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SULEJA JAILBREAK: 48 Days After, FG Yet To Release Identities Of Escapees

It has been 48 days since over 115 inmates escaped from the Medium Security Custodial Centre in Suleja, Niger State, following a downpour on the night of April 25, 2024.

However, the Federal Government has yet to release the identities of the escapes, thereby raising concerns about the data management capabilities of Nigeria’s correctional services.

The incident occurred when the heavy downpour caused damage to the custodial centre’s infrastructure, including a breach in the perimeter fence, which facilitated the inmates’ escape.

During an inspection on May 9, 2024, the Minister of Interior, Dr. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, confirmed that several escapees had been recaptured but refrained from disclosing specific details to avoid “compromising” ongoing efforts.

“Yes, we have recaptured a lot of people and work is actually going on. We are working with other sister agencies but the details of that I won’t be able to disclose in public to avoid jeopardizing the hard work of the agencies. We want to re-emphasize that it is no longer business as usual but business unusual,” he had said.

Unlike the Kuje Jailbreak in July 2022, where the identities of 573 escapees were promptly published on the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) website, the identities of the Suleja escapees have not been uploaded to the website, checks by THE WHISTLER show.

Since the Suleja jailbreak, there have been over 10 reported attacks in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and neighbouring states like Nasarawa and Niger, with at least 50 people being kidnapped. .

The delay in releasing the identities of the escaped inmates has raised questions about the correctional service’s data management capabilities.

Expert Cites Data Management Issues

A security expert, who spoke to THE WHISTLER on the condition of anonymity, attributed the delay in releasing the identities to poor data management in Nigeria.

The expert identified the lack of digitisation in the correctional services and issues with the National Identification Number (NIN), passport numbers, and different security numbers, among others, for the inability to identify the escapees.

The expert said, “It’s a problem with National Identification Number (NIN), with passport numbers, and different security numbers. I think the minister of information technology is trying to address this. So, at the heart of all this is just a data problem. It’s a bit of a misnomer because the correctional service should be able to digitize their record, it just shows some of the analogue problems. It is a problem that the correctional service has, perhaps the minister of interior should be about efforts to digitize the correctional system.

“I know he has a strong background in technology and then we should press on what they are doing about digitisation of the systems that we have across the correctional service, that should be of interest.

“Clearly, if they had the data, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be published. One should expect that their biometrics should be captured at the point of incarceration. Those small shots should be taken and then warehoused. This issue arises from a manual system and it highlights a technological gap in our criminal justice system.”c

NCoS Promises To Release Identities Of Escapees Soon When contacted, the spokesperson for the NCoS, Umar Abubakar, assured that information on the escapees would be released soon. He cited technical issues and the need for thorough verification as reasons for the delay.

“We have been able to get a lot of their identities, which we are trying to verify because for everyone’s admission as an offender or suspect charged to court, first is a suspect. It is when the case is heard and sentenced that the person becomes an offender, then an inmate upon admission to our facility,” Abubakar explained.

He confirmed that 23 inmates have been recaptured so far and emphasised the need for a thorough verification process to avoid publishing incorrect information.

“We are also working with NIMC and NIS. We don’t want a situation whereby innocent people’s pictures are uploaded to the public space. So, we want to do our work thoroughly,” he said.

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