According to police officials, gunmen in Nigeria have freed more than 200 prisoners in the latest jailbreak to occur in the restive West African country.
Sources have reported that the gunmen late Saturday stormed the facility, which is located in the central Nigerian city of Minna, in Niger state near the capital Abuja. In recent years, Boko Haram, and its offshoot Ansaru, have been behind several prison raids. A police spokesman for Niger state confirmed the breakout, adding that the incident was still being investigated and that “its unclear if this is Boko Haram or some criminal gangs.” One security source did report that he doubted that “…there were many high profile Boko Haram suspects being held in Minna.” Deputy Superintendent Ibrahim Gambari has reported that police recaptured at least ten escapees from the medium security prison. Local residents reported hearing gunshots however they noted that no explosions were heard in the attack. One resident reported seeing the guards of the prison fleeing shortly after the first assault.
Saturday’s prison attack is the third to occur in the past three months in the West African nation. While jailbreaks are frequent, with police only capturing a fraction of those who escape, over the past several months, suspected Boko Haram militants have increasingly been targeting prisons across Nigeria in a bid to free jailed militants. On 1 December, more than 300 inmates broke out of a prison bombed by gunmen in southwest Ekiti state while on 3 November, 144 escaped from south-central Kogi state after gunmen bombed a prison wall. Two earlier jailbreaks were blamed on Boko Haram however it currently is unknown how many hundreds of Boko Haram suspects are being held in Nigerian jails. If Boko Haram is behind this latest string of prison attacks, it could be an attempt by the militant group to increase its numbers ahead of major attacks that are likely to be carried out over the upcoming holiday season. Over the past several weeks, Boko Haram has intensified its tempo of attacks, carrying out deadly bombings and suicide attacks across northeastern Nigeria on an almost daily basis, with the Nigerian military carrying out minimal efforts in order to prevent attacks from occurring.
The vast majority of people being held in Nigerian jails have either never been charged or are awaiting trial. Despite it being illegal to hold someone for more than 48 hours without bringing charges or presenting them to a magistrate, some prisoners have been held for many years. According to statistics released on 30 June by Nigeria’s Prisons Service, only 18,042 of 56,785 inmates have been convicted of a crime.