By Abubakar Sidik Usman
Just returned from a visit to Kuje correctional centre and I am really ashamed at what I saw and what I heard. To think that this is a medium facility located in the FCT, one can only imagine what correctional facilities in other parts of the country looks like.
To start with, the facility is located within a residential neighborhood without any buffer between the facility and residences. Any serious person can easily habitat around the residential area to monitor happenings, because apart from the proximity, the perimeter fence is so short that you can easily see what is happening from the outside. To make matters worse, even the fence was constructed with your normal 6 inches or 9 inches blocks and in some places, you will see tiny iron rods forming parts of the fence. So you can either bend down without being seen to destroy the iron rods or simply just jump over the fence. I have not gone to any prison elsewhere, but what I have seen in movies are very thick and high perimeter fences that once you are inside, you hardly know what is happening outside and vice versa.
Let me write briefly on what was said about the attack before I proceed to what I saw. According to the military officer and the correctional service officer in charge of the facility, the attackers estimated to be close to 300 came on foot, used dozens of IEDs at different spots to blow up structures and some to cause distraction while gaining entrance into the main prison. Mind you, they didn’t need to blow up any of the perimeter fence or anything close to it. Gaining entrance was very easy. The military officer said they operated for close 30 mins even though they were engaged by the soldiers (about 31 of them) before reinforcement came, but that the number of IEDs they deployed made it difficult to get at them. However, he said they were able to kill four of the attackers in the operation that lasted for nearly one hour (not 2-3 hours as widely reported before they made away with their freed members. If not for the return of fire, the attack would have been worse, the military officer said.
Back to what I saw, I noticed that there are two observation towers inside the facility. In my honest opinion, those towers are not only wrongly positioned, trees and shrubs surrounding the perimeter fence would make it difficult for personnel manning the towers to see whoever is intruding let alone engage them in any serious battle. Those towers should have been located very close to the perimeter fence and the trees removed so the distance of sight can be far. I also think two observation towers are not enough. We should have like four all mounted with rotating lights whose illumination can blind the eyes. Abi no be so we see am for movies?
The most shocking of what I saw at the Kuje correctional centre is the issue of CCTV cameras. While I saw a few mounted on the two observation post, the entire facility largely does not have cameras, but that is not even the issue. The few ones available are not working. The officers on ground confirmed this, meaning there can’t even be a replay of what happened at the facility to see lapses and how they can be corrected. How can a medium security prison in the capital city of a country, in 2022 not have CCTV cameras. How are you supposed to monitor movements within and outside the prison facility? No wonder, nearly 300 insurgents came into the facility on foot, entered the premises and gained entrance into the cells. It is a shame really.
But if the CCTV issue was not shocking enough, the walls of the prison itself is something else. For a prison, you would expect very thick wall, perhaps in layers so that breaking through would be very difficult. We were told that the walls were blown off with dynamite, seeing the quality of the blocks, you only need very big hammer to be able to pass through except that dynamite would make it faster. So the bad guys easily broke in, meander their way into the various cells and made away with their guys in there.
And how about the prison cells themselves? I am not sure what I saw can classify that place as correction centres. They are dirty and smelly. You can only go there and return hardened instead of being corrected. But I am not really surprised. When the government choose to do a change of name from prisons to correction centres, I knew it was just our normal surface dressings. It really goes to tell you how much we pay lip service to things in Nigeria and it applies to everything about us. We are not serious and by we, I mean all of us, because we all have something to do with it one way or the other.
In summary, I cannot honestly call what I saw I Kuje a prison or a correctional facility, especially if I am to go by what I have seen of other places in movies.