Day the jackals came to town, By Wole Olaoye
We ought to be better than this!
“They are bombing my backyard. They are firing big guns too! Pray for us o!”
The desperation in the caller’s voice was palpable and eerie. Had Armageddon managed to come unannounced? It turned out that the bombing was some distance away, although it sounded as if it was within the caller’s premises. Some terrorists had decided to storm the Kuje jailhouse in the Federal Capital Territory to forcefully release fellow terrorists kept in the facility by the Nigerian government. The terrorists came, they saw, they conquered; and they released back into circulation some of the deadliest terrorists ever caged in Nigeria.
Khalid al-Barnawi, Ansaru factional leader jailed for bombing the UN Headquarters in Abuja, was among the 64 Boko Haram assets who escaped.
And Nigerians have been wondering if they are not all sitting ducks, considering the ease with which terrorists routinely breach security, even in the most unlikely places. The Kuje Correctional Centre is a mere 46 kilometre drive from the Presidential Villa in Abuja. There are checkpoints and stop-and-search theatricals all over the place, but there’s no intelligence to ensure that anyone toying with national security comes to grief.
The jackals of terror emerged from their forested abode, stormed the city and had a successful day in the office. They had superior intelligence and firepower. They knew exactly where to bomb, where their fellow criminals were kept and the geography of the entire place. They so overwhelmed the security at the prisons that the few officers and men of the security services on duty had to beat a hasty retreat.
As soon as their mission was accomplished, they melted into the night from whence they came. And we have since relapsed into our habitual denseness of asking the same questions we have asked hundreds of times before; making the same analyses we have been making over the years; inventing the same excuses we have always flung at anyone criticising our perennial unpreparedness; and generally indicating to the objective observer that the tragedy will happen again.
Against a rampaging swarm of terrorists, all that the Federal Republic of Nigeria could muster as a defence team for the medium security prison on the fateful night were 10 armed officers of the Nigeria correctional centre, 10 Mobile Police officers, four policemen from the Kuje police division, four Immigration officers, two Counter Terrorism Unit cops, and one civil defence officer who died in the attack.
Did we spend trillions of naira and billions of dollars sprucing up our security infrastructure only to vote with our feet before a rampaging mob of terrorists on motorcycles?
Thirty armed security men against a terrorist army? Many Nigerians on social media have argued that the situation couldn’t have been otherwise, considering the disclosure by former Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, that about 200,000 out of the 400,000 police personnel in Nigeria are attached to the political elite. “What we are doing in this country is that we are policing the elites, we are not policing security spaces, and this is an issue we have to look into”, Arase had asserted.
Once again, the terrorists have shown that they can strike anywhere at will. They have also exposed, for the umpteenth time, the soft underbelly of our ineptitude in matters affecting our security. I thought it was sad that some analysts had concluded that Nigeria was running on autopilot. Now, I don’t know how to react when they say that our ship of state is sailing on the whims of the wind without a pilot.
Analysts say the last one year has been the most insecure of the seven years of the Buhari presidency. A well known journalist and activist, Agba Jalingo, chronicles 15 successful jailbreaks under the current administration.
September 3, 2015 – Sokoto Remand Home break (13 inmates escaped); October 7, 2017 – Enugu Maximum Prison break (2 inmates escaped); December 27, 2017 – Ikot-Ekpene Prison attacked (47 inmates escaped); June 4, 2018 – Minna Maximum Security Prison break (210 inmates escaped); October 19, 2020 – Oko Prison in Edo, attacked; October 21, 2020 – Benin Prison break (1,993 inmates escaped from the two facilities); October 22, 2020 – Okitipupa Prison break (58 inmates were released); April 4, 2021 – Owerri Prison break (1,844 inmates freed); July 19, 2021- Jos Maximum Security Prison attacked (four inmates escaped); September 13, 2021 – Kabba Prison break, Kogi (240 inmates freed); October 22, 2021 – Abolongo Prison, Oyo break (837 inmates escaped); November 28, 2021 – Jos Medium Security Prison attacked (262 inmates released, 10 killed); January 2 – Mandala Prison, Ilorin, break (three inmates escaped); May 13, 2022 – Agbor Prison, Delta State, fence collapse (three inmates escaped); July 4, 2022 Kuje Prison, Abuja attacked (856 escaped).
Depressing as those records are, they don’t tell the whole story. There is a general feeling of numbing helplessness in both urban and rural areas, especially in Abuja, the nation’s capital, which many thought was relatively well protected. On the day the Kuje attack happened, terrorists had waylaid the presidential advance team in Daura, the president’s hometown, and spilled blood. If they could attack the presidential advance team, who else is safe?
The attack on the presidential team actually gave away a guarded secret: the terrorists have informants at the highest levels of government, to the extent that they are privy to presidential movements. One recalls that former President Jonathan once revealed in exasperation that he had Boko Haram elements in his government. Now, the world knows better.
Questions have also been asked about the change of military guards that happened on the eve of the attack. Soldiers deployed to the Kuje vicinity and the correctional centre’s environment, who had mastered the terrain, were moved out and redeployed 24 hours before the terrorists came calling. The new men posted in replacement were yet to settle in. Granted that the soldiers were due for rotation, it is noteworthy that such information filtered to the terrorists and they took full advantage of it.
Nigerians have also heard for the first time since he hit the front pages for the wrong reasons, that a mogul of hostage taking, or a ‘kidnapreneur extraordinaire’, Hamsu Bala Wadume, was being held at the Kuje Prisons and that he had escaped along with 64 Boko Haram suspects.
Experts have warned that the latest terrorist victory, at the expense of the Nigerian state, signposts a turbulent future for the nation. We are an ostentatiously religious lot. Many clerics, including the Sultan of Sokoto, have called on the people to raise their voices in prayer for the nation. But others are wondering why we are calling on God to do for us what we ought to have done for ourselves.
Is it God’s duty, they ask, to make the CCTV cameras at the correctional centre functional? Was it God that remanded Wadume in Kuje? Why is he in a medium security prison and not a maximum security one? When the Department of State Services (DSS) forwarded the intelligence it had gathered about the impending attack to the prison authorities, was it God that afflicted them with lethargy to the extent that they didn’t act on the information?
Ours is a unique form of idiocy, much like the type described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Stupidity is a group phenomenon. An individual can act stupidly, but that has no effect on the greater whole. However, when a group acts stupidly, that greatly impacts the individual, compounding the entire effect…”
I am hearing that heads will roll. About time. But after that, what happens? Something tells me that we haven’t seen the last of such incidents. Sad as it sounds, there is no guarantee that it will not happen again. And soon, too!
So, while the jackals of ISWAP are feasting on defenseless citizens and the leaders are pussyfooting and hand wringing, despondency builds a room and a parlor in the psyche of a truly defenseless people. We trudge along like the living dead.