The attack on Kuje prison by ISWAP and the flaws in Buhari’s counterinsurgency

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AAs is the new normal, the power of the Nigerian state did not count when terrorists invaded the medium security detention center in Kuje, Abuja on July 5. Terrorists freed 879 detainees; among them 64 members of Boko Haram and other criminals. From top to bottom, everyone, as is now customary, was caught napping. Escapees and their liberators are still marauding around the Federal Capital Territory, heightening fears of the possibility of further attacks. President Muhammadu Buhari, who visited the Center shortly after the attack, looked desperate at the dereliction of duty that contributed to the security breach under his watch. “I am disappointed with the intelligence system,” he said. Nigerians are even angrier, demanding heads roll.

Buhari’s cascading questions about the lack of a security watchtower at the facility, how the terrorists organized themselves, obtained weapons to attack and escaped, testify to gaps in his knowledge in as commander-in-chief in the belly of our counterinsurgency plan. There are illicit weapons everywhere and there is no concerted effort to mop them up. Land and sea borders are porous. These weapons fuel insecurity. Indeed, these embarrassing developments have been happening relentlessly. No one is held responsible. It is reprehensible. The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), which claimed responsibility for the attack, operated for about two hours in a commando style, using multiple explosives to destroy dozens of vehicles, knock down walls and with a shooting of bullets had easy access to the cells.

An immediate issue of key importance, but worrying, is the divisive airs of key government officials, who underscore the divergence in understanding of the challenges highlighted by the prison attack on the country’s broader security. Thus, if a well-equipped platoon of 30 men with a functional armored personnel carrier, from the famous special forces brigade of Gwagwalada, could not push back, in fact put up no resistance to the attackers in a prison of three towers, which came on a day labor pitch, defying the now-established tradition of weekend jailbreaks, what hope does the nation have of not being able to violate the highest seat of power in Abuja at will?

Senate President Ahmad Lawan’s observation during his visit to the facility was admittedly revealing, but unfounded at best: the lack of functioning CCTVs in a facility with Boko Haram detainees, and the he allusion to the complicity of the interior, given the efficiency shown by the terrorists in the operation, hardly enters into the heart of the matter. Even more, the revelation by the Minister of Police Affairs, Maigari Dingyadi, after an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, that the terrorists had superior weapons and outnumbered our security guards, was more shocking. In any case, such disclosure is moral armor for the insurgents.

Senate President Ahmed Lawan inspecting Kuje prison after the terrorist attack

The minister’s observation might not have gone down well with his home affairs counterpart, Rauf Aregbesola, who was furious at the lukewarm firepower response to the attack. He insisted there were enough security personnel to protect the facility, adding that “…strangely something happened, most of which I can’t tell on camera.” Mr. Aregbesola must be told that the citizens who pay his salary want to know what he does not want to divulge in front of the camera. The famous official Nigerian knee-jerk response, like the current detention of guards on patrol that night, is inadequate as the country awaits full investigations into the escape.

Apparently, what is at stake in the Kuje prison attack is the official indifference to intelligence and the lack of synergy between the security services in the face of existential threats. Prior to the recent ambush by gunmen in Niger State, which resulted in the deaths of 22 soldiers, the state’s Governor, Abubakar Bello, in April drew ominous attention to the implications of the resurgence of Boko Haram in the state for Abuja, which is only two hours drive from Minna, the capital of Niger State. This was after the terrorists raised their flag in the Kauri community of Shiroro local government. The Governor said: “I engaged the Federal Government and unfortunately it has come to this stage and if care is not taken even Abuja is not safe. We have been saying this for a long time and all efforts have been in vain. Following the Abuja-Kaduna train attack in which 68 people were abducted, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State lamented the lack of attention to actionable intelligence. “We receive the reports; the problem is that the agencies act,” El-Rufai stressed.

It is clear that the citizens’ lack of information to the security agencies was not the reason why the Kuje prison attack happened. Insisting on an intelligence vacuum, as is often the refrain of security chiefs, is a duck that should stop. The Kuje prison attack is another major example of the enormous vulnerability of our national security, which should prompt the Head of State to act immediately. Under President Buhari’s watch, Nigeria recorded 15 escapes from September 2015 to July 2022, with some 7,000 escapees, according to a newspaper tally.

Interestingly, many of these violations were orchestrated by non-state actors. Eight of these occurred in 2021. These include the assault on Owerri prison, from which 1,800 inmates escaped. The attack, which left the Imo State police headquarters in ruins, happened because three Department of State Services (DSS) intelligence reports shared with the governor, police , the army and the prison authorities were ignored. This delinquency and this hollow synergy between the security services explain the attacks on prisons in Koton Karfe and Kabba in Kogi State, Oko/Benin in Edo State, Okitipupa, Oyo, Minna, Sokoto and Jos, among other things, at different times.

It is scandalous that many escapees have not yet been captured. They become serious threats to the security of society as they quickly return to the crimes for which they were convicted – terrorism, armed robbery, kidnapping, drug trafficking, money laundering and homicide. This was evident in 2020. Edo State Police Commissioner Babatude Kokumo said one of the escapees from Oko Prison went to his village and hours later killed the witness for the prosecution at his trial. In other cases, the lives of police officers and judges are threatened by these escapees.

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ALSO READ: ANALYSIS: Kuje Prison Break: Is Nigeria under Buhari running out of security options?


After more than a decade of battling Boko Haram jihadists and other non-state actors, Nigeria should have developed a level of capacity to get things done. Keeping 64 Boko Haram fighters in a medium-sized prison that is not adequately protected is reckless. The government’s failure to prosecute and punish them according to law is unacceptable. Nigeria has not learned the lesson that coddling religious extremists who are bent on undermining the secular state is a key political mistake. Chad was able to control Boko Haram incursions into its capital, N’Djamena, when it swiftly pursued the 10 insurgents responsible for the deaths of 38 people and executed them within 48 hours of their conviction.

The war on terrorism is never won with its sympathizers roaming the corridors of power; or the government’s delay in taking decisive action. Nigeria’s counterinsurgency framework is at an unfortunate crossroads. This is why the 400 Boko Haram financiers, whom the United Arab Emirates (UAE) helped Nigeria identify in early 2021, have not been prosecuted more than a year later, while the UAE has quickly prosecuted and sentenced the six suspects they had arrested. The case of the 61,000 Boko Haram suspects in police custody in the North East, without trial, is a frightening development and must not become a powder keg.

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Kuje medium security prison after the attack

The attack on the ISWAP Kuje prison symbolizes many things: above all, it is a stark reminder to the president that the regime’s victory against the insurgency is still light years away and that he must shake off his lethargy and taking matters into your own hands. It is ridiculous that since taking office in 2015, no Comptroller General of the Nigerian Corrections Service (NCS), Home Secretary or National Security Advisor has been sacked due to these serial major failures in office official. Only a president detached from his duties would spare all those who, in the exercise of their functions, should have avoided Kuje’s embarrassment.

Successive governments have attested to the fact that fifth columns exist within the executive, and the military often witnesses leaks of operational schedules. These lead to ambushes of the fighting forces of the country and fatal consequences. These malicious elements must be exorcised from the system. If surveillance cameras are not available in a prison where dangerous criminals are held near the seat of power, how would they be provided in remote prisons?

It is important to know what the capital expenditures of these detention centers are used for. Clearly, the National Assembly has let the country down when it comes to its oversight of government agencies. It stands to reason that the walls of detention centers with criminals must be cast in concrete to withstand attacks. From President Buhari to security chiefs, ministers and the security bureaucracy, there is enough blame to be had for the rather brazen and ill-fated attack on Kuje prison.


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