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Hundreds of escaped inmates remain free 4 months after prison break in Nigeria

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At least 501 people are still at large after they broke out of two correctional centres in Edo last year.

Last week, a State High Court in Benin City, Edo State found five former officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) guilty of the extra-judicial murder of a car dealer they arrested in 2015.

Justice Ohimai Ovbiagele sentenced Joseph Omotosho, a former constable, to death by hanging or with chemical infusion, but could not sentence the four other former SARS officers who were also convicted because they were not present in court.

While they were remanded at a correctional centre in Benin, Adeleke Adedeji, Abena John, Oniyo Musa, and Henry Shobowole escaped during a prison break last October.

They were some of the 1,993 inmates who were freed when thugs attacked two Medium Security Correctional Centres in Benin on October 19, 2020.

The thugs that set them free had capitalised on the nationwide #EndSARS protests that saw hundreds of Nigerians demonstrate against years of police brutality.

The jail breaks forced Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, to impose a state-wide 24-hour curfew in a bid to contain the situation.

The governor also gave ultimatums to the inmates to voluntarily return to their correctional centres or face the full weight of the law.

Four months after the jail breaks, it is understood that hundreds of the inmates are still at large, successfully evading authorities.

Garuba Isah, one of the inmates still at large months after escaping from a correctional centre in Edo in October 2020 [NCS]

The Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) has not released a comprehensive profile of the inmates that escaped and those that have returned to custodial centres, or re-arrested since last October.

Inquiries made by Pulse Nigeria to get a keen look at the figures and profile of the inmates was met with official red tape.

But last week, the agency posted the names and/or images of 501 escaped inmates who are still at large four months later, describing them as ‘high-risk’ fugitives.

“The general public is hereby requested to be on a lookout for them and assist with useful intelligence that will lead to their re-arrest.

“Such information should be passed to the nearest custodial center, police and indeed any security agency,” the agency appealed to the public.

Uwa Osarobo, one of the inmates still at large months after escaping from a correctional centre in Edo in October 2020 [NCS]

Uwa Osarobo, one of the inmates still at large months after escaping from a correctional centre in Edo in October 2020 [NCS]

The NCS also threatened that anyone that willfully helps in hiding the location of the fugitives would be prosecuted.

It is unclear if those 501 inmates whose images were published last week represent the total number of those still at large, or if there are more.

‘Violent criminals’

According to the latest NCS statistics, there are 66,324 inmates in all correctional centres across Nigeria.

27% of them (17,735 inmates) have been convicted, while the remaining 73% (48,589 inmates) are awaiting trial.

Amadi Izekor, one of the inmates still at large months after escaping from a correctional centre in Edo in October 2020 [NCS]

Interior Ministry spokesperson, Mohammed Manga, said last October that most of the inmates that escaped are convicted criminals serving terms for various criminal offences, awaiting execution, or standing trial for violent crimes.

Then-Edo Commissioner of Police, Babatunde Kokumo, announced days after the jail breaks that one of the escaped inmates immediately tracked down and killed someone who had testified against him in court.

He was paraded to the media alongside nine other escaped inmates who had been re-arrested. Five of them, as two separate gangs, were re-arrested for stealing vehicles after their escape.

One of the inmates still at large months after escaping from a correctional centre in Edo in October 2020 [NCS] One of the inmates still at large months after escaping from a correctional centre in Edo in October 2020 [NCS]

Over a month after the jail breaks, police officers also re-arrested five of the inmates that escaped from one of the centres.

In the period of their momentary freedom, the five formed a criminal gang that was eventually arrested by the Intelligence Response Team for armed robbery, car theft, and unlawful possession of firearms.

The leader of the gang, Onaruje Benjamin, was on death row at the time of his escape after he was convicted for conspiracy and armed robbery.

Other members of the gang that also escaped in October and were re-arrested were Adebayo Opeyemi, Peter Felix Osas, Frank Odion Oloye, and Hudu Musa.

The gang snatched vehicles from drivers and sold them in neighbouring Niger Republic.

Other escaped inmates have similarly been re-arrested while committing crimes, or in the process of relocating to other parts of the country to avoid detection.

 Justice Fred, one of the inmates still at large months after escaping from a correctional centre in Edo in October 2020 [NCS]

It’s unclear what the government’s strategy is to ensure all the inmates are returned to their custodial centres, as authorities maintain a code of silence typical of similar jail breaks in the past.

Information about re-arrests of escaped inmates for jail breaks in Nigeria are rarely ever made public, making it impossible to determine how well authorities handle such significant security threats to Nigerians.

Last October’s jail breaks are the biggest in Nigerian history although there are no official records to validate this.

The closest on record is a jail break masterminded by suspected Boko Haram terrorists in Bauchi in 2010 that resulted in the escape of 721 inmates.

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