Nigeria News
Again Jail Break, Same Reaction

HOW many prison breaks would it take to secure our prisons? Like in Akure in July 2013, where armed robbers let 175 criminals loose, while freeing their colleagues, last week’s incident in Kirikiri, Nigeria’s prime jail, Kirikiri would soon be history.

Before Akure there have been jail breaks in Ibadan, Warri, Bauchi, Kano, Abuja (at the anti-robbery detention centre), and Port Harcourt. The reactions have always been the same – media talks, promises to address the situation, and forgetfulness until the next criminals free themselves.

A jail break is at one of the highest points of criminality. Its consequences depend on the criminals involved and their motives. What all these point at is that the authorities have failed to realise the importance of securing convicts and detainees.

There is still a high tendency of dismissing the schemes criminals can plot even while in jail. More importantly, the reactions after jail breaks had been to descend on the prison authorities. We are aware that prisons are at the lowest rungs for budgetary allocations.

Security at our prisons is left mostly to warders who are poorly armed and easily over powered. It has happened many times. Furthermore, the extent of the alertness, the number of warders deployed to man these facilities, and the equipment at their disposal make the jail breakers’ job easier.

The most recent incident is rooted in inmates’ anger at being denied their rights. Abuses of prisoners’ rights are plentiful, from miserable meals to their poor living places. Medicals are barely available. None of these would be surprising, considering how Nigerians who are not in jail live.

If one listens to Abba Moro, the Minister of Interior, little, would be done. Without an investigation, Moro has given congestion as one of the reasons for the commotion that claimed lives. It is an old story. For more than 15 years of civil rule, committees, conferences, and similar conjectures have been thrown at prison congestion. They achieved nothing.

Kirikiri Medium, for instance has 2,536 inmates, by the latest census. Only 98 or less than five per cent, are convicts, the remaining 2,434 are awaiting trial, a plight they share with more than 36,000 others across Nigeria.

Comptroller General of Prison Zakari Ibrahim told a House of Representatives Committee that of 50,601 inmates in the various prisons, 36,934 were awaiting trial. Last June, Moro said 70 per cent of inmates were awaiting trial.

The over-crowding in our prisons should be treated as emergency. It is a tasking process that would see Nigeria tackling unemployment and changing the slow gears that drive the justice system. Like earlier prison incidents, Kirikiri is a symptom, not the illness.

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