THOUSANDS OF JAILBREAKERS ON THE RUN IN NIGERIA WORSENING INSECURITY

Ghana

The Nigerian Correctional Service may have lost track of thousands of escaped convicted felons who remain on the run weeks, months and, in some cases, years after fleeing prison facilities in the country.

NCoS has blamed its inability to capture the thousands of escapees or even provide accurate statistics on the exact numbers of those recaptured and those still on the run on the lack of biodata of all prison inmates.

The only available statistics of escaped and recaptured inmates are from news reports when the jailbreaks occurred.


Roughly 2,000 inmates escaped during the EndSARS protests in October 2020, only 207 were recaptured. Of the about 1800 inmates that fled Imo Prison in  April, only about 184 have been caught, while more recently, 240 inmates escaped from the Medium Custodial Centre, Kabba, in Kogi State on September 12, with about 112 reported to have been recaptured.

The NCoS, however, says it is working towards digitising the prison system in the country so as to make it more difficult for inmates to escape from the custodial centres and to make it easier for the Service to recapture any escaped inmates.

Public relations officer of the service, Francis Enobore, who disclosed this to LEADERSHIP Weekend, said information on the number of inmates that escaped from the Nigeria Correctional Centres in the country and those that were recaptured in the last three years was sketchy because there is no digital system for such comprehensive and authentic figure as of now.

Enobore explained that while efforts are ongoing by the Service to ensure that the recapture of the inmates that escaped from the Kabba Correctional Centre last week, the Service at the moment does not have an authentic and comprehensive data of the number of inmates that were recaptured or those that returned on their own to the centres in the last three years, after they had escaped.

He added that this is because there is no authentic biodata of inmates that could reveal their identities as escapees, especially when they transact businesses as is obtainable in more advanced countries.

According to him, the Service is still working towards reaching that level where at a click of buttons, an inmate who escaped from the custodial centres could be picked and rearrested based on his/her biodata.

The NCoS public relations officer added that although many of the escaped inmates had either been recaptured and convicted for committing another offence after they had escaped from other centres and sentenced to other terms of imprisonment, “as of  now, there is no comprehensive list of the number that we can make references to, adding that the service is still working on how to get the comprehensive list.”

He said the focus of the service now is on how to recapture the escaped inmates from Kabba Correctional Centre in Kogi State.

“After that then we can begin to count the number of arrests and the total number of inmates that were recaptured in the last three years as you demanded.

“I would also like to inform you that the service is equally working towards digitising the prison system in the country, so that we have a comprehensive biodata of all the inmates in Nigeria Correctional Centres, so that the service can recapture them using their biodata anytime there is a jailbreak. This could be done through their fingerprint and other information,” he said.

“For instance, if an inmate who gave his name as Emmanuel escapes from Owerri Correctional Centre and he commits another offence and is convicted in Kano, he may give his name as Musa. There is no way the service could trace the identity of such an escapee, because there is no comprehensive biodata of inmates in the country as of today. So, that is what we are working towards in our effort at digitising the prison system, so that we will have a comprehensive biodata of all inmates, such that when there is a jailbreak we will always recapture them wherever they go, as obtainable in more advanced countries of the world.”

On October 23, 2020, some inmates escaped during the jailbreak at the Nigerian Correctional Service, Warri, otherwise known as Okere Prisons.

The administrative buildings, security posts and main entrance of the facility as well as inmates’ cells were set ablaze by the irate inmates during the attempted jailbreak.

One of the inmates who attempted to hijack a rifle from one of the security men sent to restore normalcy there was said to have been gunned down, which prompted the state government to invoke curfew in the area.

Uche Mghako, the state command’s PRO, confirmed to LEADERSHIP Sunday that 26 inmates escaped while 16 were rearrested.

This contradicted the Delta State government’s statement that all the 1,007 inmates of the Correctional Centre were intact, and there was no record of an escapee during the attempted jailbreak

Also, the director-general, Delta State Security, Mr. David Tonwe, who debunked report, said that the prison authorities did a headcount of the inmates in the facility and none of them was confirmed to be missing.

He said, “We are here and there were insinuations that some inmates ran away. I want to correct that notion (by saying) that no escapee was recorded.

“The military’s prompt action during the incident was able to force the hoodlums to retreat and normalcy was restored to the facility. We have been inside where the headcount of the inmates was carried out and there is no record of any missing inmates at the facility.”

On how the centre has been fortified to stop reoccurrence, Mgbako said there was a collaboration with other security sister agencies to intensify security checks at the centre.

“Again, the parameter walls around the prison were more fortified to make sure none of the inmates could jump it and also make it more difficult for external forces to break into the premises.

“A detachment of soldiers from Sector 1 Command of ‘Operations Delta Safe’ were stationed at strategic points within the facility vicinity. All the access roads of the facility are always cordoned off by a team of military personnel and mobile policemen from the Delta State police command, apparently to forestall further havoc by the hoodlums who may likely be reinforcing to stage a comeback.”

In a similar development, soldiers attached to the 3 Battalion of the Nigerian Army Barracks, Effurun near Warri, have been put on alert while the Divisional Police Officer, Enerhen police station, has also been put on alert to ensure that the hoodlums are prevented from carrying out carnage and criminal acts in the area.

Although the last jailbreak in Rivers State occured in 2012 at the Ahoada Custodial Centre, the state Command of the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS) says it has taken measures to ensure that nothing of such happens at any of its facilities in Ahoada, Degema and Port Harcourt.

Speaking with LEADERSHIP Sunday, the PRO of NCoS, Rivers State Command, Juliet Ofoni, said more armed personnel had been mobilised to the custodial centres.

Ofoni, who is a Deputy Superintendent of Corrections (DSC), stated that sister security agencies have also been drafted to support armed

She further stated that the personnel of the Nigerian Navy, have a base behind the Port Harcourt Maximum Security Custodial Centre.

Following the attack on the Medium Security Custodial Centre, Kabba, on September 12, the Controller of the Nigeria Correctional Service, Enugu, Godwin Onokohwomomo, said he had contacted the military, police and other sister security agencies to provide armed reinforcement for the prison.

Security in and around the custodial centres within Enugu State are beeling beefed up, Godwin Onokohwomomo said.

”Our officers and men are also on security red alert to ensure that all proactive security measures are activated.”

He said he had reached out to sister security agencies to provide further armed reinforcement for custodial centres in the state.

“We are looking for more armed security around our facilities. I have spoken to the heads of military formations, police and NSCDC commands in the state.”

Mr Onokohwomomo also said that he will be embarking on an emergency tour of the custodial centres in the state to brief officers and men on the latest development.

”Every personnel must sit up. My going round is to motivate the officers and men to get focused on their duties.

“Personnel must be steadfast, ensure effective and meticulous attendance to their daily duties in order to ensure there are no lapses which can be capitalised by criminal elements,” he said.

Four suspected kidnappers awaiting trial in various courts in Plateau State have escaped from Jos prison facility.

According to the controller, Nigerian Correctional Centre, Plateau State command Samuel Aguda, a search party has been dispatched in collaboration with other security agencies to rearrest the fleeing suspects.

Aguda also told our correspondent that the suspects escaped through the fence at about 1am and were believed to have escaped through the aid of some staff.

“The same four suspects had escaped in July 2020 during court sitting in Barkin-Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State, where they were arraigned for kidnapping and armed robbery.”

“We are all aware of the bad incident that happened in our Major Correctional facility in Jos. Immediately the incident happened, I instructed the public relations officer to announce the escape of four awaiting trial suspects who are facing trial in various courts in Plateau State.

He noted that the suspects were remanded  for kidnapping and armed robbery adding that immediately he received a distress call, he rushed to the facility to confirm and when he got there, he inquired from those on duty to ascertain their level of negligence to the incident.

“I went to the cell where the inmates were locked, the cell was open, not forcefully opened. It was assumed that either they duplicated the key of the cell or the cell was not locked as a result of negligence of the officers attached to the cell.

“Four of the suspects escape through the fence. The armed guard was able to see them but when he raised the alarm, they escaped before other armed guards outside could come for their rearrest.”

Aguda said the Command had notified the Controller General of the Nigeria Correctional Service about the incident and had since ordered a preliminary investigation.

He explained that the Command had dispatched their officers to places which could possibly be their hide-out and motor parks for possible rearrest but the effort had not yielded result.

“We have 340 staffers in the Jos Custodian Centre.There may be a Judas among them. I know, there could be an inside collaboration aimed at discrediting the system and they will surely fish themi out,” he said.

 

Governors Develop Cold Feet On Death Sentences

Meanwhile, reports from several parts of the country showed that many governors are not too keen on signing death warrants for the execution of condemned criminals. Several government officials had at various times complained of the reluctance of the governors to sign the warrants, leading to congestion in the country’s correctional service.

Findings revealed that no fewer than twenty-five convicted criminals are on death sentence row in Osun State.

The convicts, despite the availability of correctional facilities located in Ilesa and Ile-Ife in the state, are not domiciled in the state.

It was gathered that the numbers of the condemned criminals accumulated with time with succeeding governors holding back their signature to effect execution.

Efforts to get the reason why governor Adegboyega Oyetola had not appended his signature on the death sentences passed on the convicts were abortive as he was not available for comment while nobody was ready to speak for him on the issue.

The Imo State government stressed that the administration stands for good governance and protection of lives and property of the citizenry.

This position was made known by the commissioner for Information and Strategy ,Hon. Declan Emelumba while interacting with LEADERSHIP.

According to him, the present administration is beginning to settle down and working  assiduously to tackle challenges confronting the State and the governor, Hope Uzodimma would visit the issue of death sentences at the appropriate time.

He highlighted that about ten inmates are in the death row and   the  administration has methodological approach to issues and will approach issues in accordance  with its merits and demerits.

“We are responsible and responsive government with human face that study issues before arriving at a conclusion. This administration will take a critical look at who did what before the governor at his discretion appends signature to the death sentences or grant perogative of mercy as the case may be,” he said.

Effort by LEADERSHIP correspondent  to get information from the Cross River State judiciary and officials of the state Correctional Service  regarding the number of  individuals on death row in Cross River State failed woefully as the Registrar of the  state Judiciary Service,  Mary Slessor Avenue, Calabar,  Mr. Pius Okokon, declined making comments on the issue, unless he gets clarification from the state chief judge, Justice Akon Ikpeme,who had been away to  Abuja for national assignment.

Also on the issue, the Controller General, Cross River State Correctional Service, Mr. B.R. Freedman equally declined to avail  LEADERSHIP correspondent with the statistics of the number of persons on the death row, stressing that he was not competent  to release such  classified information to any one  unless authorization comes from his superiors in Abuja.

Also the attorney general of Cross River State and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Tanko Ashang did not pick his calls, neither did he reply the text messages sent to him to comment on why the Cross River State Government is witholding assent to the death sentences on condemned criminals.

Over 300 persons have been sentenced to death by the various Courts in Rivers State and are currently being housed at the three correctional facilities in the state.

A document obtained by LEADERSHIP Sunday from Rivers State Judiciary indicated that a majority of those on death row were being kept at the Port Harcourt Maximum Correctional Centre.

Speaking with our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, an official of the Rivers State Ministry of Justice said for more than 10 years, no governor had signed any death warrant.

He however said the Chief Judge of the state had an exclusive right to commute death sentences to life imprisonment.

The official said: “The Chief Judge has exclusive right without recourse to the governor to commit the death sentences of those who have spent 10 years and above and have exhausted all means of appeal, to life imprisonment.”

In Benue State the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Hon. Michael Gusa said there are no inmates on death row at the Màkurdi Correctional Centre.

According to him, all the death row convicts have all been commuted to life imprisonment.

The commissioner explained that the feat was been achieved through the Council of Prerogative of Mercy.

“So for now we don’t have inmates on death sentence at the Màkurdi Correctional Centrek” Gusa stated.

A source very close to Jigawa State ministry of justice said there are many factors discouraging state governors from signing death sentences of convicted criminals, including national and international factors

The source who spoke under the condition of anonymity said some of the local factors or reasons included fear of increase in crimes as most of the criminals have syndicates which may provoke them to continue their crimes as a revenge.

” Sometime for political interest, godfathering and other related sentiments are also playing a vital role in the delay in signing the death sentence against convicted persons.

“From the International perspective,  the pressure the governors or government officials  may face from international human rights organisations and the fear of sanction by or from Western Countries, i. e refusal for international grants, investment or denial of visa are also making the authorities very reluctant in sing the death sentence.”

All efforts by LEADERSHIP Sunday to get the statistics of the person convicted to death and still waiting for execution in various Correctional Centre in the state were abortive .

Nasarawa State Commissioner of Justice, Dr Abubakar Abdulkarim Kana, said it is difficult for governors to sign warrants of death sentence because some cases last for longer time.

He said if a criminal is condemned at the lower court, he also has the grace to appeal, and the case doesn’t end at appeal court, it goes up to the Supreme Court, so it takes a long time.

“The cases at times terminate at Supreme Court, because an average life span of some of these cases, from lower to appeals and Supreme Court is 10 years and before the case could finish the governor has finished his tenure.”

He said since he became Commissioner of Justice in Nasarawa State for close to five years, such  a case has not come to his table for onward transmission to the governor for assent.

A source at the Abia State Goverment House, Umuahia, indicated that the signing of  death warrants for convicted criminals by a governor is as strenuous to obtain as the rigour of the trial process and conviction.

According to the source, who has legal background, there are many things a governor must take into consideration when such matters are brought before him which include political, timing, and religious.

“He will consider what will be the reaction of human rights activists and the international communities, and so will prefer to dance along with the bottle-necks and the red tape until the end of his tenure, hence the delay,” he added.

Governor lfeanyi Okowa is withholding assent to death sentences is because, over time, development and research have shown that death in itself is not a punishment.

Mr Charles Aniagwu, Commissioner for Information, Delta State, contended that  every governor wants to be sure that the person he is sending to death is indeed the one that should die, saying even the law is very clear that rather than execute one innocent man, it is even better to set free so many guilty persons.

“We don’t want someone’s blood to be on our heads like that of Julius Ceasar. This also plays out why governors are hesitant to immediately sign death warrant,” he said.

On his part, the Commissioner for Higher Education, Professor Patrick Muoboghare, said the judge who passed the judgement can equally sign the death sentence instead of pushing it to the governor who was not there when the offence was committed and when the judgement was delivered.

When our correspondent asked Plateau State commissioner of Information and Communication, Dan Majang, why the state governor, Simon Lalong, is withholding assent to death sentences on criminals in the state, he said, “Have you also taken time to ask former governors Joshua Dariye and Jonah Jang the reason why they did not sign death sentence of convicted criminals during their tenure.

“I am not the governor of the state. I am not also competent to speak on behalf of the governor on a matter like this,” he said.

In Niger state LEADERSHIP Sunday findings revealed that no execution has been conducted since the inception of this democratic dispensation in 1999. There was no clear reasons given.

All attempts to get the Commissioner of justice,  Barrister Dan Mallam, to comment were abortive as he did not pick his calls.