By MUKHTAR Ya’u MadobiThank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) Handbook on Dynamic Security and Prison Intelligence (Criminal Justice Handbook Series), the credibility of a prison system depends on its ability to keep prisoners in custody.
However, some unwanted incidents have further destroyed the vestige of credibility left in our country’s prison system.
Nevertheless, it is gratifying that the Nigerian Correctional Service, NCoS, revealed that no jailbreak was recorded across all its custodial centers and detention facilities in 2023.
Meanwhile, this development may not be unconnected to the implementation of feasible proactive measures to forestall this occurrences by the federal government in collaboration with key actors in the security sector.
However, going backward, specifically in the last three years to review and examine what transpired within the service, one will be left with annals of a series of jailbreaks which led to escape and blending of hardened criminals back to civilian societies.
The last one to be heard was the invasion of Kuje Medium Detention Facility situated a few kilometres away from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, by terrorists on the 6th of July, 2022.
According to an official statement from the facility, over eight hundred inmates including Boko Haram terrorists fled the prisons and only about 443 prisoners were recaptured while the many of them remain at large up till today.
Reports showed that between September 2015 to July 2022, there have been about 15 successful jailbreaks across Nigeria’s custodial centers which resulted in the escape of over 7,000 inmates.
The incidents took place in places like Bauchi, Sagamu, Ogun, Jos, Ondo, Lagos, Ekiti, Minna, Kogi, Benin, Owerri and Kuje respectively.
In fact, without looking at the foiled jail breaks, the immediate past administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari has witnessed 15 successful prison breaks.
In total, Dataphyte tracked twenty attacks on prison facilities in Nigeria with 2021 having the highest number of incidents in the 8-year period with a total of 7 attacks.
However pundits and stakeholders have attributed this problem to multifaceted challenges around the sector which would continue to undermine the safety of custodial centers across the country, if not tamed properly.
One of such issues is the institutional problem where the prisons are overcrowded with an overwhelming number of inmates beyond their carrying capacity.
Prison capacity in Nigeria, across all facilities is 50,000 but the actual population of Nigerian prisons is over seventy thousand spread across 253 custodial centres in the country.
The number of prisoners has been on the increase over the years. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows that the Nigerian prison was overcrowded by 34.2% in 2016.
Another data from the NCoS shows that the overcrowding increased by 48% in 2022, showing a 12% growth in overpopulation of prisons between 2016 and 2022. The prison population in 2016 was 67,329 but grew to 74675 in 2022.
It is agonising that out of this figure, over 50,000, which loosely translates to about 70 per cent, are awaiting trial inmates. Thus, delay in justice dispensation is also very rife.
Another version signalled the weak security system of our collective security institutions as the major reason that paves way for criminals to initiate and succeed with jailbreaks.
For example, during the wake of Kuje prison break, on visit to the scene, upon visitation to the scene, Mr. Buhari entirely blamed the intelligence gathering system for the security breach.
He said; “I am disappointed with the intelligence system. How can terrorists organise, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it? I am expecting a comprehensive report on this shocking incident.”
Of all these jail breaks, it is learned that only a fraction of the escapees were able to be recaptured by the security forces.
As such, many of them get integrated back in the society and end up constituting nuisance. They further add more burden to our fragile security through committing various forms of crimes.
The most obvious effect is a rise in violent crime; robberies, kidnappings, armed attacks, and possible terrorist acts become more commonplace. The public is left vulnerable, always fearing random encounters with these escaped individuals.
Unrecaptured criminals might reorganize and create more robust networks, leveraging their resources and expertise to foment instability and violence. This may lead to more serious security issues, such as the radicalization of susceptible people and the emergence of extremist organizations, which would further destabilize localities and areas.
Remember how in July 2022, a face of one of the Boko Haram members who escaped from the Kuje correctional facility appeared in the video of hostages of the Abuja-Kaduna train attack.
The consequences are many as regular jail breakouts and the inability to apprehend escaped prisoners present a picture of a state with insufficient law enforcement and a subpar penal system. This would harm Nigeria’s standing abroad, putting off foreign investment and travel, and possibly having an effect on commercial ties.
In conclusion, unarrested escapees from Nigerian jailbreaks have far-reaching and extremely worrying security ramifications. If this problem is not tackled, there is every chance that social order will collapse, violence will increase, and reputational harm will occur worldwide.
However a multifaceted strategy is needed in order to address these challenges. Important improvements include stronger infrastructure, enhanced intelligence gathering, and enhanced training for correctional officers.
But these initiatives need to be paired with tackling the underlying issues that lead to crime, like social injustice, unemployment, and poverty.
Additionally, to lessen jail overcrowding and the possibility of unrest inside correctional facilities, quick and effective legal procedures are crucial.
MUKHTAR is the author of “National Security Strategies: A Young Writer’s Perspectives.”