ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian authorities on Monday admitted shortcomings in security at a prison in the country’s capital after an attack that led to the escape of hundreds of inmates last week.
The breakout in the Kuje area of Abuja led to the escape of 879 inmates, including 64 members of the extremist group Islamic State West Africa Province who claimed responsibility for the attack. The Islamic State-linked group is an offshoot of the Boko Haram militant group that has launched a decade-long insurgency in northeastern Nigeria.
One of the Kuje prison escapees was arrested on Monday, Nigeria’s National Drug Control Agency said, but with at least 400 inmates still at large, authorities are widening the search to neighboring states.
Nigeria is synonymous with jailbreaks that have become more rampant in recent years, but it was the first time during that period that Abuja has been in the spotlight, leaving many shocked and fearful of how safe they are as the nation West Africa is fighting a cycle of attributed violence. on Islamic extremists and on armed groups, mainly in the troubled north of the country.
“Kuje (prison) is the most fortified in the country,” said Rauf Aregbesola, Nigeria’s interior minister. “We had enough men to protect the facility, but unfortunately they couldn’t hold their position effectively for defense and that was the reason for the breach,” the minister said after visiting the attacked prison.
Even Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was unable to provide answers to citizens’ questions about how the attackers overwhelmed the security forces on duty and how safe they are in the country of 206 million people. Buhari had more questions in his place.
“How can terrorists organize, have weapons, attack a security facility and get away with it?” the Nigerian leader tweeted.
Relentless jailbreaks in Nigeria have freed more than 3,000 inmates since the beginning of 2021, media reports show. With the latest in the nation’s capital, the Nigerian Correctional Service has begun an assessment of “where we have challenges and how to nip them in the bud,” said Umar Abubakar, a spokesman for the agency, also admitting that the escape was “a consequence of the security challenges” facing Nigeria.
For many Nigerians, Abuja used to be the “buffer” they turned to for safety when other parts of Nigeria came under attack, said Usman Ahmed, a taxi driver. But recent security incidents, such as an attack on a train that killed seven people nearby in late March and the Kuje prison break, mean there is “nowhere to run,” he said.
Authorities blamed the train attack and jailbreak on extremist rebels who have waged an insurgency in northeastern Nigeria for more than a decade. Those rebels are now expanding their reach beyond the northeastern region to other parts of Nigeria, including the north-central region where Abuja is located, according to analysts.
“There are already several terrorist cells operating in the north-central, north-west and north-east parts of Nigeria,” said Oluwaseyi Adetayo, a former officer with the State Services Department of the Nigerian secret police who now works as a security expert. “Many of them are already being activated.”
In the wake of Kuje’s jailbreak, Nigerian police said they have increased surveillance and security patrols in the nation’s capital, but many are wondering how long it will be before another attack occurs.
“If you want to go around Abuja, you have to outline the cities to support that kind of large-scale operation, which is why currently all the states bordering Abuja are in crisis,” said Confidence MacHarry of Lagos-based firm SBM Intelligence.
In the Kuje area of Abuja, residents told The Associated Press that the increased security presence in the city does not make them feel safer.
“Residents of Abuja are afraid, not just in Kuje,” said Paschal Obi, whose family of five has lived in Kuje town for years. ”Some (fugitives) are still hanging around Abuja…they haven’t gone to their destinations. Personally, I am afraid and only God can take control.”
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