By Pascal Chimezie
On the early morning of Easter Monday April 4, the Nigerian Prison facility in Owerri, the capital of Imo state, was attacked by unknown gunmen. Unidentified number of inmates released. Some reports put the number of escapees at 2000. But the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS), that is new baptismal name of former Nigerian Prison service (NPS), is confirming 1,844 escaped inmates! Movable and inmovable properties belonging to the Correctional Service and the Police were also destroyed in the attack. Some eye witnesses accounts say the attack lasted between 1a.m – 3a.m in the morning.
Those who are well conversant with the location of the said Correctional facility in Owerri (it was few meters away from the Government House Owerri, and within the precint of the Imo state Police Command Hqtrs, and the Department of State Security (DSS), Owerri, will wonder how on earth it is possible for such an attack to take place and lasted for hours without any counter reaction, prevention or arrests from the conventional security agencies in the state! This, on itself, speaks volume of security situation and the protection of life and property in Nigeria.
In less than 24 hours, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, came out to finger the indigenous people of Biafra (Ipob) as being responsible.
Ipob has since denied any involvement. But it appears the government is not satisfied with Ipob’s denial. President Muhammadu Buhari, still in London hospital for “routine medical checkup,” has described the incident as a “terrorist attack.” Of course, his body language is clear.
Ipob, in the eyes of government of Nigeria, is seen as a “terrorist group,” even when Fulani herdsmen designated as the 4th most deadly terror group in the world by the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), is yet to be so designated by the federal government of Nigeria. It was therefore not surprising to see the IGP made haste to link the group with the attack, even before the commencement of investigation.
Meanwhile the police is yet to unravel those behind the deadly Ebonyi state communities attack, suspected to be killer herdsmen, which left more than a dozen people dead.
In the first place, the IGP has since retired by law, but recycled for another 3 months against the norm by Mr. “Integrity” President, Muhammadu Buhari. One is therefore not surprised at various hasty positions almost everyone has so far adopted on an issue which requires dispassionate inquest.
So long as the Nigerian police is reluctant to conduct diligent investigation before arriving at any conclusion, it will be difficult to know the truth. And pushing false narrative forward as truth is a way of playing smart to help real culprits escape justice. The light speed with which the government is willing to lay culpability at the doorsteps of Ipob without diligent investigation leaves much to be desired. Nothing short of forensic investigation and incontrovertible evidence is required to the Owerri unfortunate incident.
Prison attacks in Nigeria is almost a recurring decimal. It’s not something new. It has remained a mystery too difficult for government to unravel and solve. And it appears the government is not in a hurry to put a permanent stop to it. The reason being that sometimes the government itself cannot be absolved of blame.
In December 2020, there was attack on the Cross River Police Command cell. About 7 suspects escaped. In October 2020, there was Okere Prison attack in Warrior, Delta state. In July 2016, there was Nsukka Prison jailbreak in Enugu.
Others include the Ondo prison jailbreak in Olokuta, Akure by about 50 unknown gunmen, Ogun prison jailbreak (2013), Minna prison jailbreak, Niger state (2014), Lagos Kirikiri prison jailbreak (2014), Kogi prison jailbreak (2014, 2016), Ekiti prison jailbreak (2014), Agodi prison at Ibadan, Oyo state (2007), and Edo prison attack in 2012.
Even the DSS headquarters in Abuja was attacked in 2014. So what is a big deal about Owerri prison attack? Jailbreaks have been a recurring decimal in Nigeria, and a sign of the weakness of the state. Some say it’s part of the indices of a failing, if not a failed, state!
Which of these attacks have we seen the masterminds uncovered, arrested, prosecuted and jailed? It speaks to lack of capacity of the Nigerian state.
Politicians and those in power manipulate a lot of things for some selfish reasons. So long as what they want to do suits their particular agenda or narrative, they can go to any length, including engineering prison attacks! Jailbreaks sometimes are veritable tool for settlement of political scores or to gain political mileage against opponents and to suppress those who are at the receiving end.
The incessant attacks on the Nigerian Prison facilities is a direct indictment on our security agencies. It exposes their inability to protect lives and properties, which is their primary constitutional and statutory responsibility. Yet they continue to draw salaries from public till every month.
Frequent jailbreaks also make a mockery of judiciary and justice system in Nigeria. A situation where innocent suspects are made victims by hauling them into detention rooms without trial while criminals, killer herdsmen, bandits, kidnappers, terrorists and other merchants of death, walk free as citizens, it does not engender confidence in the state, or make for an orderly and lawful society.
Since policing in Nigeria appears to have been ethnicized and politicized, the only way forward is to empower the locals to take full responsibility of their own internal and community security. Waiting for the government is tantamount to waiting for the proverbial Goddot, which will never come! It’s an easiest way to self liquidation, which the people of the Southeast cannot afford.
- NB: Comrade Pascal Chimezie, a former Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Ikeja-Lagos, writes from Lagos