JOS, Nigeria—Lawmakers in Nigeria have demanded a probe of a recent mass jailbreak in Central Plateau State, raising questions about collusion by prison employees. Prison administrators have deflected or stonewalled queries by journalists and elected officials.
“From the security networking around the prison and the way the incident occurred, it is clear that there was compromise on the part of securities working within that [prison],” said Congressman Simon Mwadkwon to The Epoch Times.
More than 260 inmates escaped from the Medium Custodial Center in Jos, the capital of Plateau State on Nov. 28, after a six-man gang overpowered armed guards at the entrance to the fortified building. The prison is at the center of a heavily guarded complex of police and secret-service headquarters buildings.
But the attackers escaped with 262 inmates in a lightening-fast operation on a bright Sunday evening. As of Dec. 7, only 21 escaping inmates had been rearrested. The attack linked to Fulani militants was the fourth major jailbreak in Africa’s most populous nation, raising fears of a terror spike in the country’s north where terrorists have killed hundreds in recent months.
Prior to the attack, inmates had access to smuggled phones with which they planned the breakout, investigators told The Epoch Times on background. The carefully planned attack was settled months before its execution, but officials ignored warning signs, one investigator said.
“This plan was hatched between July and August this year,” said the investigator on background. “They planned to use explosives to access the building but aborted twice when we shared Intel and joint patrols were carried out,” the source said.
“They wanted to come through the State High Court [A complex of six buildings housing six District Courts located 500 meters southeast of the Jos prison], which is usually quieter and less guarded. They intended to park around the High Court and walk down to the prison [through a street that adjoins the Jos Area Command, a zonal headquarters of the Nigerian Police Force and the state headquarters of the Department of State Services],” the source added about the aborted plan.
The breakout has infuriated lawmakers from the state who are calling for a public probe of possible compromise of police and prison officials.
The Nigerian Government “should urgently set up a transparent probe panel to unearth the conspiracy or some renegades,” said Senator Istifanus Gyang who represents Jos at the Nigerian Senate. “Some few individuals cannot continue to drive us backwards,” said Gyang to The Epoch Times by text.
Mwadkwon who represents Barkin Ladi County, the home of many of the jailbreakers, told Epoch Times; “To say there is some kind of compromise I think is an understatement,” he said. “Somebody collaborated to plan this because it is difficult for an outsider to just walk into that facility and set about 252 inmates free. It’s very difficult given the security surrounding the prison,” said Mwadkwon.
“Even the attack on the prison vehicle in Barkin Ladi clearly shows that there was a compromise,” he said. “How did those that attacked know that they were bringing inmates to court that day? Where did they get their Intel?” queried Mwadkwon.
Another Congressman, Solomon Maren called for the resignation of security chiefs in the State. “You cannot rule out the [likelihood] of conspiracy,” said Maren to The Epoch Times.
“Sometimes you wonder how these things happen most especially within that zone where you have the DSS office, there is Police A-Division [zonal Police station], the Police Headquarters is facing the place, the prison service is just beside it and the quarters around there is also a police and prison quarters. So you can’t help but to wonder,” said Maren. He noted one of the inmates who escaped in the latest breakout is notorious for kidnapping and murders in Bokkos county, which Maren represents.
The illegal use of mobile phones by inmates has been confirmed by the leader of the bar in Plateau State – Mr. Yakubu Bawa. “From what we gathered, they [inmates] had phones and were able to communicate outside the prison,” said Bawa to The Epoch Times.
Some residents have reported receiving threatening calls from inmates prior to the breakout. “I was personally called by one of our boys here – a notorious criminal who was convicted of kidnapping and murder,” said Mr. Mohammed Adam, a resident of a Fulani town on the south of Jos. “He called me from prison threatening to kill me when he comes out, and I was wondering how he got a phone and how he knew he would get out. He was accusing me of assisting police to arrest him, and there are many of us like that,” said Adam to The Epoch Times by phone.
The spokesperson of the Correctional center in Plateau State, Assistant Superintendent of Corrections (ASC) Geoffrey Longdiem did not respond to Epoch Times’ inquiries on how cell phones got to inmates prior to the Nov. 28 jailbreak. The Comptroller of the Jos Custodial Center, Samuel Aguda, told The Epoch Times he was barred from commenting on the attack.
“I’m not authorized to speak to the press on the attack,” said Aguda to The Epoch Times by text. “The Comptroller General and the Minister of Interior have spoken. I don’t want to speak on issues that are beyond my power,” wrote Aguda in a thread of text messages on Dec. 11.
Aguda on Nov. 29 told journalists “Fulani herdsmen” [militants from a predominantly pastoralist Fulani ethnic group terrorizing communities in Central Nigeria] were responsible for the attack. He also refuted claims by the Comptroller General of Corrections, Halilu Nababa on Nov. 28 that terrorists who attacked the Jos prison were trapped in the facility following a gun duel with police.
The prison has a record of breakouts. On July 8 four inmates escaped from the Jos prison, one year after the same group of inmates escaped from a prison van in Barkin Ladi county south of Jos, according to Vanguard News. Again on July 23, gunmen believed to be Fulani militants ambushed a prison van ferrying inmates to court, releasing six inmates according to officials. Four were later rearrested.
Aguda told News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the four escaped on July 8 due to the negligence of guards. “It is either that they duplicated the key to the cell or there was serious negligence on the part of personnel on duty. The inmates escaped through the fence,” he said on July 9.
The Plateau State Police Commissioner, Onyeka Bartholomew and the Police spokesperson in the State, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Uba Ogaba did not respond to inquiries about Adam’s claims that he said he reported.
But following two embarrassing jailbreaks in the States of Lagos and Kogi in 2014, Nigeria banned wardens from entering prison yards with cell phones. At the time, the country’s interior Minister, Abba Moro accused prison wardens of smuggling cellphones to inmates.
“What needs to be urgently done is thorough investigation of what happened,” said a former Army Major, Gabriel Ad’Ofikwu commenting on the Nov. 28 breakout. “We need to interrogate the efficiency and efficacy of our security apparatus,” said Ad’Ofikwu to The Epoch Times by phone.
“In sane societies, when this kind of thing happens, you won’t need to sound the alarm before people tender their resignations for not doing their jobs,” said Ad’Ofikwu.
The breakout has terrified residents who are apprehensive of possible attacks by escaping inmates. “Even we the Fulani are not safe because they look at us [who oppose them] as sellouts,” said Adam to The Epoch Times. “We have reported this but all the securities are telling us is to watch out,” he said.