Recently, 12 inmates of Oko Federal Prisons in Benin City, Edo State were involved in a jailbreak. Before this, suspected Boko Haram insurgents had organised a jailbreak at Federal Prison, Koton Karfi, a town in Kogi State and successfully set free 119 inmates. There were similar jailbreaks in Port-Harcourt, Bauchi and Awka.
The Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, was thoroughly embarrassed by the jailbreak in Oko near Benin, Edo State and he said so in no unmistaken terms. Actually, he accused the prison officials of negligence, breach of trust and even complicity.
Otherwise, he couldn't understand why the prison officials, who were armed, could not mount a counter-attack to ward off the criminals. To even make matters worse, the Controller of Prisons and his Police counterpart could not give him an accurate number of escapees from the prison.
The minister promised to get to the root of the matter, pledged that there will be no cover-up and even threatened to flush out any official implicated in the jailbreak.
We empathise with the minister especially in the face of the performance contract he entered into with President Goodluck Jonathan. It is urgent that the cause of these annoying jailbreaks are exposed and dealt with, decisively, if he ever hoped to make the 70 percent benchmark set by the president.
Beyond this, the minister made a salient point that is at the root of the rot in the prison system. Abba Moro said and we agree that the criminal justice system in the country is sluggish and poses a challenge to the prison service.
He pointed out, sadly, that majority of the inmates are awaiting trial. Some have stayed for over 10 years in prison without conviction. Others are in that prison condition for offences as minor as pilfering. Most are victims of Police extortion raids.
Because they were not able to "settle" police, they were dumped in prison to "smell rod". Whatever is the case, the inmates over stay because the prison officials claim, ridiculously, that there is no vehicle to transport them to court.
When there is a vehicle, courts are congested and they cannot get a date. Or even worse, the investigation is yet to be concluded. While all these excuses are being bandied about, someone somewhere is denied justice. An ordinarily good human being gets mixed up with hardened criminals and both he and the society are the worse for it.
Agreed some of these jailbreaks are by criminal gangs intent on freeing their members, but we are compelled to implore the authorities to revisit the nation's prison statutes and take another look at the condition of service of prison officials to shore up their morale and make them more dedicated. Most importantly, we insist that the justice system should be made a little more humane.