Nigeria: Kaduna Prison Riot and the Death Race

opinion

... if it would not be too much to ask: Can the minister ensure a proper investigation of the Kaduna incident with a view to ensuring that there is no spill over effect? The minister also needs to ensure that preventive measures are taken against any breakdown of law and order by citizens at this critical moment.

On Tuesday, March 31, a riot was reported to have occurred in the Kaduna Prison over COVID-19 related concerns. Established in 1915, the facility was designed to have a carrying capacity of about 578 inmates but presently hosts over a thousand inmates, most of who are awaiting trial. The riot was said to have been sparked off by the death of an inmate, who was suspected to have died of causes related to the coronavirus.

Agitated by the poor health and sanitary situation of the prison, and how that could threaten their lives should there be a spread, the inmates flew up in dissent. At about the time the riot began, Amnesty International put out the information on its twitter handle: "Unrest is ongoing now in Nigeria's Correctional Institution Kaduna over suspected cases of Covid-19." The tweet went up at 1:20 p.m. on that day.

On Wednesday, April 1, a tweet from Rauf Aregbesola, the minister of Interior, went out rather triumphantly: "At today's briefing of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, I updated Nigerians on the status of Kaduna Custodial Centre and how we were able to quell Monday's riot. No life was lost during the uproar and things have since returned to normal."

By April 3, a number of media houses had done stories on the Kaduna Prison incident. SaharaReporters, for instance, did a report with the title: 'Exclusive: Eight Inmates of Kaduna Prison Killed by Officials for Leading Protest, Authorities Cover Up Incident'. The report carried the names of those killed by the prison authorities to include: Hameed Abdullahi, Lucky Ugokama, Ibrahim Abubakar (aka Baba Lolo) and Yahu Salisu. Other inmates reported to have died were, Elvis Wisdom Adekpe, Lucky Njoku, Oluchukwu Oche (aka No Witch) and Ibrahim Abdullahi. An inmate, Ogume Osifo Osarome, was reported to have been in critical condition, after being tortured, at the time of filing the report.

As if refuting every point of the official narrative of the incident, SaharaReporters went further to give the circumstances that surrounded some of the deaths: "A day after the unrest, at 12 noon, prison warders went from cell to cell ordering inmates presumed to be ring leaders of the protest to come out. One Hameed Abdullahi was shot in the stomach by a warder. He died immediately. Yahu Salihu was shot in the buttocks while Ibrahim Abdullahi died of torture. Lucky Njoku was beaten to death and died of wounds inflicted on him. Ibrahim Abubakar died of beatings from the prison guards. The management of the Kaduna Correctional centre are however working hard to cover up the killings", the report read.

The online media also reached out to Muhammed Jalinge, spokesperson for the Kaduna State Police Command, whose response to the issue was an admission that, "... (there was) an internal problem between staff and inmates of the Correctional facility." It is hard to overlook the effort in SaharaReporters's report.

What the prison authorities did not know was that at about the time of the incident, ample information had gone out about it and on Friday, April 3, a coalition of civil society groups, numbering about fifty-one (51) issued a joint statement that called for the urgent decongestion of police cells and correctional centres across.

What the prison authorities did not know was that at about the time of the incident, ample information had gone out about it and on Friday, April 3, a coalition of civil society groups, numbering about fifty-one (51) issued a joint statement that called for the urgent decongestion of police cells and correctional centres across. Their statement highlighted the Kaduna incident:

"We are specifically concerned about the recent riot by prisoners in Kaduna which, as investigation reveals, was sparked by protests over conditions in the prison and fears by the inmates about possible exposure to Covid-19 infection. We are also worried about reports of brutal repression of the riots and reports of torture, injuries and deaths.

If Kaduna's prison situation is not properly handled, it could have a boomerang effect on other correctional centres. We call for a thorough investigation and the release of awaiting trial inmates, especially those held for minor offences."

The plot at this point was almost fully thickened. The reports had played the field. The ball was now in the court of the agents of the Kaduna Correctional Centre to refute the narrative that was layering up. With gold dust coming off in shreds from their silence, it seemed a response was inevitable and so they put out a statement.

The Kaduna Correctional Centre Response

This was signed by the Controller of Kaduna State Command of the prisons service, Sanusi Muazu Danmusa, and it was titled: "Attempted Jail Break at Kaduna Custodial Centre, the Facts So Far":

"The attention of the Nigeria Correctional Service Kaduna state command has been drawn to some malicious publications by a section of the media in respect of the attempted jail break by a section of the condemned convict cell in the custodial centre in Kaduna on Tuesday 31st March, 2020. The Command had issued a press release earlier to inform the public of the attempted jail break. This release is necessary to assure the public that the command and indeed the service are not trying to hide any fact as purported by a section of the press especially when life is involved."

Continuing, the report read: "Four inmates later died in the hospital from the injuries sustained in the mellie that ensued while being restrained by the Custodial officers from breaking jail. For the avoidance of doubt, all the deceased inmates were from the condemned section of the Custodial Centre where the jail-break occurred.

A comprehensive investigation has commenced on the directive of the Controller General of the Nigeria Correctional Service, Alhaji Jafaru Ahmed."

The correctional system lost a vital opportunity of attracting public sympathy to the dilemma they face with congested facilities. In a technological era, facts are easily pulled out, despite thick prison walls. To be sure, the controller and the wardens are not responsible for congested prisons.

Without attempting a forensic juxtaposition of the narratives, it is easy to see a far-from-decent mutation of the facts. First, the minister of Interior admitted to an incident but reported in absolute terms to the Presidential Task Force that no life was lost. Then the Controller of Kaduna Corrections admits in response to what he describes as a 'malicious publication' that four inmates later died... in a mellie'(sic). A melee? Really? 'Melee' is a word that describes a confused fight or scuffle. So who fought who? And how could a confused fight result in such lethal results as to occasion the loss of lives?

The other matter that calls for even closer scrutiny is the veiled justification in the second to the last closing paragraph of the statement of the Kaduna Corrections: "For the avoidance of doubt, all the deceased inmates were from the condemned section of the custodial centre where the jail break occurred".

It seems a call to treat condemned inmates (assuming but not conceding that only the CC inmates were killed) as expendable. This is legally unacceptable. In Peter Nemi v The State and Edmond Okoro v The State, the underlying principle of both judgments is that persons in custody have their rights intact, except those deprived by law, and that even a condemned criminal awaiting execution still maintains fundamental rights until properly executed by the due process of law.

The correctional system lost a vital opportunity of attracting public sympathy to the dilemma they face with congested facilities. In a technological era, facts are easily pulled out, despite thick prison walls. To be sure, the controller and the wardens are not responsible for congested prisons. The legal system, which has unconstitutionally supervised the incarceration of more awaiting trial inmates than those sentenced, is the primary cause of the congestion of prisons. With the COVID-19 pandemic, there ought to have been the release or transfer of those awaiting trial who are no threat or low threat to the society.

But should Nigerians expect so much? The minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, had admitted to the press shortly after his inauguration that he knew little about the policies and operations of the Ministry of Interior. When a person admits his inadequacy on a subject, it would be out of the pale to saddle him with much in that regards. So if it would not be too much to ask: Can the minister ensure a proper investigation of the Kaduna incident with a view to ensuring that there is no spill over effect? The minister also needs to ensure that preventive measures are taken against any breakdown of law and order by citizens at this critical moment. It is, for instance, very important that the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 administers the palliatives of the lockdown in such form that prevents social unrest. The whispers of disgruntled Nigerians on the corrupt sharing formula of the palliatives are gradually crystallising into a roar.

Gloria Mabeiam Ballason is chief executive of House of Justice and executive director of Molluma Medico-Legal Centre.

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