The mission of the gunmen who attacked Minna Medium Security Prison last Sunday night was very clear.
*Interior Minister Dambazau (m), Comptroller General of Nigeria Prison Service, Ahmed and Gov. Bello
It was not to kill anybody within and around the prison but to free some of their mates held in the facility.
However, the unfortunate happened when a prison officer and an Okada rider who brought him to office were killed.
How attack happened – Residents
Around 8pm that Sunday, the Tunga area, where the prison is located, was enveloped in total darkness due to power failure.
Many of the residents were outside their residences with many others loitering.
However, around 8.30pm, the situation around the prison changed when three unnumbered Hilux vans, blasting their sirens with their security alert lamps beaming, stormed the area.
The intrusion was not new to the residents since they were used to it; neither was it new to prison officers on duty and the inmates who thought it was time for them to welcome new inmates.
They were soon to be proved wrong by events later to unfold.
Some of the occupants of one of the vans were said to have jumped down and commanded residents loitering around or staying outside their houses to take cover in their rooms.
The residents complied and, within few minutes, the street was said to be as silent as a graveyard and the gunmen’s operation kicked off and lasted a few minutes.
While the operation was on, Prison Officer Ibrahim Shekarau, later identified as the son of the Chief Imam of Wushishi, headquarters of Wushishi Local Government Area of Niger State, reported for night duty and was shot dead along with the Okada rider that brought him by the gunmen, thinking they were members of security forces on rescue mission.
Two of the operational Hilux vans that conveyed the gunmen, it was gathered, were strategically located for easy escape while the one to ferry inmates out of the prison was parked close to the gate ready for action. What followed was sporadic shooting within the premises.
It was gathered that the Minna Prison, which was supposed to have no fewer than ten security officers on duty that night, had only four and only two were armed. They were overwhelmed by the bandits’ firepower, forcing them to run for their lives while leaving behind their rifles which were said to have been carted away by the gunmen.
Gaining access into inner prison
From all indications, there was no forceful entry into the prison.
Sources told our correspondent that the gates of the prison were open when the gunmen arrived and this gave them unhindered access into the premises. The bandits then headed to the cells of their mates, ferried them out of the prison and started shooting sporadically as they sped off.
Other inmates took advantage of the opened gates to escape.
Similar jail attack
A similar jail attack had occurred in the prison in 2014 during which over one hundred inmates escaped.
Three notorious armed robbers were among those who escaped then.
Nemesis, however, caught up with the trio, including their alleged gang leader, simply called ‘Idoko’, as they were involved in another bloody robbery which led to loss of lives.
They were rearrested, tried and sentenced to death unlike their previous judgement which was life imprisonment.
After the judgement, the alleged gang leader was reportedly taken to the old Minna Prison while his two colleagues were kept at the Medium Security Prison.
It was reliably gathered that last Sunday afternoon, ‘Idoko’ was relocated from the old Minna Prison on “special transfer demand” to the more fortified Medium Security Prison to meet his two other condemned colleagues for what was described as close monitoring.
An impeccable source, however, told our correspondent that ‘Idoko’ had boasted that if he was relocated to the Medium Prison, he would not spend a night there before going “missing”.
It was same day of relocation that the Medium Security Prison was invaded and he and his two colleagues ferried out of the prison in the gunmen operation.
Officials are wondering how the invaders got information of the transfer of ‘Idoko’ to the Medium Security Prison few hours after it was effected, causing them to make straight to the cells where he and his two condemned colleagues were being held, saying this calls for proper investigation.
A resident in the area where the Medium Security Prison is sited, Mohammed Yabagi, narrated how the gunmen invaded the area, saying just like a film show, they carried out their mission swiftly and left.
“They came to the prison area around 8:30pm when everywhere was dark and, as they jumped down from their vehicles, they ordered those of us in front of our houses to go inside immediately and directed those loitering to disappear. They followed up their orders with sporadic shooting to scare all of us,” Yabagi narrated.
“All of us in the house including my parents almost melted in our rooms until the operation lasted”.
Another resident, Hajiya Amina, said, “Our experience was like having a close shave with death; it was as if they were going to operate from house to house”.
When the 2014 attack happened, a panel was inaugurated by the Nigeria Prison Service to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident to guard against future occurrence and heads rolled.
This time, a five-man panel, headed by Assistant Comptroller of Prison Mohammed Garba, has been raised to investigate the Sunday attack.
Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulraham Dambazau Bello Dambazau, who was accompanied to the prison on Monday along with Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello and the Comptroller General of Prisons, Alhaji Ja’afaru Ahmed, for an on-the-spot-assessment of the invasion, confirmed that 182 of the inmates of the prison escaped while 30 were rearrested within hours.
He said, “Among the escapees were two condemned criminals whose warrants of death were supposed to be forwarded to the state governor for his signature and that is probably part of what led to the prison break. But further investigation will bring out most of these facts”.
The Minister accepted that there were security gaps which led to the success of the operation by the gunmen, adding that the gaps will be filled.
“We are reconstructing some of the old buildings. Some of them are over 100 years old and plans are underway to relocate some of these old prisons that have been caught up by urbanization. We are going to construct 3,000 capacity prisons across the country to decongest the prisons,” the Minister remarked.
On his part, the Comptroller General of Nigeria Prison Service, Ahmed, doused the fear that there were Boko Haram inmates which is the reason why the prison was attacked, saying, “There is no Boko Haram suspect in Minna Prison. We do not know who attacked the prison yet but investigations will reveal it. “
The Comptroller General was however not forthcoming on how the gunmen gained access into the prison or the number of officials on duty or injured.
Governor Bello described the incident as unfortunate, adding that the state government would partner the federal government to ensure that there was no re-occurence.
On the two condemned robbers said to be awaiting his signature, the governor declared, “I have not seen anything about condemned robbers but I will look into it anytime it is brought before me”.