One Dead and 270 Freed in Third Mass Nigerian Prison Break in Two Months

One Dead and 270 Freed in Third Mass Nigerian Prison Break in Two Months

Nigeria-MapThree armed men clad in bullet-proof police uniforms stormed a central Nigerian prison in the Tunga area of Minna, Niger State, freeing 270 prisoners this past Saturday, reports the Nigerian newspaper, New Telegraph.

The three men boisterously approached the prison in a Honda, firing warning shots into the streets to scare away civilians before opening fire on the prison.

One guard was killed in an attempt to sound the prison’s alarm system and multiple wardens were hit during the siege.

Prison spokesman, Rabiu Shuaibu Muhammed, confirmed the reports of a successful jailbreak, but couldn’t confirm the exact number freed.

Eye-witnesses reported the fire-fight and subsequent escapes lasted only about 15 minutes and said all three men successfully fled, nabbing a couple cars from unsuspecting civilians on their way out.

This is the third big-time Nigerian prison-break over the past 45 days. Over 300 inmates bounced from a bombed prison in southwest Ekiti state earlier this month, and 144 prisoners fled from a south-central Kogi state prison on Nov. 3, when armed gunmen blasted through a facility wall.

There’s a lot of jabber on-line about Boko Haram being behind this recent violent jailbreak, but Herman Cohen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, told Al Jazeera that he wouldn’t bet on it, citing the location of the attack as being too far from Boko Haram’s typical grazing grounds. What Cohen thinks is that it was an inside job:

“It looks like a standard prison break, organized from within. […] Ever since the civilian government came to power in 1999, the military and police have been neglected, with salaries not being paid… there needs to be a re-organization otherwise the security situation will continue to deteriorate.”

It’s no secret that Nigeria’s a hotbed for corruption. The country was ranked 143 out of 182 countries in Transparency International‘s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index. And we know from Time‘s 2007 article, “A Failure of Democracy in Nigeria,” that more than $400 billion was stolen from the country’s treasury by Nigerian leaders between 1960 and 1999.

That corruption runs deep too, all the way down to the cold cement floors where the country’s inmates lie their heads each night. Without mattresses, bedding, substantial food or an inkling of decent medical care, most inmates await their trial for years before finding out their punishment. Despite the country’s laws against holding someone for more than 48 hours without filing charges against them or presenting the person to a magistrate, the numbers of charge-less inmates keep piling up.

Of the 56,785 people being held in Nigerian jails, a mere 18,042 have been convicted of a crime, according to June 30 statistics on the Nigeria Prisons Service’s website. The rest of the prisoners are in limbo, purgatory, whatever you want to call it — either way, unlike the convicted, those waiting blindly know no definitive end-date to their imprisonment. Their best hope for freedom is through a good ol’ fashioned jailbreak.

PHOTO: AllAfrica

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