Nigeria prison break frees almost 900 inmates

Extremists suspected of escape plan as 400 remain on the run from Kuje maximum prison in Abuja

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About 900 inmates escaped jail in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, with officials on Wednesday blaming the attack on Boko Haram extremists.

At least 443 of the 879 who fled were missing, Umar Abubakar, a spokesman for the Nigerian Correctional Service said.

Hundreds of others have either been recaptured or surrendered at police stations.

Officials will “track all fleeing inmates and return them to custody,” said Mr Abubakar.

The “very determined” rebels attacked the Kuje maximum prison in Abuja on Tuesday night with “very high-grade explosives,” killing a guard, according to Shuaib Belgore, permanent secretary of Nigeria’s Ministry of Interior.

He said the suspected Boko Haram attackers came for members who were held at the prison.

“They came specifically for their co-conspirators, but in order to get them …, some of them are in the general (prison) population so they broke out and other people in that population escaped as well, but many of them have returned,” Mr Belgore said.

“They have reported themselves to the police, some we have successfully retrieved from the bushes where they were hiding,” Mr Belgore said.

The Kuje maximum security prison held 1,000 inmates, including 64 suspects of the Boko Haram extremist group all of whom have escaped, said Maj Gen Bashir Salihi Magashi, Nigeria’s Minister of Defence.

He said that security officials on the ground did “their best” to prevent the jailbreak. “We are trying to see what we can do to ensure that all escapees are brought back,” he said.

Four inmates were dead and 16 others injured, authorities said.

Recaptured inmates sit inside a prison vehicle in Abuja, Nigeria, on July 6.  Boko Haram gunmen are suspected of attacking the Kuje Medium Prison. EPA

President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday briefly visited the prison, where the burnt wreck of a bus and cars marked the scene of the attack, and yellow police tape was stretched across part of the prison perimeter.

Explosions and gunfire were heard at about 10pm in the Kuje area when the attackers arrived and forced their way into the prison through a hole created by the blasts.

The extremist rebels who attacked the prison have waged an insurgency in the country’s north-east for more than a decade.

The Abuja jailbreak occurred around the same time that gunmen attacked a security convoy preparing for the visit of Mr Buhari to north-western Katsina state.

Those attackers “opened fire on the convoy from ambush positions but were repelled by the military,” a presidential spokesman said.

Thousands break free from Nigeria’s prisons

Nigeria’s extremists and other armed groups have carried out several jailbreaks in the country’s north-east in recent years, but this is the first in the capital city in recent years.

In 2021, more than 2,500 inmates were freed in three jailbreaks. At least 4,307 have escaped from Nigeria’s prisons since 2017, Lagos-based online newspaper The Cable reported this month, based on media reports.

Most of Nigeria’s recent jailbreaks seem unconnected although the attacks are carried out in a similar manner using explosives, according to security analysts.

A large number of those who have escapedwere awaiting trial. Nigerian prisons hold 70,000 inmates but only about 20,000 have been convicted, according to government data.

Updated: July 07, 2022, 3:43 AM