In the past two months, there have been series of jailbreaks and jailbreak attempts in almost a dozen facilities of the Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS) across the country. Between July and August this year, there were reported cases of prisoners’ escape from the Koton karfe prison in Kogi State, Kuje Prison in Abuja, Nsukka prison in Enugu State and the Abakaliki prison in Ebonyi State. The Abakaliki incident was the most fatal as an unreported number of prisoners were shot dead by security operatives while 10 sustained severe injuries. In addition, some officers of the NPS also sustained injuries in the incident.
The federal Ministry of Interior, through the Civil Defence, Fire, Immigration and Prisons Services Board (CDFIPB), at its emergency meeting last month, approved the dismissal of three senior Prisons officers serving in Kuje Medium Security prison and three other senior officers serving in Koton Karfe prison for their complicity in the escape of prisoners from the respective prisons. Seven junior staff serving in Kuje Medium Security prison and 10 other junior staff serving in Koton Karfe prison, who were implicated in the course of investigations into the escape saga, were also fired, while a DCP and 10 others were suspended to allow for detailed and uninterrupted investigation into the incidents.
Dismissals, suspensions, good. But beyond that, there is a need to get to the root of the matter to stem this recurring embarrassment, which tells the story of the sordid state of security in the country and the ineptitude in the system. In our view, we need to be more proactive than reactive at this point by finding out what is/are the causes of the incessant jail breaks and the complicity of officials of the NPS in the incidents.
The country’s prisons fall in the category of institutions that have suffered the worst neglect in the history of the country. Many of the prisons now in use, were built over 50 years ago with capacity to hold in many instances, few criminals. However, with the growing rate of crime, there arose the need for more people to be apprehended and put behind bars but there has been no commensurate expansion of facilities.
The prisons are already brimming with no less than 72 per cent of the 67,000 inmates awaiting trial cases. Findings have revealed that about 95 per cent of riots, escapes and jailbreaks are perpetrated by this category of prisoners. There have also been allegations of diversion of provisions such as food, beddings and medications among others by officials.
The implication of this, in our opinion, is that there is a high tendency for those in the prisons to protest and attempt to free themselves from a reform system that rather tortures and makes life unbearable for them.
There is also the need for a total overhaul of the prison system in the country. Beyond putting in place physical infrastructure, the various arms of government will need to work together in this regard, especially the judiciary, to see to the reduction of awaiting trial inmates as a speedy way out of prison congestion. In addition, corruption within the system needs to be addressed. A case in point is the recent report of one inmate being in possession of 25 GSM phones at the Kuje Prison where prisoners rioted recently.