There was pandemonium at the Kaduna custodial centre on Tuesday morning which left two officers of the centre injured, witnesses told PREMIUM TIMES.
According to sources at the Nigeria Correctional Service, the inmates, around 11.30 a.m, protested their continued detention following a suggestion by the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, that the centres should be decongested nationwide to avoid the spread of raging Coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
The sources, who do not want to be named, told PREMIUM TIMES that the inmates had thrown stones and other dangerous items at the officials of the service who were on duty and who had attempted to calm them down.
Minister’s appeal for decongestion
Following what he described as the outcome of the Presidential Task Force meeting on COVID-19, Mr Aregbesola, last week, called for the quick decongestion of correctional centres in Nigeria to avert the spread of the dangerous disease.
According to a statement signed by the ministry’s spokesperson, Mohammed Manga, the minister made the call during an emergency meeting held in his office last Thursday in Abuja.
The meeting, Mr Manga noted, deliberated on how to manage the custodial centres during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“He said the meeting was convened in response to the outcome of the Presidential Task Force meeting on COVID-19, noting that the safety of inmates, staff of the Nigeria Correctional Service and all Nigerians was of great concern to government,” the statement said.
“He emphasised that the nation was in an extraordinary situation which requires all hands to be on deck in order to ensure that the pandemic does not go into any of the custodial centres,” it added.
Mr Aregbesola, therefore, called on the Attorney-General of the Federation, states’ chief judges, governors and others in the justice sector to immediately identify measures to be taken for the quick decongestion of the custodial centres.
He added that the situation is further compounded by the huge number of awaiting trial persons (ATPs) which, which he noted, accounts for over 70 per cent of the national inmates’ population in the nation’s holding facilities.
The controller-general of correctional services, Ja’afaru Ahmed, said the country currently has a total of 244 custodial centres, 139 of which are main custodial centres and 85 as satellite centres.
He said all the facilities have a total of 74,127 inmates, among which 1,450 are female, 21, 901 convicted and 52,226 awaiting trial.
He added that the overcrowded facilities posed a serious threat to the inmates at this time of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, if adequate steps are not taken to address the situation.
Due to restrictive measures put in place across the custodial centres, which bans visitors from the centres, it was learnt that the inmates at the Kaduna centre were no longer having access to their relatives and welfare packages.
The protest, our sources added, had taken a new dimension when they began to throw available objects at officers in charge.
Multiple sources including the secretary of the academic unit of the outlawed Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Musa Abdullahi, explained that when the capacity of the security officials at the centre could no longer curtail the violence, there was a call for reinforcement.
Mr Abdullahi said; “At about 11:30 a.m, our source at the centre informed us of the ensuing crisis because the leader of our Movement and his wife are kept at the centre. The situation got worse when soldiers were drafted to the scene and there were shootings in the air.
“We were concerned about the safety of our leader and his wife, who have been denied medical care since their illegal detention.”
IMN issues statement
Meanwhile, the movement in a statement issued on Tuesday and signed by Mr Abdullahi, urged the government to avert impending danger by freeing inmates that are awaiting trial, saying the safety of its leader and wife, Ibraheem Zakzaky and Zeenah Ibraheem respectively was paramount to them.
According to the statement, the federal government should heed the advice of medical experts, who it noted said the custodial centres are potential habitat of the virus.
The statement reads in part: “What is happening at Kaduna prison is another sinister attempt at achieving a target. If not, as real as Covid-19, medical experts have proffered advice and measures against the novel virus, as to stay safe. The measures are no doubt paramount, and prison decongestion across the country is one of them. Instead of heeding the caveat of experts, oppressive as the heads of Buhari government are, they would rather use the critical moment to cruel motives than heed the warning of qualified medical practitioners.”
Amnesty International reacts
Meanwhile, Amnesty International Nigeria on Thursday took to its twitter handle to announce the crisis at the Kaduna centre and its reaction.
Posted at about 1:30 p.m., the human rights organisation said it had it on authority that an inmate was shot by the security officers invited by the centre to quell the protest.
The tweet reads: “Unrest is ongoing now in Nigeria correctional institution, Kaduna over suspected cases of Covid-19. Amnesty International was informed that armed security men are currently inside the prison in a bid to quell the unrest. At least, one prisoner was shot.”
The tweet added that the organisation would continue to monitor the development, even as it urged the “authorities to ensure that the national response to Covid-19 is as inclusive as possible.”
“No one was shot”
While the Nigeria correctional service confirmed that there was a protest at the centre on Tuesday, it, however, denied that anyone was shot.
Speaking with our reporter on the phone, the service’s spokesperson, Austin Njoku, said no one was shot during the crisis. He, however, confirmed that two of its officers were injured in the process of making efforts to quell the protest.
According to Mr Njoku, the inmates were protesting their detention following the information that the prison should be decongested to avoid the spread of coronavirus disease.
He said; “Kindly disregard any rumour that anyone was shot at the centre. It is true there was protest over their anticipated freedom but the protest was quelled.
“What they don’t know is that there are processes to be followed before releasing anyone and only the government can decide on the procedures.”
He said precautionary measures are being followed across all the centres nationwide to avoid the spread of coronavirus disease including the embargo placed on visitation, provision of safety facilities including sanitisers, among others.
The Controller, Kaduna Central Correctional Centre, Mohammed Babangida, had earlier said the uproar at the centre by prison inmates had been brought under control.