On Sunday, June 3, gunmen attacked a medium-security prison at Minna in Niger state, around one hundred miles from Abuja. Over two hundred inmates reportedly escaped, of whom government sources say thirty have been recaptured. The attack was well organized. The gunmen used four vehicles and ordered residents in the area to go into their houses, presumably to avoid civilian casualties. The gunmen killed one guard who was coming on duty, and the driver of the “okada” (a type of motorcycle that carries passengers) that brought him to the prison.
The jailbreak is getting high-level government attention. Interior Minister Abdurrahman Dambazau and a federal and state delegation have already visited the prison. The minister said, “We have identified some lapses…part of it is that the prison personnel on duty yesterday were inadequate.”
Nigeria’s prisons are notoriously over-crowded and badly managed. Jailbreaks are not unusual and are often orchestrated by criminal gangs. Minister Dambazau has said that the federal government will build a new prison with a capacity of three thousand in each of Nigeria’s five “geopolitical” zones.
What group carried out the break is unknown, and an official investigation is underway. In many ways, the break recalls similar attacks by Boko Haram on prisons to secure the release of their jailed fellow operatives. However, Governor Abubakar Bello of Niger state says that assertions that Boko Haram was involved is “mere rumor.” He also rejected the suggestion that a criminal gang carried out the operation to secure the release of captives facing the death penalty. The governor said that the prison had not been holding any such inmates. The comptroller general of the prison system, echoing Bello, is also saying that the facility did not hold any suspected Boko Haram operatives.
Thus far, nobody has claimed responsibility, including Boko Haram. For the time being, it looks like the jailbreak was carried out by ordinary criminals rather than Boko Haram.