By Adelani Adepegba and Samson Folarin
Sporadic gunfire caused pandemonium at Kuje Prison, Abuja, on Monday, following a riot by some inmates, who resisted the attempt by prison officials to search their cells for banned items.
It was gathered that security operatives fired gunshots and tear gas canisters to restore law and order and control the rioters.
This happened 11 days after a similar incident in Abakaliki Prison, Ebonyi State, that led to the death of six inmates and injuries to four prison warders.
The Monday riot occurred two months after two inmates, standing trial for culpable homicide, escaped from the Kuje Prison on June 25. The fleeing inmates have yet to be re-arrested.
Sources in the prison said the violent protest was brought under control by the armed squad of the Nigerian Prisons Service supported by soldiers providing additional security cover for the formation.
The incident, it was learnt, caused panic among residents of Kuje community, who believed that the prison was under attack by terrorists.
The Controller of Prisons, FCT Command, Daniel Odharo, in a statement, confirmed the crisis at the prison but said there was no injury or escape by inmates.
Odharo said, “At about 1000hrs on Monday, staff of Kuje Prison carried out a routine cell-search which is a part of the prisons operational guidelines to prevent the breach of security within and around the prisons.
“Some inmates tried to resist the exercise, which led to an altercation between the search party and the inmates. This was quickly put under effective control. No prisoner was injured, no property damaged and the yard is calm and peaceful.”
Investigations by one of our correspondents indicated that the violence was instigated by convicts, who refused to allow warders to carry out a search on their cells for prohibited items.
One of our correspondents gathered from a reliable source in the prison that during the search, 25 mobile sets were recovered from a suspected Boko Haram inmate.
The source stated, “The incident happened this morning. The warders, who were acting on instructions from the prison authorities, decided to search the cells and seize prohibited items.
“During the search, they found 25 handsets with a Boko Haram suspect. After a search of the convicts’ cells, they moved to the awaiting-trial cells.
“But those men, who saw the warders approaching with some ‘already’ seized items, decided to resist them. They attacked the warders with stones and every object they could lay their hands on, and in the process, many of the warders were injured.”
It was gathered that after a search, some substances, suspected to be cannabis, were also uncovered in some cells and confiscated.
Another prison source told The PUNCH that the warders, who were overwhelmed, retreated for reinforcement.
They were said to have opened fire on some of the inmates, during which some of them were injured, though it could not be ascertained if any of the inmates died as some suspected.
“I can’t say the total number of casualties among the inmates, but I can confirm to you that many of the warders were injured,” he added.
The source explained that the inmates resisted the warders because the prohibited items were brought in by warders after being tipped.
He said, “The rot in the Nigerian Prisons Service is serious. The prohibited items that the warders wanted to seize were brought into the yard by the same warders.
“The inmates had been enjoying this privilege through trafficking by the warders. It is only natural that they will fight back, and it is a bad trend for the prisons service.”
VIP inmates resist search
It was gathered that the convicts, who were kept in a block called ‘VIP’, were allowed to enjoy certain privileges not permitted by the prison rules and regulations.
Sources stated that against prison rules, awaiting trial inmates were allowed to stay in the VIP block as it was more comfortable.
It was learnt that the dormitory-like block, where the awaiting trial inmates were kept, was congested with poor ventilation while the convicts’ cells were more pleasant to stay.
A source said, “What happened on Monday was that as the officers moved to carry out a search of their cells, the inmates refused and before you know it the situation had degenerated into an altercation between the inmates and the officers with some convicts trying to physically attack the warders.
“The armed squad had to fire into the air and they also released some tear gas canisters to bring the situation under control.”
In June, the prisons service dismissed a female prison officer for smuggling alcoholic drinks into the Kirikiri prison in Lagos.
About two weeks ago, the Federal Government dismissed 23 prison officers for alleged complicity in jailbreaks at the Kuje Medium Security Prison, Abuja, and the Koton-Karfe Prisons, Kogi State.
The Civil Defence, Fire, Immigration and Prison Services Board, at its emergency meeting held on August 11, 2016, approved the dismissal of three senior prison officers serving in Kuje Prison and three other senior officers serving in Koton-Karfe Prison for their complicity in the escape of prisoners from the respective prisons.
In addition, the Controller-General of Prisons, Ahmed Ja’afaru, had also approved the dismissal of seven junior prison officers serving in Kuje Prison and 10 other junior staff serving in Koton Karfe prison, who were also implicated in the jailbreaks.
The officer in charge of Nsukka Prison, Okonkwo Lawrence, and 10 others were also suspended following the escape of 15 inmates from the prison.