The news of the Akure jailbreak of last Sunday did not surprise many a Nigerian. The frequency of prisoners going on rampage, being let loose due to complicity of prison officials or freeing themselves forcefully, has become so commonplace that the news of yet another such incident does not elicit amazement anymore.
According to reports, the prison break occurred when gunmen overpowered prison officials and overran the premises. The marauders used dynamite to open up a part of the wall for inmates to escape. And in one night 175 of them disappeared into darkness. The ‘operation’ had the imprimatur of an insider job, or so it seems: it is either the attackers came to rescue some of their own or they had accomplices among prison officials.
Whatever it is, it beats one’s imagination that the prison, which is located less than one kilometre from the headquarters of the 32 Artillery Brigade of the Nigerian Army, was under bombardment for almost five hours without a wimp from the nearby army headquarters. If the attack was too intense for the prison officials who might not have been able to contain the attackers’ superior fire power, could the same be said about the army? And what about other security agencies, notably, the Police? Were they alerted? Where is the much-talked about inter-agency cooperation?
Besides, there is something that does not add up in the Akure jailbreak. The gaps in the narration and the demonstration of how the prisoners escaped leave sour taste in its trail. Thus some further prodding is appropriate. The prison officials also said that they had re-arrested some of the fleeing prisoners. This, at best, is a face-saving means that officials have always pandered to. But on each occasion, they have failed to walk their talk (in form of parading re-arrested inmates as they are won’t to do).
This calls their integrity to question. In showing to the media the gaping hole which the prisoners created to make their escape possible, the officials also demonstrated in practical terms how it was done. Again, this further did them in and put a question mark to their claim, except more evidence is provided. The said crater could only accommodate for passage, only one person at a time, so how did 175 people pass through the small space, one by one, without any security personnel interfering or calling for help, if at all anyone was truly in charge? If what we watched on television is anything to go by, the escapees might have
spent hours to carry out their plans. All this while, help did not come the prison officials’ way. Again, where is the evidence that the officials called for help, if there was no conspiracy of silence?
What happened in Ondo state is all too familiar a script. The prison officials need not bother to offer explanations: it is the usual way things are done in Nigeria; nobody ever takes responsibility for infractions, and no one is held responsible. So, no one gets punished, and so the circle of impunity is sustained at such a decaying pace, you wonder whether anyone is
in charge of anything in Nigeria. The criminals/escapees are released back to a normal society to perpetrate the evil acts that took them to prison dens the first time.
Cases of break-out in prisons are legion in Nigeria. Often, the news breaks and officials make some half-hearted promises and that is where it ends. The media too does not go beyond mere reportage to investigating how many have been re-arrested or caught, if any. Perhaps, they too are sucked into the same societal bug or are suffering from the frustration of exposing
ills, without it being capable of changing the society.
Some years back, some criminal elements terrorising people in Ebiraland were hauled into Kotonkarfe prison. Some escaped and some were released through some form of ‘arrangement’ into the free-wheeling crime-infested country we live in. Nobody has ever been convicted by any court of law. They were never even declared wanted; they still live among us up till today.
Sometimes, the action of the escapees can even be justified. Except where the state has an interest, prisoners have little or no chances of fair trials, if at all their cases have ever gone through some form of prosecution. Some are even innocent victims of Police’s bungling of
investigation. Some are just ‘awaiting trial’; yet some are too poor to pay their way through. They are left with only one choice: escape or rot in prison.
Escaping inmates do not care about the force and ferocity of arms of the personnel of the institutions where they are held. Take the example of the SARS’ jailbreak last year. It was alleged to have been carried out by Boko Haram suspects. It led to the escape/death of over 200 prisoners. SARS is the most dreaded arm of the Police, but the detainees and their accomplices dared them.
They killed their supposed captors and or guards, and escaped with ease. Nothing has come out of it since then. If such high profile suspects can escape from such a high profile maximum security outfit in the nation’s capital, that of Akure must have been a child’s play. Like such other cases in the past, the Akure case will also fizzle out. As you read this,
hundreds of inmates elsewhere in Nigeria are hoping (and may be strategising) to escape too.To them, the Akure escapees are heroes; and heroes are revered and emulated.