is to recruit people to come and help them in this insecurity we are facing now.

“Government should bring out money, the idea of when something happens, you set up a committee and sit down and bring some few millions to buy vehicles, is not helping, the structures are such that cannot enable the security officers to face any attacker,” he added.

Also, a security expert, Mr Timothy Okoh said the issue of poor prison facilities, inadequate security features such as CCTV, motion sensors, and high electric fences should be addressed urgently even as he added that those invading the correctional centres do not hatch their plans in isolation, saying:

“I believe there is a connivance with prison officials for these jailbreaks to happen,” he added.

While stakeholders have identified the challenges confronting the nation’s correctional facilities with recommendations, it is pertinent to add that various studies conducted recently on jailbreaks have also identified corruption among prison officials; connivance between members of terror groups and the security personnel manning the prison facilities and absence or weak intelligence system, as other factors that contributed to the success so far recorded by the terror groups.

It is, therefore, suggested that the allegations of corruption and connivance with terrorists by prison officials should be thoroughly investigated with decisive steps taken towards ending jailbreak war in the country.

Besides, based on available statistics as shown in Table 1 to the effect that majority of the serious prison attacks were launched by members of the Boko Haram terror group and criminal gangs together with the information released by the Interior Minister, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola that the Federal Government still has 61,000 terror suspects in various prisons in the North-East, the Federal Government needs not be told that the terror groups would soon face detention facilities in the North-East to repeat what they had successfully done in prison formations in other geo- political zones.

The Federal Government should also partner with the academia regarding outcomes of various studies on the issue at stake, particularly as they affect prison intelligence which many studies have established is either lacking or ineffective in the prison service.

It is, therefore, hoped that the correctional officers are not only retooled but also retrained in the areas of gathering information.