October 2020 is a month most security conscious Nigerians would dread to recall. In just that month alone, Nigeria had four different prison breaks that unleashed over 2000 convicted criminals into the society.
Taking advantage of the #EndSARS protest in October, armed men broke into three Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) facilities in Edo and Ondo States, setting all prisoners free. The last attempt in Ikoyi, Lagos State, was foiled.
With the prison break that occurred on October 19, 2020, in Benin and Oko prisons in Benin City, contributing about 90 percent of the freed criminals, there has been increased feeling of anxiety in the state and neighbouring towns in the Niger-Delta region.
Other states in the country have not been left out in this social menace that has plagued the country in the last few years. 5 persons escaped from the Kirikiri Medium prison on October 10, 2014, in Lagos State. 721 prisoners escaped in Bauchi prison, while about 40 prisoners escaped from Jimeta prison in 2012.
The first jailbreak on record can be traced to 1244 when a prisoner, Tyrone Vain Yow tried to escape the Tower of London where he was imprisoned. It led to his death. Over the years, countries around the world like Mexico, USA, India, Syria at one point or the other have experienced this menace. In October 2020, a massive jailbreak occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to a 2013 Statistics from the Council of Europe, in 10,000 inmates, 1,084 are likely to escape in Finland, 602 inmates in Belgium, 597 inmates in Switzerland, 453 inmates in Macedonia, and 377 inmates in Netherland.
Interestingly, in some countries like Mexico, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Austria, it is not punishable by law when prisoners escape. This is because it is believed that it is human nature to want to escape from confinement.
In Nigeria, it is a criminal offence that is punishable under the law. When the escapees are caught, there might be an extension of jail term. Jailbreaks in Nigeria mostly occur from physical force used by armed external perpetrators, most time under the cover of protest or civil unrest. Just like the case of the Bauchi jailbreak, where approximately 50 gunmen carried out the act. Nevertheless, there are other causes of prison breaks, such as corruption and connivance with prison authorities, weak security on the prison vicinity, poor funding of the prison service leading to an open revolt.
Sometimes the supreme price is paid like the Lagos prison break that left at least two dead and several persons injured, as well as the Damaturu jailbreak where seven inmates and one prison warden died.
When jailbreaks occur, the security agencies commendably put in efforts to find those escapees. In the Edo prison break for instance, almost 1,000 escaped prisoners have been rearrested. One major danger of prisoners escaping from correctional centers is that further crimes would be committed in the community. Most escapees are hardened criminals such as what was speculated in Damaturu as being anchored by members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect.
Also, in the Bauchi jailbreak, 150 inmates that escaped were said to be Boko haram members as well. Aside from escapees being terrorist and bandit, there are armed robbers, kidnappers, child abusers, rapist leading to an increase in crime in the country. The level of insecurity in the country is remarkably heightened with the recurrences of prison breaks in Nigeria. The increase in crime has negatively affected Nigeria’s economy, thereby making the country a very unsafe place for both foreign and domestic investors. The prices of food in the country has skyrocketed, and most traders have attributed the hike in food commodity on the insecurity faced not only on the road during the distribution process but also at their farms as herdsmen and Boko haram terrorists hinder agricultural activities in the country. Besides, the issue of low investment caused by increased in crime due to, prison break also result to increase in unemployment and poverty.
Medical experts state that fear and anxiety can be the originators of different health-related issues. For instance, cardiovascular damage like heart attack that can lead to heart failure or sudden cardiac death, sometimes emanate from fear, anxiety and depression.
It is very clear that jailbreaks pose diverse and serious threats to society. Prison walls are meant to serve the purpose of keeping away citizens who pose a threat to society; murderers, armed robbers, terrorists, arsonists, rapists, fraudsters, to mention a few. To have any situation, even if by accident, that these elements would return to the society via the back door spells nothing but absolute disaster.
Governments at all levels must tackle the challenge of jailbreak with extreme urgency. It should never occur, not to talk about becoming a recurring decimal as it is today.
The way forward is for government and the agency involved to heighten all security issues. CCTV cameras should be installed in all correctional centers across the nation. There should be training and retraining of correctional officers, and all facilities should be fully equipped with high fencing and functioning barb wires.
Other measures that can be put in place to stop this menace include making correctional centers conducive for prisoners, not only by checking congestion but also in looking into issues of welfare. The idea of locating vocational training centres in Nigeria prisons should be sustained and extended to all prisons nationwide as that will help change the mind-set of inmates. As regards changing the mind-set of prisoners, in Brazil, inmates are made to read books to shorten their sentence. This can be introduced in Nigeria.
Prison break is one phenomenon that has posed grave danger to the society. Though caused by several factors, this menace can be put to an end. Nigeria’s correctional centers should be made to function in line with their names rather than function as breeding grounds for hardened criminals.
Faith Omo Ohioze