According to reports, the gunmen, whose identities are not known but are suspected to be members of Boko Haram, arrived at the prison premises in four vehicles and operated for over two hours unhindered by security agencies. Prison officers on duty apparently fled before the attack took place.
It would be the second time that the Koton karfe Prison would be attacked in this manner in two years. The first one was in 2012, when 114 inmates were also set freed.
The Prison Comptroller General, Aminu Suley, said that this month’s attack was the work of ‘organized external forces’ and ‘terrorists’. He noted that with the 145 inmates it held, the prison was overcrowded. “Some of these prisoners are not supposed to be here in the first instance. It is sad that out of the 145 inmates, only 26 of them are convicts, the remaining 119 are awaiting trials,” he said.
Kogi State Governor Idris Wada, made a post-attack visit, describing the condition of the prison as ‘absolutely not conducive’. A criminal must face the consequence of his sins, he added,’ but not in this manner’.
The Koton Karfe Prison, built in 1918 and renovated in 1938, was designed to accommodate a maximum of 50 inmates.
Minister of the Interior, Mr Abba Moro, reacting to the incident, called on the contractors handling the building of a bigger holding facility in the area to speed up work.
Jailbreaks have become almost commonplace in the country in the past five years, the result of a decrepit justice administration structure and an acutely corrupt prison system.
On January 2, 2013, about 20 inmates escaped from a prison in Sagamu, Ogun State. On April 20, there was a jailbreak in Kaduna Prison, just as Boko Haram members attacked Bauchi and Maiduguri prisons in 2010 and 2011 respectively, both apparent attempts to free insurgents detained there.
About 2,255 inmates have escaped in Nigeria jailbreaks in five years. Of these, 194 have been re- arrested, according to Nigerian Prisons Service officials, who also disclosed that they lost 46 officers in such activities in that period.
As Mr Suley alluded, congestion is a principal reason jailbreaks occur and are mostly successful. By June, the prison system had 56,785 inmates, comprising 18,042 convicts and 38,743 awaiting trial persons in 239 prisons located in different parts of the country. Some have argued that because of this fact alone, it is a wonder that there are so few jailbreaks in the country!
The appalling conditions of the prison are another factor. Most of the inmates should not be there in the first place, either because their time has elapsed but have not been released because of the suffocating bureaucracy involved, or have been awaiting trials for minor offences that should have been addressed by alternative punishment system. Inmates are poorly fed, on average of N200 per day.
The spate of jailbreaks spiked in the last five years, precisely in the period that the Boko Haram began to be active. The suggestion therefore is that suspected insurgents are detained in the regular prison system, along with petty thieves, making the facilities the targets of such attacks. The prison and other security officials must ensure the segregation of suspects in accordance with the type of crimes they are suspected of. Officials said that there were no Bako Haram members in detention at the Koton Karfe Prison at the time of the attack.
Detaining suspects for much longer than the law requires should be discouraged. Also to be discouraged is the building of prisons in populated centres and close to the highways, thereby making them vulnerable to external attacks and internal attempts to break jail.