Nigerians will have to brace up for tougher security challenges across the country in the months ahead, experts have warned in the wake of the latest attacks on correctional centres and the proliferation of arms across the country
Just when many Nigerians thought the worst threat to the nation’s security in recent times was over with the cessation of the #ENDSARS protests last October, some events in the last few weeks seem to suggest that the situation is not about to improve yet.
Kidnapping, armed robbery, and other forms of banditry have escalated, culminating in the April 5, 2021 attack on the Owerri Correctional Centre by yet to be identified gunmen.
The hoodlums not only set free 1880 inmates of the centre, they set the building and several cars on the premises ablaze.
They had apparently taken their cue from the invasion of the Benin Correctional Centre in the thick of the #ENDSARS protests during which 1957 inmates were let loose.
A similar attack on the Ikoyi Correctional Centre in Lagos was resisted by security forces.
Most of the freed inmates are hardened criminals. Some have returned to what they know how to do well: crime.
Within 48 hours of the attack on the Owerri Correctional Centre, three divisional police stations in the state were attacked leading to the escape of more suspects and disappearance of arms and ammunitions.
Also within 72 hours, a traditional ruler of Umuezie community in Nguru Aboh Mbaise council area of the state, Eze Charles Iroegbu and his entire cabinet were abducted on their way home from a traditional wedding ceremony.
This development is creating palpable fear in the state particularly in the communities where the prisoners hail from.
As at yesterday, only 90 out of a total of 1881 inmates of the correction centre were in lawful custody, according to the spokesman of the Correctional Service Centre, James Madugba.
He explained that 35 did not escape on Monday, while seven came back voluntarily.
Madugba confirmed that “the escapees committed various offences such as kidnapping, armed robbery, rape, stealing. You know in prisons there is no offence that they don’t commit.”
Most of those who escaped from the Benin Correctional Centre are believed to be still in the state, terrorizing innocent residents following their return to kidnapping, armed robbery, cultism and other criminal activities.
It could not have been coincidental that Benin and environs have recorded an increase in crime rate after the jail break.
The Benin-Ekpoma-Auchi-Abuja road has turned into the den of kidnappers, with victims often killed, raped and maimed, while huge ransoms are also regularly collected from the relatives of the victims.
Terrorists are on the rampage in the Northwest, kidnapping people for ransom and rustling cattle at will.
Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State, which is the hardest hit state in that part of the country, puts the figure of bandits terrorizing the state and environs at 30000.
Boko Haram remains a serious threat in the Northeast.
Even the Southwest and the Southsouth are having their own share of banditry.
Bandits, masquerading as herders, are still in business in parts of the Southwest, in spite of the formation of the regional security outfit, Amotekun, to stem criminality.
Inter- state travels have become a nightmare for drivers and commuters alike as bandits freely take over the roads, looking for who to kidnap.
Then, came a bombshell last Wednesday from former military ruler General Abdulsalami Abubakar that about 6million arms are in circulation across the country.
Abubakar is the chairman, National Peace Committee (NPC).
According to him, the challenges facing Nigeria are not only security in the narrow sense of the military definition but that they have assumed an all-encompassing nature.
He listed such challenges to include the Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, rising poverty; calls for balkanisation of the country from different quarters; threat of hunger arising from insecurity that farmers have faced and continue to face, increasing sense of collective despair and despondency among the populace.
“The proliferation of all caliber of weapons not only in our sub-region in general and in Nigeria in particular is worrying. It is estimated that there are over 6 million of such weapons in circulation in the country. This certainly exacerbated the insecurity that led to over 80,000 deaths and close to 3 million IDPs.”
But a retired director of the Department of State Security (DSS), Mr.Dennis Amachree, says the 6million figure given by Abubakar may be an understatement.
He estimates that 80million illegal weapons are in circulation in West Africa with 70 percent (56million) of them in Nigeria alone.
“We carried out our research two years ago and what we got is far more than what the former head of state said,”Amachree told The Nation.
“I know it is an estimate but the number of small arms and light weapons circulating in West Africa is more than 80 million and about 70 percent of that is in Nigeria. We cannot get the exact figure but let us just say that there are just too many small arms and light weapons in the hands of non- state actors circulating in Nigeria and it is a big threat. Because of all the empty borders and all the other areas that arms are coming into Nigeria, our country is put in a very bad situation.”
Asked how the weapons can be mopped up from the wrong hands, Amachree said: “There are many ways that arms can be mopped out of circulation. You can either do money for arms. Many countries have done that but the way it is right now, a lot of people would not prefer to give up their arms because of the general insecurity in the country. They would prefer to keep their arms to protect themselves. It is a situation where the government might want to ensure that internal security is guaranteed. If it is guaranteed people will not need their arms.”
He decried the spate of attacks on correctional facilities, warning that there may be more of such as in future.
“I think we will have more jailbreaks because the correctional centres are not well secured because security is almost non-existent. By that I mean that all the barriers that are supposed to protect the prisons are not there. Most of the prisons are in town and where people live instead of being in isolated areas such that when somebody wants to come and attack, you should be able to know and prepare for such a person.
“As long as they are existing in the middle of towns, of course jailbreaks are going to be very, very common. Many prisons have been broken into and I think it is becoming a trend. The prison authorities should start thinking about whether they want to relocate them out of town and using the proper crime prevention method in building those prisons or they will be open to attacks all the time,” Amachree, the former DSS boss said.
Expatiating on the implications of jail break for the society, he said: “Anytime a prisoner escapes from prison, he goes back into crime. Nigerian prisons are not designed to be correctional. We just changed the name but we didn’t change the process. Correctional means that the people who have been locked in are trained to acquire a skill that they will after leaving prison use to survive.
“In Nigeria the prisoners are locked up like animals. It is just like locking up an animal in a cage or zoo. When you release it, it will run out, jumping all over the place and going into the society and wreaking havoc. When these militants come out, they can go and join other militant groups, bandits, or look for the families or judges that sent them to jail. They are a threat to the society and this is another new threat area that is facing the country. The jails are either fortified or it would cause a lot of problems for us in future.”
Former Foreign Affairs Minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, is no less worried by the proliferation of arms in Nigeria.
“Arms are flooding into Nigeria as if Nigeria is a war zone. Maybe, it is going to be a war zone; maybe they are telling us things that are going to come,” Akinyemi said on Arise Television.
He recalled the report of a committee set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan to work on the problem some years back.
He said: “I don’t know if it was a task force or just a task committee on this same issue and like everything else, they classified the report but it wasn’t made known to the public because I was a member of what I call the Boko Haram committee.
“We got hold of a copy of the result and maybe it’s because of the content was frightening. Arms are flooding into Nigeria as if Nigeria is a war zone. Maybe, it is going to be a war zone; maybe they are telling us things that are going to come.
“The moment Ghaddafi got destabilized and you would say it wasn’t Ghaddafi just Libya but you see, at that time Libya was Ghaddafi and Ghaddafi was Libya but the moment he got destabilized, the arms depots were looted and those arms just came down south and Nigeria at that time with Boko Haram flexing its muscle was regarded as a rightful platform for which the arms could find usage.
“They did a risk analysis of the problems of Nigeria and they knew that we were not headed for a wedding ceremony, that we were headed for a turbulent future in this country. There was money available to different groups who had been funded by people with money.
“I mean to procure the arms and that’s why those arms found a respectable acceptance you in Nigeria. And you have seen the evidence of that, how useful that calculation was to them, not to us because from the Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East, you now have herdsmen or bandits or whatever you call them all over Nigeria and those arms are still flooding in.
“Now the question you ask is what are we doing about it and I dare say I’m not in the business of running down governance or running down anybody. We are doing nothing about it. We still have an underpaid army.
“There’s a United Nations report on the strength of that, but they restricted it to the police only. Again, we came across this in one of the task forces I served that instead of the 345,000 plus policemen that we have, Nigeria actually needs over one million policemen in Nigeria. We are nowhere near that and I keep asking myself, there are educated people who have no jobs who will gladly become policemen; what is the problem about increasing the number of policemen in Nigeria from maybe 345,000 to 445,000 to 545,000 every year until we meet that united nations target? But we are not doing that.”
A university lecturer, Dr Bala Husaini, says the wide circulation of illegal arms portends great danger for the country.
Adducing reasons for the proleferation of arms,Husaini said: “We have three issues here and they include the issue of secession, issue of regionalism, tribalism and ethnicity and three, the issue of kidnapping, banditry and armed robbery. And for all of these, weapons have to be going round people’s hands for them to protect their interest.
“We should also be mindful of mercenaries. There are certain categories of people that are supplying information and weapons to their people which is also very dangerous to a country like Nigeria.
“Mostly this is in preparation for 2023. The Igbo are saying that they should be given the opportunity to be president in 2023, the Yoruba are saying that they should be given their country and the Hausa-Fulani are saying that 2023 should not be based on religion or ethnicity. These are some of the issues, and they are going to be making people take the law into their hands. This is very dangerous for our dear nation
“Since government has failed to protect the lives and property of citizens, it feels legal for people to attack whoever they want. If the government protects the lives and property of the citizens I see no reason why people should carry guns and ammunition.
“There are some parts of the country where guns are sold in the open the way second hand clothes are sold in Jos. This is improper. I don’t think we are heading where we are supposed to be heading. The earlier the community and the government come together to see the tendency of addressing it once and for all, the better for all of us. I will be safe, you will be safe and they will also be safe. If guns continue to remain in everybody’s hands, we are really not safe.”
Like Amachree, Hasaini fears there may be more of attacks on correctional centres especially in some of the strategic prisons in the country.
“There are some prisons that are very strategically located meant for certain categories of people. The criminals have information about them mostly from within. Criminals always have information about where their members are detained. Wherever you see prison break, it is certainly heading to something else,” he said.
“You can’t tell me that these people that were released in Imo are mere armed robbers, or victims. An eyewitness said the hoodlums spent more than 30 minutes exchanging fire with the police. If you are not ready, you can’t just face conventional people like that. Only God knows our fate now.”
However, the authorities of the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS) say they are doing everything possible to fortify security at their facilities across the country.
Sophisticated weapons, Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) and others have been acquired to prevent further attacks, the Public Relations Officers (PRO), Francis Enobore, told The Nation.
Enobore said the service is working with other security agencies to prevent attacks on correctional facilities.
He said the service is currently facing the issue of encroachment, which is hindering security operatives from protecting some correctional centers.
His words: “We have means of generating intelligence and also preventing crisis within or outside. We are increasing our collaboration with other sister security organizations across the country. They are increasing their personnel on ground for us. We have been able to reach out to heads of other security organizations and they have responded favorably.
“They have also provided Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) and some other sophisticated weapons that can help us to fortify correctional facilities.
“For intelligence gathering, the services involved have also been forthcoming. We are increasing our reach and collaboration to ensure that these incidents do not occur again.
“Some of these facilities that have been attacked, they are located in areas that are now surrounded by private developers. These correctional facilities are supposed to have what we call buffer areas. And the buffer area is not supposed to be less than 200 meters round the correctional facilities.
“Within these areas we now have observation cars in strategic locations where you can watch from afar anyone that has negative intentions. As it is now private developers have taken over all this space. You can literally scratch the walls of some of our correctional facilities and you will enter another person’s compound. And where you have such it becomes extremely difficult to have the space to engage an intruder.
“We have been begging those that have built illegal buildings all over the place, and if you talk to them they run to court to get injunction, when the hard times comes, they may end up taking the bullet.
“So, these are avenues that we are employing to ensure that this crisis does not happen again and we have plans to relocate these facilities to a more conducive environment.”
In November, while counting the costs of the #ENDSARS protests, Information Minister Lai Mohammed had said eight prisons were attacked, “with 1,957 inmates set free and 31 staff injured.”
“Six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed all over the country during the crisis,” he said.
“This is in addition to 196 policemen that were injured; 164 police vehicles that were destroyed and 134 police stations that were razed.
“Also, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Nigeria Customs Service and Nigeria Immigration Service all lost infrastructures, equipment and other valuables to attack by hoodlums during the crisis.”
The violence also left 57 civilians dead, 269private/corporate facilities burnt/looted/vandalized, 243 government facilities burnt/vandalized and 81 government warehouses looted.
Five months after, the security challenge remains tough.
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