On Tuesday 31st March 2020, a riot was reported to have occurred in the Kaduna Prison over Covid-19 related concerns. Established in 1915, the facility was designed to have a carrying capacity of about 578 inmates but presently houses over a thousand inmates most of whom are awaiting trial inmates. The riot was reported to have sparked off after an inmate died of causes suspected to be related to the Corona Virus. The inmates, agitated by the poor health and sanitary situation, and how that could threaten their lives should there be a spread, flew up in dissent.
At about the time the riot began, Amnesty International put out the information on its twitter handle: ‘ Unrest is ongoing now in Nigeria’s Correctional Institution Kaduna over suspected cases of Covid-19’, the tweet which went up at 1:20pm of Tuesday 31st March,2020 read.
On Wednesday 1st April, 2020, Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of Interior put out a triumphant tweet which had attached members of the Covid-19 Presidential Task Force : ” At today’s briefing of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, I updated Nigerians on the status of Kaduna Custodial Centre and how we were able to quell Monday’s riot . No life was lost during the uproar and things have since returned to normal.”
On 3rd April, 2020, a number of media houses had done stories of the Kaduna Prison incident. Sahara Reporters for instance did an exclusive report with the title : ‘Exclusive: Eight Inmates of Kaduna Prison Killed by Officials for Leading Protest, Authorities Cover Up Incident’. The report carried names of those killed by the prison authorities to include: Hameed Abdullahi, Lucky Ugokama, Ibrahim Abubakar (aka Baba Lolo) and Yahu Salisu. Other inmates reported to have died were Elvis Wisdom Adekpe, Lucky Njoku, Oluchukwu Oche (aka No Witch) and Ibrahim Abdullahi. Ogume Osifo Osarome was reported to have been in critical condition after being tortured as at the time of filing the report.
As though to refute every official narrative of the incident, Sahara Reporters went further and gave the circumstances that surrounded some of the deaths: ‘ A day after the unrest, at 12noon prison warders went from cell to cell ordering inmates presumed to be ring leaders of the protest to come out. One Hameed Abdullahi was shot in the stomach by a warder. He died immediately. Yahu Salihu was shot in the buttocks while Ibrahim Abdullahi died of torture. Lucky Njoku was beaten to death and died of wounds inflicted on him. Ibrahim Abubakar died of beatings from the prison guards. The management of the Kaduna Correctional centre are however working hard to cover up the killings’, the report read.
They had also reached out to Muhammed Jalinge, spokesperson for the Kaduna State Police Command, whose response to the issue was an admission that ‘ …(there was) an internal problem between staff and inmates of the Correctional facility’. It is hard to overlook the effort in Sahara’s report.
What the prison authorities did not know was that at about the same time, ample information had gone out and on Friday 3rd April,2020,a coalition of Civil Society Groups, numbering about fifty one (51) had issued a joint statement that called for urgent decongestion of police cells and Correctional centres. Their statement highlighted the Kaduna incident in the following words:
“We are specifically concerned about the recent riot by prisoners in Kaduna which, as investigation reveals, was sparked by protests over conditions in the prison and fears by the inmates about possible exposure to Covid-19 infection. We are also worried about reports of brutal repression of the riots and reports of torture, injuries and deaths.
If Kaduna’s prison situation is not properly handled, it could have a boomerang effect on other correctional centres. We call for a thorough investigation and the release of awaiting trial inmates especially those held for minor offences.”
The plot had at this point become fully thickened. The reports had played the field. The ball was now in the court of the agents of the Kaduna Correctional centre to refute the narrative that was layering up. With gold dust blowing off from their silence, it seemed a response was inevitable and so they put out a statement.
THE KADUNA CORRECTIONS RESPONSE.
Then came a response signed by Controller of Kaduna State Command, Sanusi Muazu Danmusa, titled: ” Attempted Jail Break at Kaduna Custodial Centre, the Facts So Far”
‘ The attention of the Nigeria Correctional Service Kaduna state command has been drawn to some malicious publications by a section of the media in respect of the attempted jail break by a section of the condemned convict cell in the custodial centre in Kaduna on Tuesday 31st March, 2020. The Command had issued a press release earlier to inform the public of the attempted jail break. This release is necessary to assure the public that the command and indeed the service are not trying to hide any fact as purported by a section of the press especially when life is involved . Continuing, the report read: “Four inmates later died in the hospital from the injuries sustained in the mellie that ensued while being restrained by the Custodial officers from breaking jail. For the avoidance of doubt, all the deceased inmates were from the condemned section of the Custodial Centre where the jail-break occurred.
A comprehensive investigation has commenced on the directive of the Controller General of the Nigeria Correctional Service, Alhaji Jafaru Ahmed.”
Without attempting a forensic juxtaposition of the facts, it is easy to see a far-from- decent mutation of the facts. First, the Minister of Interior admitted to an incident but reported in absolute terms to the Presidential Task Force that no life was lost. Then the Controller of Kaduna Corrections admits in response to what he describes as ‘malicious publication’ that four inmates later died…in a mellie'(sic). A melee? Really? A melee is a word that describes a confused fight or scuffle. So who fought who? And how could a confused fight result in such lethal results as to occasion loss of lives?
The other matter that calls for even closer scrutiny is the veiled justification in the second to the last closing paragraph of the statement of the Kaduna Corrections : ” For the avoidance of doubt, all the deceased inmates were from the condemned section of the custodial centre where the jail break occurred”.
It seems a call to find condemned inmates as expendable. This is legally unacceptable . In Peter Nemi v The State and Edmond Okoro v The State for instance, the underlying principle of the judgments is that persons in custody have their rights intact except those deprived by Law and that even a condemned criminal awaiting executions still maintains fundamental rights until properly executed by due process of Law.
The Correctional System lost a vital opportunity of attracting the public’s sympathy of the dilemma they are often faced with. A cover up is rarely possible in a technological era that pulls out facts behind thick prison walls. To be sure, the Controller and the wardens are not responsible for congested prisons- the legal system which has unconstitutionally supervised the incarceration of more awaiting trial inmates than those sentenced is a primary cause of the congestion of prisons. With the Covid-19 pandemic, there ought to have been a release or transfer of those awaiting trial who are no threats or low threats to the society.
But should Nigerians expect so much? Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, had admitted to the press shortly after his inauguration that he knew little about the policies and operations of the ministry of interior. When a person admits his inadequacy, it would be out of the pale to saddle him with much. So if it would not be too much to ask, the Minister needs to ensure a proper investigation of the Kaduna incident with a view to ensuring that there is no spill over effect. The Minister also needs to ensure preventive measures are taken against any citizens break down of law and order at this critical moment. It is for instance, very important that the Presidential Task Force administers the palliatives in such form that prevent social unrest. The whispers of disgruntled Nigerians on the corrupt sharing formula of the palliatives are already forming into a roar.
Gloria Mabeiam Ballason is the C.E.O. House of Justice & E.D. of Molluma Medico-Legal Centre