While a chill was still in the air one night in July 2022, armed terrorists bearing machine guns and improvised explosive devices attacked the Kuje Medium Security Correctional Centre in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, setting free dangerous criminals, including apprehended Boko Haram terrorists.
It was shortly before midnight of 6 July. Armed personnel on the ground including Nigeria’s military personnel and correctional service officers were unprepared for the coming danger despite the intelligence available to their office-based superiors warning of an attack.
After the attack, the Nigerian government said the security officers on duty fiercely engaged the attackers and inflicted heavy casualties on them. Regrettably, given their unprecedented number, they overpowered the officers on duty.
One of the security personnel that engaged the attackers was unfortunately killed. Four inmates also died from that attack while 16 people were injured.
The attack, security experts said, showed the terrorists’ capacity to exploit Nigeria’s security vulnerability. The terrorists attacked the Kuje prison with “very high-grade explosives,” Shuaib Belgore, permanent secretary of Nigeria’s Ministry of Interior said at the time.
ISIS-aligned Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) claimed responsibility for the attack, which intelligence sources and researchers familiar with the terror group’s setup said was aided by another terror group, Ansaru.
A total of 879 of the 994 inmates escaped, and more than 400 remain at large including scores of Boko Haram members.
One Year After
Twelve months after the Kuje attack, Nigerian authorities say they are still searching for more than 400 inmates who escaped from the prison.
The spokesperson of the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCoS), Abubakar Umar, told PREMIUM TIMES that 415 inmates were recaptured and the search is still ongoing to apprehend over 400 escapees
The Kuje incident came at a time security had worsened in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. Violent extremist groups like Boko Haram, Ansaru, IPOB, and ISWAP, have been terrorising the country.
Apart from random, often fatal, attacks on communities, armed groups also carried out attacks on prisons across the country, releasing thousands of inmates including convicted criminals. At least 4,307 inmates have escaped from Nigeria’s prisons since 2017, TheCable reported based on compiled media reports.
But, Mr Umar told PREMIUM TIMES that a lot of things have changed after the “unfortunate Kuje incident.” He said the service is taking all security measures to prevent future “occurrence of that ugly incident.”
Several hours before the Kuje attack, Nigeria’s security service, SSS, warned of a possible terrorist act, this medium learnt. Despite the availability of such intelligence, which should have caused heightened preparation and proactive measures, the attack happened and the armed personnel on the direct defence line were not briefed.
However, Mr Umar said, “There is more robust collaboration than you can ever think of now between the correctional services and other security agencies.”
He said President Bola Tinubu has also given orders to service chiefs that he wants to form a team. “As I speak to you now, all security agencies are on the same page because we are talking about national security and national safety.”
Former President Muhammadu Buhari publicly expressed disappointment and demanded a “comprehensive” report on the Kuje attack.
“I am disappointed with the intelligence system. How can terrorists organise, have weapons, attack a security installation, and get away with it?” Mr Buhari said.
Erstwhile minister of interior, Rauf Aregbesola, ordered a probe of the remote and immediate causes of the Kuje attack. Mr Umar, the NCoS spokesperson, said the investigation has been concluded but details will not be made public.
“It’s a security document that should not be revealed,” Mr Umar said, adding, “We won’t reveal any information that will be a security threat to the rest of the citizens.”
The prison attack is part of a pattern of attacks on national security forces. On the night of the Kuje attack, 65 armed personnel were on guard duty. They included 31 military personnel of the Nigerian Army from the 176 Special Forces Guards Brigade Battalion, Gwagwalada, five personnel of MOPOL 21, and five personnel of MOPOL 50.
Spokesperson Mr Umar said they have increased this number and ensured “adequate deployment of staff to facilities that are vulnerable to attack.”
New security measures
A few days after the Kuje attack, PREMIUM TIMES exclusively reported that terrorists were planning more prison attacks targeting facilities in Zamfara, Kebbi, and Katsina state to free their imprisoned fighters.
Mr Umar told this newspaper that after the Kuje attack, the correction services have taken drastic security measures and it’ll be very difficult to carry out prison attacks.
He said the service has provided uninterrupted electricity in the Kuje prison as well as other facilities.
“In the past, we had issues of power outage but as I speak to you now, the service has installed solar energy within and outside the facility twenty-four hours seven days. Secondly, the facility walls that enemies of the state infiltrated have been raised. We put more blocks to put the wall up,” Mr Umar said.
“We have also installed technology in Kuje and all of our facilities. It’s called E-correction. We have commissioned a national situation room at the national headquarters in Abuja where we can monitor our nationwide facilities from the situation room. This technology will help us to monitor what’s happening 200 metres away from the facilities. We are monitoring not just the inmate but any suspicious movement around the facility.
“Furthermore, we had one perimeter wall before the Kuje attack, but as of today, we are constructing a second perimeter wall that’s almost at a completion stage. We are increasing our surveillance not only in Kuje but across all our facilities in the country,” he added.
After the Kuje attack, the comptroller general of the correction services sent a lot of the corps personnel to the military training ground in Kontagora, Niger State, to increase their skills in shooting, Mr Umar said.
The federal government has also declared correctional facilities as red zones.
“Anybody that attempts to defile our facility is only making a death wish for himself. The service has also provided additional barricade on the way to Kuje prison,” Mr Umar said.