Nearly 900 inmates escaped in a jailbreak in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, officials said on Wednesday, blaming the attack on.
At least 443 of the 879 escapees are still missing, said Umar Abubakar, a spokesman for the Nigerian Corrections Service, while hundreds more have either been recaptured or turned themselves in to police stations.
Officials “will track all fugitive detainees and return them to custody,” Abubakar said.
Later Wednesday, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari visited the prison where senior officials gave him a tour of the facility. He then tweeted that he was “saddened” by the attack and “disappointed” with the Nigerian intelligence system.
“How can terrorists organize themselves, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it?” Buhari asked.
The “very determined” rebels attacked Kuje Maximum Prison in Abuja on Tuesday night with “very high grade explosives”, killing a guard on duty, according to Shuaib Belgore, permanent secretary in Nigeria’s Home Ministry.
Explosions and gunshots were heard around 10 p.m. in the Kuje neighborhood when the attackers arrived and forced their way into the prison through a hole created by the explosions.
Islamic extremist rebels who attacked the prisonin the northeast of the country for more than a decade. Their attack on the detention center freed many of their members who are being held, prison officials said.
“We understand they are Boko Haram. They came specifically for their co-conspirators,” Belgore said.
Kuje maximum security prison had nearly 1,000 inmates, including 64 suspects from the extremist group Boko Haram, all of whom escaped, said Major General Bashir Salihi Magashi, Nigeria’s Defense Minister.
He told reporters that security officials on the ground had done “the best they could” to prevent the escape. “We’re trying to see what we can do to make sure all the escapees are brought back,” he said.
On Wednesday morning, bullet shells were strewn around the prison premises as helicopters hovered over the Kuje area as security guards combed nearby bushes in search of escapees. A number of vehicles were flattened during the late night shootout.
Some recaptured inmates lay on the ground near the prison entrance near the bodies of those who died in the attack.
The Abuja escape came around the same time gunmen launched a daring attack on an advance security convoy preparing for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to the northwestern state of Katsina. These assailants “opened fire on the convoy from ambush positions but were repelled by the army”, a presidential spokesman said.
Nigerian jihadist rebels and other armed groups have carried out several escapes in the northeast of the country in recent years, but this is the first in the capital in recent years.
In 2021, more than 2,500 inmates were released in three escapes. At least 4,307 inmates have escaped from Nigerian prisons since 2017, Lagos-based online newspaper TheCable reported this month, based on compiled media reports.
Security analysts say most recent prison breaks in Nigeria appear unrelated, although the attacks are similarly carried out using explosives. Many of those who escaped these attacks were awaiting trial. Nigerian prisons hold 70,000 inmates but only around 20,000, or 27%, have been sentenced, according to government data.
Nigeria’s extremist insurgency, led by Boko Haram and an offshoot known as Islamic State’s West Africa Province, is blamed for killing more than 35,000 people and displacing over 2 million people, according to the UN. The prolonged instability, hunger and lack of health services caused by the insurgency have indirectly caused the deaths of more than 300,000 additional people, according to the UN
Extremist violence is the most serious security challenge in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 206 million people, which is also battling violence in the northwest region by rebel herders and a separatist movement in the south of the country.
Prisons in Africa’s most populous country are often overcrowded. Up to 70% of detainees are on remand and may be held pending trial for years. Awas carried out in the southeastern state of Imo in April last year. It is unclear which group orchestrated the leak, but the area has long been a hotbed for Nigerian separatist groups, and tensions between federal authorities and the indigenous Igbo population are often high there.
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