The Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, on Tuesday, came hard on the Comptroller General and officials of the Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS) for 'blocking' efforts to ensure justice for victims of rape and sexual abuses in Borno prisons.
The governor had in March set up a 10-member committee headed by the Borno Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Kaka-Shehu Lawan, to investigate alleged cases of rape, sodomy and 'mass abortion' in Maiduguri prisons as recently exposed by Amnesty International.
According to Amnesty International, its investigation exposed sexual violence against children and women, by security agents and inmates at the Maiduguri Maximum Security Prison and Giwa Barracks.
Responding to the report, Governor Shettima gave the committee one week to submit its findings.
Three weeks after, the committee said it could not accomplish its task because the prison service "was not open for them to carry out their assignment."
Frustrated by the lack of cooperation from the NPS officials, the committee said it had to give up its assignment and report back to the governor.
Briefing the governor at the council chambers of the Government House, Maiduguri, the attorney general lamented that they were "practically denied access and audience by the state Comptroller of Prisons."
His words: "Precisely on the 21, March 2019, following a report by Sahara Reporters, Your Excellency immediately inaugurated this committee to investigate the alleged offenses as published in the online newspaper.
"Upon the inauguration of the committee, we settled down to carry out the task set before us.
"We immediately proceeded to the headquarters of the Borno Prisons Service to see the State Comptroller of Prisons. Unfortunately, upon arrival at the state headquarters of the NPS, we realised that the nominee of the NPS in our committee, DCP Ahmed Oduba, has been recalled without our knowledge.
"This was confirmed to us by the state comptroller himself. That was where the drama all began."
The Borno AG said they duly informed the comptroller of their mission "and presented to him all documents at their disposal including the publication containing the allegations."
"The comptroller went through the documents and thereafter told us that his hands were tight, that he cannot take any decision at his level until he gets a clearance from the NPS headquarters Abuja.
"Being a committee of highly experienced people, we came back to the Secretariat of the committee to officially write a letter to the Comptroller General of the NPS, which was sent to him on the 29th of March, 2019. Another reminder letter was sent to him on the 4th of April, 2019, still asking him to grant this committee access to the prisons in order to carry out its investigation.
"We also reminded the CGP that the governor of the state is the chief security officer of the state and has the right to show concern over any security situation that may erupt in the state. And we also reminded him that the NPS is part of the membership of the state security council.
"We also wrote to the office of the National Human Rights Commission, to prevail on the Comptroller General of Prisons to reply to our letter and grant us access to the prisons but all proved abortive.
"We have had six sittings on this matter and at the end, we have resolved to wrute our report to inform you that we met an administrative brick wall as a result of the lack of cooperation from the Prisons headquarters Abuja as well as the Borno command of the NPS.
The attorney general said "there must be something fishy within the tall walls of the prison, especially as the names of the inmates mentioned to be involved in the alleged rape cases were confirmed to be those prosecuted by the Borno ministry of justice for various offences before they were sent to court."
"We therefore conclude that there is something fishy within the prisons," the official said. "But because of lack of access to the prisons, we were unable to unravel the mystery."
Mr Shehu said already, various rights organisations, including Amnesty International, have been writing to the Borno government asking for a copy of the committee's report.
Responding, after receiving the report, a visibly miffed Governor Shettima said "the allegations are very grave that we can't afford to sweep it under the carpet."
The governor said he was morally compelled while setting up the committee "in order to let the world know the truth about happenings in the Nigerian prisons."
"It is very sad and condemnable that the Nigeria Prisons Service is bent on creating a brick wall on the path of justice. We ought to be partners in this enterprise.
"We can't deliberately embarrass the federal government; most especially (as) the issues of child prostitution, rape, sodomy and mass abortion have assumed an international dimension and any sensible government will not turn a blind eye to the atrocities that have been inflicted on our younger ones."
"We are going to handle this matter with all sense of maturity because we do not intend to overheat the polity."
He said he would approach the minister of interior with a copy of the report.
"The strength and quality of any society depend on how they treat their weaker sex. The way we treat our wives, our sisters and daughters should be the barometer of assessing your self-worth and sense of morality.
"We cannot afford to play the ostrich here. It is true we have a problem of child prostitution and forced abortion. These were cases that were prosecuted by the Borno ministry of justice, and culprits were jailed, only for one to hear similar crimes being committed in the prison. So there is more to it than meets the eye.
"The attitude of the Comptroller General of Nigeria Prisons Service is detestable, condemnable and I think the federal government should begin to beam light on him because he who has nothing to hide, has nothing to fear for. Unless there is a certain thing that they don't want the world to know so they think by creating a brick wall, we will sweep it under the carpet. We will not.
"I deliberately requested for the presentation of this report because we want the world to know that we have made efforts to investigate the allegations."
He said the report has 'exonerated' the committee and the Borno government.
Spurious, unfounded allegations- Prisons
When contacted for comments, the prisons spokesman at the NPS headquarters Abuja, Francis Enobore, confirmed that they are "fully aware of the allegations and the CGP had since assigned a committee to investigate the matter."
He said the allegations "were as spurious as they are unfounded."
Mr Enobore, however, said the decision by the NPS to bar the committee from accessing the prison facilities in Maiduguri "was never meant to undermine the committee or the government that constituted it."
Comptroller General, Nigerian Prisons Service, Jaafar Ahmed.
"The NPS took that decision basically on the ground of national security and nothing more," he said.
"Everyone knows how fragile the security situation has been in the country and especially the North-east. And the CGP strongly feels the service cannot be acting on unfounded allegations to jeopardise the security of the country.
"This is not in any way meant to disrespect the Borno governor; he is a gentleman, whom even the CGP holds with much respect.
"For the purpose of record and clarity, I want to say the committee was not granted access because the NPS doesn't want it (committee) to do its (NPS) job. Access was denied because of a security breach their presence in the prison could cause."
On the allegations that minors are being sexually abused in the prisons, Mr Enobore, a deputy comptroller of prisons, said: "that cannot be true."
"Yes, it is a fact that there (are) some underaged persons in the prisons in Maiduguri, but that is not the situation in all prisons across the country. We all know the peculiarity of the situation in Borno State and we all know why those underaged children are kept in the prisons. Those children are being 'processed' so that they can be taken to a more secured facility.
"And the fact that they are in the prison does not mean they are being kept in the same cell(s) with adults. There are cells for adults and for children; we have cells for males and females. So those allegations are not true," he said.