Contrary to the earlier position of the Nigeria Correctional Service that no life was lost during the Tuesday protest at the Kaduna Maximum Custodial Centre, PREMIUM TIMES learnt from sources that five inmates were killed during the pandemonium.
This is just as 16 officers of the service were injured, with 10 of them still receiving treatment at an undisclosed hospital while six have been discharged.
PREMIUM TIMES had on Tuesday reported how the fear of the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) within the centre had sparked protests among the inmates.
According to reliable prison and government sources, the inmates, around 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, commenced the protest over a report that a female inmate suspected of contracting the virus had been rushed to hospital.
The protest was further heightened by an earlier suggestion by the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, that the correctional centres should be decongested nationwide to avoid the spread of the raging disease.
Following what he described as the outcome of the Presidential Task Force meeting on COVID-19, Mr Aregbesola had called for quick decongestion of correctional centres.
The minister later revealed that the suggestion has been approved by President Muhammadu Buhari, and that his office, and other relevant offices including those of the attorney-general of the federation and the state governors were working out the modalities to implement the decision.
How riot started
Sources at the correctional service confided in PREMIUM TIMES that an unnamed female inmate who was taken into the centre a few days ago, suddenly felt uncomfortable, “showing symptoms of COVID-19 such as sore throat, cough and high temperature.”
According to the sources, the female inmate was taken to hospital, and not long after, rumours went around the prison that she was dead.
One of the sources said: “Prior to that, the news of the planned decongestion of the prison had gone round and the inmates were already expectant of when they would be released. But rather than receiving news to that effect, they realised that their relatives who used to visit and bring them items were no longer allowed in.”
The sources confirmed that suddenly, the inmates began to raise their voices demanding their release.
“Before you know it, they had mobilised themselves and began to taunt the NCS officials who were on guard,” another source said.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the invitation of more armed men complicated the matter as security officials shot indiscriminately to quell the riot.
According to sources, the first inmate to die from the gunshot was 25-year-old Hammed Abdullahi, who was awaiting trial for a murder case, while 24-year-old Lucky Ugokam, who was reportedly awaiting trial for a rape case, and Yahu Salisu, whose case could not be confirmed, died from injuries sustained when they were reportedly shot in their buttocks.
Meanwhile, investigations by our reporter indicated that 37-year-old Ibrahim Abubakar, an awaiting trial inmate for armed robbery, popularly called “Baba Lolo,” and Oluchukwu Oche, a condemned inmate, who was popularly known as “No Winch,” reportedly died from torture by officers of the correctional centre.
Sources further added that the female inmate, who was rushed to the hospital, “did not die but only collapsed”. She is said to be recuperating in the hospital.
Investigations revealed spirited attempts by the authorities to cover up the act, as inmates, and particularly those fingered to have participated in the protest are now allegedly being forced to make statements to claim responsibility for the crisis.
One of the inmates, whose name could not be confirmed, reportedly declined to make a statement, saying he would rather die than being forced to make a false claim.
“The inmate that refused to write a statement was sent to a darkroom called “back cell,” which is a punishment room. The guy is HIV positive already. What they are trying to do is to change the narrative and implicate these inmates,” a source told PREMIUM TIMES.
Another source said, “The authorities are working hard to create a narration within the prison. As of yesterday, no key or lock was broken but this morning, the prison officials had destroyed some locks themselves.
“Also, some people were brought in yesterday who were okay but as at this morning their heads were bandaged and they are posing as warders.”
Meanwhile, on Tuesday when he was called on the phone, the service’s spokesperson, Austin Njoku, said no single inmate died in the crisis. He, however, confirmed that two of its officers were injured by the inmates.
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.”
Mr Njoku, who had earlier told PREMIUM TIMES that he was in Kaduna to ascertain what transpired insisted that the news of death of any inmate was fake.
However, when called again on Friday, Mr Njoku said the controller-general of the service, Ja’afaru Ahmed, was yet to receive the report from the zone “on the remote cause of the crisis and the extent of the damage”.
When confronted with the fact that the deputy commandant at the Kaduna correctional centre, Ahmed Usman, directed our reporter to seek official statement from the comptroller on the matter, he said he would get back to our reporter.
When Mr Njoku called back, he said he had met with the controller-general on the matter but that as at the moment, “his office was yet to receive the full report of the situation”.
He said “16 of the service’s men were wounded by the protesting inmates and that 10, were still receiving treatment in the hospital”.
When asked how the figure he gave on Tuesday jumped to 16, and how the inmates ‘injured’ 16 officers without recording fatalities on their part, Mr Njoku said “the full report was still being awaited”.
He said; “I am just coming from the controller-general and I can confirm to you that such a report has not reached his table. He already set up a committee to investigate the matter and as soon as the report is submitted, the appropriate authorities will take necessary action.”
Earlier, when the deputy commandant of the Kaduna centre was called, he neither confirmed nor denied that inmates died as a result of the protest. He simply asked the reporter for the source of his information.
“But all that I know is that before you write anything, get an official statement from the controller,” Mr Usman said.
Relatives confirm death of inmates
Speaking on the telephone with our reporter, Nasiru Abubakar, younger brother of Ibrahim Abubakar, who had spent three years and a month in the centre while being tried for armed robbery, said he had received the report of his brother’s death.
The late Ibrahim was said to have been arraigned before Justice Kurada of Kaduna State high court.
According to Nasiru, he and their mother last visited Ibrahim on March 3, 2020, and were shocked to hear the news of his death.
“Someone already told me my brother is dead. But I could not go there because there is no road now and they don’t allow us to enter again,” Nasiru told PREMIUM TIMES on the phone.
Similarly, Adamu Abdullahi, a brother to the late Hammed Abdullahi, said he had already been informed by a source that his brother was dead.
“I am in Abuja but I cannot go there now. Ahmed is my brother but I learnt he is dead,” he said on the phone.
Amnesty International, CSO seek justice
The country director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, has called for a probe into the incident, saying an independent probe panel devoid of officers of the Kaduna correctional centre must be deployed to investigate the matter.
The organisation had earlier on Tuesday alerted the public via its Twitter handle about the riot at the centre, calling on appropriate authorities to intervene to avoid human rights abuse.
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 organisation said it 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.”
On Friday, Ms Ojigho told PREMIUM TIMES the organisation would ensure that justice prevailed on the matter.
“We call on authorities to urgently set up an independent panel populated by men and women of integrity to investigate this matter and make the report public. Justice must be seen to be done in this matter because every single life in the custody must be accounted for,” she said.
Similarly, another rights organisation, Hope behind Bars Africa, in a statement signed by its executive director, Funke Adeoye, said the correctional centre does not have the right to kill inmates in “such cold blood.”
Her statement reads in part; “Section 34(1)) of the 1999 Constitution protects the dignity of every individual and provides that no person shall be subjected to torture, inhumane or degrading treatment. The rights of prisoners are also protected under several international instruments which Nigeria is a signatory to, such as International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the UN Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
“The objective of the Custodial Service as stated in the Nigerian Correctional Service Act is to take custody of all persons legally interned and provide safe, secure and humane custody of all inmates. Section 20(6) of the Act expressly states that the use of weapons by correctional officers shall be to disable and not to kill. So if the reports are true, then the Correctional Service has by this act made themselves prosecutor, complainant, judge and executioner which is highly unconstitutional. To do so is a flagrant abuse of power and an infringement on the fundamental human rights of the inmates.”