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Months after Kuje jail attack, Buhari’s ‘comprehensive report’ yet to surface

By Tina Abeku, Abuja
04 November 2022   |   4:16 am
Three months after President Muhammadu Buhari ordered Nigeria Correctional Service (NCoS) to submit to his office, a ‘comprehensive report’ of the attack on Kuje Medium Security Custodial Centre (MSCC) by suspected members

Aregbesola inspecting Kuje facility yesterday

Three months after President Muhammadu Buhari ordered Nigeria Correctional Service (NCoS) to submit to his office, a ‘comprehensive report’ of the attack on Kuje Medium Security Custodial Centre (MSCC) by suspected members of the terror group, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP); the report has still not been made public after submission.

Recall that on Tuesday, July 5, 2022, at about 10:30 pm, news filtered out that there was another jailbreak similar to the ones carried out on custodial facilities in Kabba, Kogi State; Jos, Plateau State and a number of others in the last three years, an act which peaked during the #EndSARS protests.

The Guardian gathered that there are no indications that the report will be ready any time soon.

Angered by the manner this attack was executed, with no resistance from prison security formation and the non-arrest of any culprit, Buhari was quoted as saying, “I am disappointed with the intelligence system at the Kuje Custodial Centre. How can terrorists organise, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it?”

Vehicles burnt during the attack

It was gathered that President Buhari raised serious posers, tasking the NCoS to give reasons the prison’s defence failed to prevent the attack. How many inmates were in the facility and how many of them can be accounted for? How many personnel did you have on duty?

How many of them were armed? Were there guards on the watchtower? What did they do, does the CCTV work?

Shortly after these queries and expressions of disappointment at the security apparatus in the facility, the President ordered an immediate ‘comprehensive report’ on the incident from NCoS, the agency saddled with the task of taking charge of all custodial facilities in the country.

Unfortunately, three months after the attack, where no suspect was arrested, the directive given by Buhari has not seen the light of day, which has prompted many to see the attack and inaction of NCoS as a national embarrassment.

With the report of heightened security threats targeted at the FCT, observers of the event have queried why the government appears lethargic on the Kuje jail attack, as it was yet to make public if the NCoS submitted a report or not to President Buhari.

Founder and Director of Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) focused on security, justice and development, Dr Uju Agomoh, is of the view that “a functional criminal justice system is one, which response to the needs of the people for the service to function effectively and efficiently, a criminal justice system must elicit the trust and confidence of the people.”

She noted that because “the Kuje jailbreak happened after four of such incidents and at a location, the Nigerian populace believed was the most secured- the Federal Capital Territory and the seat of government, it came to the people as a very unpleasant surprise and dealt a dirty blow to the little confidence Nigerians had in the safety and security of the country.

“Getting over the shock of the incident, the least the people expect is a comprehensive report of what happened as ordered by the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“We must be reminded that a fundamental and contractual responsibility of the President to the people is on the security of life and property and expectations are that the order for the such report would have been treated with great dispatch.

“Now, months have passed since the incident and the report seems not to be coming or may not actually come. This has grave implications for the people and the trust and confidence they have in the system, the security of the country and our entire justice process.

“It can also drive a sense of hopelessness in the people, especially now that the country is on a red alert as far as insecurity is concerned.”

According to her, “People are already and justifiably, so, connecting the increased insecurity, especially in the FCT, to this incident, and with the failure of the government to report on what happened and possible actions taken as a result of this.

“Loss of confidence in the administration of security and justice has several negative implications, inclusive of eroding of rule of law and resort to jungle justice. It will not be good for us to degenerate to a level where everyone seeks means of self-protection by all means because this will only result in the total breakdown of law and order and an increase in a cycle of crime and violence.

“A country that loses grip of its security sector has lost everything. Thus, this is a call to government institutions to do the needful and present the expected report on the incidence. This can no longer be delayed nor the perspectives of the people are further ignored on this. This will enable proper planning to address all observed security gaps and prevent future occurrences.

Shedding more light on the feeling of many, Agomoh said, “The seriousness of jailbreak that took place in Kuje is further complicated by the fact that very serious offenders including terrorists with links to Boko Haram were kept in this custodial centre. Expectations were high that security of this facility would have been of very paramount consideration and all efforts made to improve the standard of security as provided for by section 28 of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019.”

The attack on the Kuje facility is considered a national assault and a clear threat to the security and life of residents of the nation’s seat of power. To underscore the immensity of the problem, the President arrived at the scene less than 24 hours on Wednesday, July 6, 2022, to assess the situation and give marching orders. Citizens are waiting for the report on the incident, whose status, as at the moment, remains shrouded in secrecy. How much time do the NCOs require to put together A comprehensive report in view of security situations in the country? And if the report is ready, why has it remained a secret?

When the NCOs were contacted to know if the report had, indeed, been put together and sent to the President, the Public Relations Officer of the Service, Abubakar Umar, said he is yet to be updated on the status of the report.

He said: “I don’t have details of the report, hence, can’t affirm its status.”

However, when The Guardian inquired from the Press and Public Relations Department of the Ministry of Interior, the supervising ministry of the NCoS, the Deputy Director in charge of the department, Afonja Ajibola, said via phone call that the report had been submitted, but the President was yet to act on it, requesting for Nigerians to exercise patience. “The report has been submitted but the president has not yet acted on it, You know, some of these things take time so people should exercise a little patience with the government,” he said.

How it all started
The Guardian gathered from personnel present on the night of the attack that the terrorists did not face any resistance at all, as security agents on duty all ran for cover, except for the few unfortunate ones that could not make it in time, thereby, allowing the intruders to have a field day, freeing inmates and setting ablaze vehicles while chanting Allahu Akbar.

“We all ran into the bushes when we heard the gunshots. Some of us were sitting here (pointing to one of the security posts), when they opened fire on all of us, we took cover,” the source said.

The source, who craved anonymity, said, “no one was willing to risk his or her life, as the spate of killing of security personnel is usually not appreciated by the ‘big ogas,” adding, “hence it is better to stay alive, especially for the sake of your loved ones.”

Another custodial officer explained that the attackers were so many that her colleagues, who were on duty at the time, could not even count the number; neither did they resist the invaders. Worse still, operatives stationed in the outer outpost failed to raise the alarm.

According to her, “even the civil defence officer that was killed was found sleeping because he was resting and waiting to take over from the next duty shift. This was how they killed him.”

She showed The Guardian the single room along the way into the facility where the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence (NSCDC) officer took his last rest before being gunned down by the terrorists. It was assumed that he was probably reaching for his defence weapon as they suddenly swooped in on him whilst asleep.

What on-duty police said
MEANWHILE, police officers deployed to the custodial centre from MOPOL 21 told the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, who had earlier queried their poor response and inability to repel the attackers, that they all took cover at the sudden sound of heavy shooting and explosion.

The officer, who spoke on behalf of the team, explained that they were unable to respond efficiently because the attack was sudden.

He said: “We were here around 10.00 pm in the night when we heard the gunshots from across the barrier. From the outside, they shouted Allahu Akbar and it was then that all of us ran.

“We also returned fire, but while they were firing, we suddenly heard a loud sound! They broke through the walls and it was from there they entered inside the facility.”

Angry and disappointed with the answers he got from the policemen, Aregbesola asked, if they were not able to make a meaningful attempt to repel the attack during the about two-hour terrorist operation.

In their defence, they said they took cover because they could not access the watchtower and that the firepower of the attackers was much.
Who is to blame for the lapses?
PERHAPS, the officers on duty meant ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’, which was exactly what played out at the Kuje Custodial Centre. While security personnel from virtually every existing security outfit were congregated there, with a good number of weapons including trained fighter canines, the facility should by all standards be impregnable to attacks as its overseeing minister once boasted but sadly, the horse refused to drink water, security failed as those assigned to secure and protect the information rather ran for their lives.

To buttress the allegation of negligence displayed by the officers on guard, Aregbesola stated, “as officers, you have been trained to crawl from one point to the next. If they, (the attackers), are there, as trained persons you can crawl close enough to fight back but I don’t want to say what you did; if I say it, it will compromise security so I won’t say it.

“You were more concerned about the protection of yourselves than the protection of this place because there are watchtowers nearby and it won’t take you 10 minutes to crawl and get there, while two of you keep the attackers at bay,” the minister said.

He continued, “for more than one hour where were you? Did it occur to you to crawl to the watchtower where you can have a height advantage? Instead, you took cover.”

Another group of personnel that irritated the minister were the NCOs officers handling the canine unit. Aregbesola expressed displeasure that despite having 21 trained dogs under their care, the officers chose to hide away and could not release even a single dog to fight the terrorists.

He said it would have been better for all the dogs to perish in the attack fighting the intruders than for officers and inmates to die. He lamented that not even a single security personnel in the unit was bold enough to take any action up until the assailants left of their own volition.

The Canine Unit of the facility is strategically located to offer support in emergencies but probably the security men on the ground were overwhelmed and did not see the need to release the dogs.

Beyond a security breach
OBSERVERS have said that the breach of security at the Kuje facility has cast a black spot on the history of Nigeria.

The NCoS released the pictures and names of 69 inmates with terror charges linked to them escaped. They were declared wanted and the support of the public was sought to arrest them in addition to over 300 other inmates.

After a closed-door meeting with the hierarchy of the NCOs and other heads of security agencies, the minister of interior in an interview expressed disappointment over the success of the attack.

He lamented that “they were unable to repel the attack either due to the number of those who came or the sophisticated armament they came with, but the truth is, do not dare us. Whoever attempts this going forward, will not live to tell the story.

Aregbesola said the Kuje facility is a world-class facility by any standard hence the attack should not have been successful but for the poor fire response of personnel on guard. It is the most fortified in the country.

“I am disappointed with the level of defence because we have enough men to protect this facility, but unfortunately, they couldn’t hold their position, effectively, and that was the reason for the jailbreak,” Aregbesola lamented.

“We have a world-class facility here by any standard. Now my position is so clear because I have declared since April last year that all our facilities are red zones and that whoever attempts an attack must not live to tell the story, I still maintain this,” he said.

“We have a platoon of security officers deployed here. We have a high grade of military and police and other security forces deployed for protection but strangely something happened most of which I cannot say on camera.

The minister said that he believes that those who escaped can only run but cannot hide.

“It is very regrettable that this happened. Let me put it in context, the nation is experiencing asymmetric warfare. Yes, the insurgents have been degraded in the North East of Nigeria, 61, 000 of them are in our custody in the North East, the effect of degrading them in the North East is what we are experiencing.”

According to him, “as sad as it is, we must put behind whatever is happening in the contest of the asymmetrical warfare unleashed on the nation by these criminal elements and we will rise to it, that’s the assurance.”

But the question on the lips of Nigerians is why no single head of the agencies of government responsible for securing compromised facilities across the country has been queried publicly. Why has it taken this long for the President’s report on the Kuje incident to be made public and those responsible punished, so that lessons will be learned and security tightened to avert another jailbreak?