An investigative report published by this newspaper last week to the effect that close to 4,000 inmates that escaped from Nigerian correctional centres between 2013 and this year are yet to be rearrested is a cause for concern as poses grave danger to the peace, harmony and egalitarianism of the larger society. It also underscores the need for prison decongestion across the country.
According to the report, of the 3,646 inmates yet to be recaptured in the last three years, about half of the fleeing criminals were illegally set free in three major jailbreaks this year (2021) alone.
The report indicated that a total of 6,407 inmates in 15 correctional centres across the country regained unauthorised freedom, following breach of security by unknown gunmen, including some suspected members of Boko Haram and armed robbers. However, the minister put the figure of those inmates still on the run at 3,412.
The miscreants usually attack the centres with sophisticated weapons, including machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices as evident in the Owerri and Benin City attacks where they assaulted poorly armed security personnel and freed large numbers of inmates serving various terms at the custodial centres.
It observed that hoodlums had taken advantage of the #EndSARS protest to launch severe attacks on some dismally manned correctional centres such as the Benin City and Owerri facilities, where sundry mass assault weapons were freely deployed to set free inmates and subsequently looted stores of provisions and few weapons available.
These breakages also culminated in the death of 30 persons including inmates and correctional officials while no fewer than 200 others were either severely injured or sustained minor injuries which nonetheless were serious enough to require weeks of medical attention.
Available records revealed the jailbreaks at different times across the country. For instance, at the Shagamu minimum correctional centre, Ogun state, attacked January 4, 2013 by hoodlums, resulted in the escape of 20 inmates and left several officials and others injured.
Only about four escapees were said to have been rearrested by the armed squad of the Service. Security at the Olokuta Medium Security Centre in Akure, Ondo state was severely breached on June 30, 2013. No fewer than 175 inmates escaped while two persons died and one warder was severely injured. A paltry 54 escapees were rearrested.
It was the turn of the Kirikiri Medium Prison Correctional Centre, Lagos state on October 10, 2014. Though it was largely unsuccessful, nonetheless, 20 inmates lost their lives while 80 others were injured and 12 escaped from the facility.
Similarly, on November 4, 2014, the Koto-Karfe Correctional Centre in Kogi state, came under assault allegedly by Boko Haram elements. Consequently, 144 inmates broke free while one inmate was killed. Only 45 of the fleeing inmates were rearrested.
Security at the Ado Ekiti Correctional Centre, Ekiti state was breached on November 30, 2014, during which an official of the centre was killed, while 341 prisoners escaped from the facility. Officials said about 77 inmates were recaptured.
Then came the Minna, Niger state incident in December 2014, when three unknown gunmen attacked and freed 270 inmates. A security officer was severely injured.
Twice in 2016, the Kuje Medium Security Centre, FCT Abuja was assaulted. In fact, the first instance led to the Kuje centre chief being relieved of his duty by the Controller General of the Nigerian Correctional Centre Service (NCoS), among others.
Speaking on the issue and related ones at a media parley in Abuja Thursday, Minister of Interior Rauf Aregbesola assured the escapees would be rearrested. He said out of the 4,369 inmates that have escaped from correctional centres due to attacks on the facilities, only 984 were recaptured.
Speaking at a briefing organised by the Presidential Media Team at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, the minister said 3,906 inmates were still on the run. He said it would be difficult for the inmates that escaped to run away from the long arm of the law, stressing that the biometrics of all inmates in the country had been captured.
Inasmuch it is desirable for criminals to be made to face the wrath of the law, having breached its sanctity, it is pertinent for the authorities to take into cognisance certain factors that lead to crime and the form and nature of the crime committed in order to mete out appropriate punishment.
For instance, simple offences could get away with open imprisonment or fines while felonies could attract harsh sentences. The high number of inmates awaiting trial should also be addressed through regular visits to the correctional centres with a view to granting amnesty to deserved inmates, some of whom have spend more time behind bars than they should if convicted duly. This will go a long way to address the problem of over-crowded correctional centres and the attendant anarchy, occasioning jail-breaks.