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Kuje jailbreak: Nigerian Army exonerates self of complicity

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Authorities of the Nigerian Army on Wednesday dismissed insinuation of complicity in the July 5, 2022 jailbreak in Kuje Correctional Centre in Abuja.

Chief of Army Staff, General Taoreed Lagbaja disclosed this in Abuja during the investigative hearing into the motion which mandated NCS to account for the inmates who escaped from Custodial Centre, Kuje and the motion seeking the decongestion of Correctional Centres across the country, jointly organised by the joint House Committee on Reformatory Institutions, Justice, Police Affairs and Human Rights, led by Hon. Chinedu Ogah.

In his remarks, General Lagbaja who was represented by Assistant Director, Commercial Law, Directorate of Army Legal Services, Major Peter Ogbeiya, blamed the incident on inadequate security facility such as low fence and the absence of CCTV cameras, adding that the “place where Kuje prison is located is more of a built-up area.”

While observing that the Nigerian Army was only playing a complementary role to the Correctional Centers, he however observed that the Service had a rotation of troops on the day the ugly incident took place.

Despite the development, he affirmed that prior to that incident, the Nigerian Army wrote a series of letters to the Comptroller General of the Correctional Service concerning our observations and things that would enhance security.

“However on our part, the troops tried their best by returning fire to the Boko Haram terrorists. But however, it was very unfortunate that the deployed vis-a-vis the built up of the general area were not sufficient to actually curtail the terrorists that came from different dimensions and became a challenge because we are deployed in so many operations and could not deploy more to assist the correctional centre.

“However, I want to believe that efforts are being made to see how we can improve on the security challenges confronting the Correctional Centre.

“On our own side, the troops that we deployed are under investigation and the military hierarchy is still working on possibly finding out if there is any of the soldiers that had failed to do what they were expected to do and possibly disciplinary action taken but as it is, it is still within the military hierarchy and military courts to look at the matter critically to know if the soldiers that were deployed had done the needful,” he informed the lawmakers.

On his part, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Lateef Fagbemi, who expressed support for the decongestion of the Correctional Centres across the country, disclosed that the Correctional Centre Act, 2019

The Minister, who was represented by Mrs. Ayoola Daniel, said the correctional service had been removed from the exclusive to concurrent list, adding that states were expected to take up responsibility to decongest the prison.

He also explained that the Ministry of Justice has over the years made frantic efforts toward decentralization of the correctional service with a view to allow States establish and manage their own correctional centres.

Also speaking, Assistant Commandant General, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Mr. Philip Ayuba urged the Committee to look into how lawyers who are in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) could be engaged in providing services for prisoners.

“We still have so many young men in prison; we are requesting that NYSC lawyers be sent to prison to look at some of the minor cases so that we can decongest the prison.”

He called for the need to embrace alternative conflict resolution, adding that this would also help to decongest the prison.

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“We also suggest that those who have stayed more than a year or two should be given amnesty. They need to give the inmate better training so that those who leave can find better things to do.”

In his presentation, Deputy Comptroller General of Nigeria Correctional Service in charge of Training and Staff Development, Mr. Tukur Mohammed Ahmad, affirmed that decongestion of custodial centres has become the concern of all and sundry partly due to the unending challenges it causes to the criminal justice system in Nigeria.

According to him, “Efforts are put in place by the Federal Government to cut costs of feeding the inmates which often runs into billions of naira annually.—The NCOS maintains 265 custodial centres across the country, with the capacity of 64,192 against a total inmate population of 78,519 as at March 18, 2024. Of this actual inmate population, 70 percent represents persons on awaiting trial.

“For us to speedily decongest our Correctional centres in the country, we need the completion of the 3000 capacity new custodial centres that are built across the six geopolitical zones. And we need a lot of money for the Service.”

Speaking earlier, Hon. Ogah who observed that the Correctional Service is key to Nigeria’s security, assured that the Committee would do what was right by ensuring decongestion while urging stakeholders to make effective contributions to do what was needed.

While declaring open the investigative hearing, Speaker Tajudeen Abbas
reassured Nigerians of the 10th Assembly’s determination to undertake comprehensive investigative hearings on erring public institutions and to ensure that inherent sanctions and recommendations are enforced for greater results in line with our legislative agenda on oversight duties.

While noting that the exercise is a fact-finding event, Hon. Abbas who was represented by the Minority Whip, Hon. Aliyu Madaki noted that the investigative hearing provides a crucial legislative space for all of us to get to the root of the overcrowding nature of our Correctional Centres in addition to the inmates that escaped from Kuje Custodial Facility, two years ago which left our nation in utter embarrassment.

Speaker Abbas, who assured all the stakeholders that the essence of investigative hearing is not to witch-hunt any institution or anyone; he explained that the ultimate objective of this investigative hearing was to “examine the activities of the correctional service in order to promote accountability, transparency and responsiveness in the running of the agency for enhanced service delivery, contribute significantly to the overall progress and development of our country.”

While urging the stakeholders to be guided by the fact that as an investigative hearing any submission made here is usually taken on oath and should as a result pass credibility test, the Speaker pledged the House resolve to provide for the wellbeing of all Nigerians including the protection of life and property.


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