Media reports claim that 240 inmates at the Kabba Prisons in Kogi state were set free when gunmen attacked the facility recently. As a fall out of the attack, a soldier and a policeman who were on security duty lost their lives while the whereabouts of two prison personnel remain unknown.
The federal government was also reported to have solicited the assistance of International Police Organisation (INTERPOL) as efforts intensify to re-arrest the escapee-prisoners and find out what led to the jailbreak in the first instance.
In the aftermath of the incident, Kogi and adjoining states are gripped with apprehension as information reveal that most of the escapee-prisoners are hardened criminals while some are reported to be suspected terrorists. Considering the security situation in the country, civil society has every right to be worried even as we consider the INTERPOL connection as capable of giving already flustered Nigerians mere cold comfort.
The concern becomes really frightening with the spectre of unknown gunmen hanging on Nigerians like the proverbial Sword of Damocles. Across the country, the activities of armed non-state actors in the nation’s security architecture have continued to paint a picture of a nation under siege. To say that the security agencies are overwhelmed by the expanding theatres of operations of these criminals and their ever-changing tactics and strategies, will be stating the obvious.
In the ongoing challenges posed by the activities of terrorists across the country, we are wont to give the security agencies the benefit of the doubt in a veiled understanding that the situation in which they function is actually rough and tasking.
Still, we are tempted to also posit that given this scenario, the Kabba jailbreak is one too many that tells a lot about the effectiveness of the nation’s security infrastructure. If it is true that some of those prisoners were, indeed, terrorists, then we are persuaded to ask why they were sent to a minimum-security facility instead of a maximum-security prison where there is adequate arrangement for such calibre of enemies of society. In our opinion, the appropriate thing to do is to provide a separate facility to handle such cases, something in the mold of Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, owned by the United States of America that attends to the special needs of captured suspected terrorists.
By way of conjecture, it is not unlikely that the security situation in the country has become such that the operatives feel nothing when their effectiveness is questioned or their capabilities challenged. It is inexplicable that the security authorities will go out of their way to approve the detention of terrorists in a facility guarded by just a soldier and a few policemen.
That brings us to the issue of failure of intelligence. Or, for that matter, an absence of it. This newspaper will be surprised if the Directorate of State Services (DSS) and the intelligence unit of the Police and Correction Service claim that they did not have an inkling of the jailbreak before it happened. If they did have such information, why was it not acted on so as to pre-empt the attack?
We have, on many occasions, canvassed on this page, views that are intended to demonstrate understanding of what the security agencies are going through as they strive to contain the seemingly intractable crises the nation is engulfed in. We share their anxieties as well as the often difficult demands that have to be met so as to secure the country and give Nigerians space to live their lives in peace and quiet.
But there are some errors, in our view, that are not permissible as they betray a lack of seriousness on the part of the command structure of the security infrastructure. We see no reason to empathise with the security agencies in matters like the jailbreaks that keep occurring very frequently and with relative ease. In all cases, what the nation gets is reactions that can only be likened to shutting the stable when the horse is out.
We recall that not too long ago, a gang of well- organised criminals breached a medium-security prison in Owerri, the Imo State capital, freeing 1,844 inmates. Up till this time of writing, the nation is yet to be told about what happened at that facility located in an area of Owerri that is heavily fortified reinforcing speculations about a possible insider job.
According to available record, at the last count, between 2007 and 2021, 3,600 inmates escaped from Correctional facilities across the country. Also, national prison administration records indicate that the total population of inmates, including pre-trial detainees and remand prisoners in the 240 establishments, is 67,631. Nigeria’s prisons official capacity is put at 50,153, which shows that the occupancy level based on official capacity is 146.8 per cent. Over 50,000 of the country’s prison inmates are awaiting trial.
This reality of over-crowding in the prisons is one good reason for the authorities to take the matter of security in those facilities a bit seriously. The tensed situation in the country presently makes any jailbreak inexcusable. We call for a full investigation.