Famous for accommodating rich and wealthy suspects and other VIP criminals, the Medium Security Custodial Centre in Kuje Area Council of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, is under fresh scrutiny.
Anxieties escalated last Tuesday when terrorists stormed the custodial centre in a night-time attack that featured the detonation of several bombs and the deployment of Rocket-Propelled Grenades (RPGs), General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMGs) and an assortment of AK-49 assault rifles, AK-47 assault rifles, and service pistols.
Armed to the teeth, the audacious attackers overcame the might of the security agents, setting free more than 800 inmates held at the custodial centre. They killed one operative (a personnel of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) identified as Iliyasu) and four inmates.
A security agent, who witnessed the attack, told Saturday Vanguard in an exclusive chat that he took cover to save his life when he saw how the custodial centre fell so cheaply into the terrorists; creating the opportunity for them to have a field day.
According to operative, he had to put his phone in silent mode and clutched the screen tightly to his belly to prevent the low intensity blue light from shining through, because he kept on receiving calls from his comrades and didn’t want his cover to be blown by any distraction.
He explained, “I received a call that night to come around the main entrance to the Custodial Centre because there was a problem. So, I asked a colleague who was around at that time to accompany me to the place.
we were about to start the car, we heard the bang of a detonated bomb and two more explosives were activated in a quick succession. At that point, we knew that letting the attackers catch a glimpse of us would be suicidal, so we took cover immediately.
“I threw away the car key and the armoury key that was with us at that time, because we feared that would be looted without mercy, if we were caught by the terrorists.
Expectedly, phone calls started pouring in from many of my contacts. I had to put the handset in silent mode and clutched the screen tightly to my stomach so that the light wouldn’t expose my hiding place.
“I believe the attackers were led by some of the ex-terrorists who had been released from custody, because they seemed to have a perfect knowledge of the location of everything as they carried out their attacks. They were even calling-out the nicknames of some officers and asking for their whereabouts.
After about two hours of the rampage, I started hearing ‘Let us go! Let us go! Let us go!’ However, I didn’t feel very comfortable coming out of my hiding place just yet. So, I stayed put.
“After about 30 minutes, the terrorists made a return to the Custodial Centre. This time more reinforced than the first time. However, they couldn’t find any security operative on the ground so they left and didn’t return again.”
Asked what he would have done, if the terrorists had nabbed him, the security agent responded, “I thank God I was wearing a three-quarter shorts and a T-shirt. I would have told them that I was only an inmate running for his dear life.”
That is an embarrassment to the Nigerian state, because the highly successful jailbreak in Abuja, the seat of the country’s federal power, raises serious concern over the competence of those tasked to run the security agencies and the custodial centers.
In all, the attackers who have been identified as members of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) freed 64 of their fellows who were still detained at the custodial centre.
In addition to these high profile enemies of the State, hundreds of other suspected criminals also escaped detention and made their way back into the society. That’s unleashing bandits into the society again.
From time-to-time, violent crimes have been traced to these escapees in different parts of the country. Recall the case of 35-year-old Emmanuel Joseph, an ex-convict, who was nabbed barely two weeks ago for allegedly raping an 80-year-old woman, Mrs Alice Mogbonjubola, on Lotogbe Street, in Ondo State.
Curiously, the ISWAP terrorists who attacked the Kuje custodial centre did not attack homes in the neighbourhood.
However, while some terrified residents fled to “safe” places like church and mosque buildings, others locked up themselves and their family members at home, waiting for the worst to happen.
Sharing her experience with Saturday Vanguard, Ms. Mercy, a 25-year-old woman from Akwa Ibom, who resides within the estate directly behind the medium security custodial centre, said she was having her bath about 10:00pm when the attack began.
She said: “Not long after I returned home from my business, I entered the bathroom to have a bath when all of a sudden I heard the bang that followed the detonation of bombs in the neighbourhood. The impact shook many of the buildings in the area including mine.
“So, I fled the bathroom with soap bubbles all over my body, grabbed a wrapper and headed to the room where my children were sleeping. I mounted the youngest child on my back and held the other one tightly in my right hand.
“The sporadic gunshots were too much. I couldn’t flee my house because my children are too young. So, I stayed back waiting for the terrorists to attack us and kill me and my children. I was determined to die with them in my house than leave them behind and run. Fortunately, we were not attacked. So, I thank God for everything.”
This occurrence is not a coincidence, but a huge clue that the attackers were on a mission to set free some of their affiliates, who had been arrested for terrorism and kept in the Kuje custodial centre.
After 24 hours, only about 430 inmates have been recaptured, the Nigerian Correctional Service said. So, this means that an estimated 50 percent of escapee inmates; some of whom are terrorists, hardened criminals, kidnappers, carjackers, and rapists, are on the loose.
Going down history lane, it might take a long time to recapture the fugitives. This situation has already exacerbated tensions in the nation’s capital.
In the aftermath of the attack, early on Wednesday morning, a viral advisory circulated among FCT residents via WhatsApp, cautioning people against giving car lift to strangers or stopping in lonely places.