‘What I saw in Kuje Prison’

Trees, overgrown and thick bushes are what typically characterise the surroundings of the Medium Security Custodial Centre in the nation’s capital which came under attack by terrorists on the night of Tuesday, July 5.

On Wednesday, July 6, Nigerians woke up to the news of the shocking and audacious attack on the facility in Kuje by terrorists who set hundreds of dangerous criminals and Boko Haram members free.

The attack on the facility which sits 47 kilometres from the Presidential Villa, and 24 kilometres from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport has left an unsolved puzzle on how the attackers managed to successfully break into the facility with ease and walked away unchallenged. The intelligence and security agencies, including President Muhammadu Buhari, appear to be confused about the situation as they have failed to give any clear statement or report on the attack.

But military and security experts who visited the facility note its deplorable condition and the failure of the Nigerian government to provide the most critical infrastructure and security detail for a centre that holds high-profile criminals and terrorists allegedly behind attacks that have claimed lives and properties in the country.

After his visit to the facility, Sadeeq Shehu, a security expert said the absence of a security architecture makes the facility highly vulnerable to attacks. “I wanted to also see if I could identify some factors that might have contributed to the seeming ease with which the attack was carried out and assess how existing security measures in Kuje compared with what should be the standard for a facility of similar standing,” he said.

The visit revealed that Kuje is designed to hold 560 inmates maximum but at the time of the attack was holding some 1000 inmates with minimal supervision.

The main access road leading to the main gate is covered by trees and overgrown bushes such that one’s approach is effectively covered from the sight of sentries at the gate even in daylight. The outer perimeter wall is just about 6-7ft high as against recommended height of 8-15 ft.

Only one or two coil of razor wire is placed on top of the perimeter wall against recommended 3 coils one on top of the other.

The prison does not have a second inner fence line, once a person crosses over the first perimeter wall, he or she gains access. This is against the standard that buildings should have outer and inner fence lines with a clear zone of at least 10 yards in between.

“The walls of the prison (which the attackers broke) are of ordinary cement and block instead of recommended 4-inch thick reinforced concrete wall or precast. There are two observation towers but not high enough with the line of sight covered by trees and thick bushes. Additionally being positioned deep inside the building instead of by the outer perimeter wall the observation towers cannot serve the intended purpose which is to be able to sight /engage with fire, intruders far off before they even reach the outer perimeter or raise alarm,” Shehu said.

Read also: Reps summon Aregbesola, NCoS CG over Kuje prison attack

“A few CCTV cameras on the towers, but such CCTV should have been on the outer approaches. I observed a few fixed stationery security lights around but preferably movable lights that are wired to motion sensors so that they come on & point to the area of intrusion. I confirm the light was off during the operation which could be a normal power outage, deliberate action or no standby power.

“On site response force (according to NCS official who briefed the press) is supposed to comprise 38 military, some unspecified police and civil defence and armed correctional service personnel but no clarity if these were on ground on that particular day.

Conflicting testimonies

“Facing outside from inside the prison, the left, right, and front are all covered by thick grasses, bushes & a deep ravine valley to the right from which one could approach prison completely unobserved, especially at night. The attackers came on foot via the valley to the right. The fact that attackers operated for between 1-3 hours (depending on the source) and again left on foot without the defenders mounting a counterattack (after recovering from initial surprise),” he further revealed.

The expert, however, noted that Kuje is classified as medium security (MS) facility which means it should hold inmates whose escape would pose just moderate risk to society and/or inmates with a moderate capacity to break jail but argued that Boko Haram/ISWAP/Ansaru terrorists are high risk and should be in maximum security.

“Mixing dangerous Boko Haram inmates who ought to be in a maximum security prison with detained less dangerous politicians (Nyame Dariye Lawan Kyari) in the same prison was against the recommended practice for prison security of categorisation and allocation of inmates,” he said.

About 443 inmates are currently at large, out of the 879 inmates that escaped from the facility, according to the Nigerian Correctional Service. The Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The attackers broke into the centre using explosive devices through the main entrance and the fence of the facility respectively, killing a personnel of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) attached to the custodial centre and living three personnel of the Nigerian Correctional Service seriously injured.

The Nigerian Correctional Service claimed that some of the attackers were killed while some escaped with gunshot wounds, but experts argue that the absence of any wounded or dead attacker left behind is proof that all armed defenders ran away without returning effective fire.

In response to the attack, President Muhammadu Buhari says he is disappointed in the intelligence system and wondered how the attackers managed to succeed.

“I am disappointed with the intelligence system. How can terrorists organise, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it? I am expecting a comprehensive report on this shocking incident,” the president wrote on his official twitter page.

This, according to experts, is an indication that Nigeria’s security architecture has collapsed and the Federal Government does not have control of it.

“For a high profile detention facility such as that in the FCT, one expects that the highest level of security envelop should be around it, coupled with the fact that they have inmates such as terrorists and other high profile criminals. So one should naturally expect that such a detention facility should have a robust security arrangement around it. The fact that the criminals successfully breach that facility and facilitated the escape of inmates clearly indicates that Nigeria’s security architecture is collapsing faster than people are prepared to appreciate,” Freedom Onuoha, a security and political analyst said.

While describing the attack as one of the most daring in recent times, the analyst expressed concern that insecurity will only deteriorate in the coming weeks. “We will see a spike in criminal attacks enabled by the number of criminals that have entered into the society,” he warned.

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