When I got the news that Anambra traders were protesting against the alleged plans of the Federal Government to transfer some dangerous Boko Haram terrorists to a prison at Ekwulobia in Aguata Local Government Area, my immediate reaction was that of utter shock and trepidation.
To most other Nigerians, Ekwulobia might be a nondescript and distant place on the map of Nigeria. But, as the headquarters of my local government area, it is a mere 10 minute-drive to my village and, therefore, the alarm touched me directly and intimately.
As primary school kids, we would trek from my community to Ekwulobia and back, to participate in march-pasts on the Independence Day and other important occasions. So, if such dangerous criminals were lodged in that inconsequential and porous prison, whose existence is hardly known, even to most of our Aguata people, then it means that our people are sleeping with the enemy – and are, therefore, in a clear and present danger.
I was in Abuja when Boko Haram prisoners broke out on two occasions some years ago. On the first occasion they reportedly escaped from their fortified facility somewhere on the hills of the city; the second occasion was most scary. It was on a Sunday morning and people were in their different places of worship when sounds of gunfire and booms of explosions rented the usually calm Abuja air.
A helicopter hovered overhead, accentuating the air of panic that overwhelmed the city. Rumours reigned the land even as many started fearing that a coup d’état was in progress. When information started seeping out from the almighty Yellow House, it turned out that some diehard Boko Haram terrorists being held in the dungeons of the DSS headquarters had attempted a daring escape.
It did not quite make sense to many people who had ever entered that edifice but the object lesson was that the Boko Haram operatives were very daring. There was the other story of their breakout from Kogi Prisons.
My fear and that of most of our people was that if the Boko Haram insurgents could break out of fortresses at Abuja, their escape from the Ekwulobia Prison which was only good enough to house petty thieves and the likes, would be as easy as a hot knife slicing through butter.
Under the immediate reign of confusion, the first natural thing I did was to source the truth of the matter – or the lack of it – from reliable sources. I will now share the undiluted facts of what happened, leaving different people to draw their own conclusions. As we say in our profession, “facts are scared; comments are free”.
As I found out, following the several prison breaks and other aborted attempts by the Boko Haram terrorists held in different prisons in the Northern parts of the country, the relevant authorities came up with the plan to relocate some of the Boko Haram people at locations where they would be denied the local factors that would encourage and facilitate their escape attempts.
The sleepy prison at Ekwulobia was chosen as one of those places where they could be held, almost incognito. By the way, the prison in question was built during the Second Republic days of Shehu Shagari administration, and was often an object of derision as the NPP administration of Chief Jim Nwobodo in the Old Anambra State would regularly taunt the then vice president, Dr. Alex Ekwueme for bringing a prison to his own local government area, as his own ‘federal presence’ by a man who was the Number Two personality in the NPN federal government.
So, for that, that prison was ‘doomed’ from the onset, as most people from the LGA never knew that it existed. Its anonymity might have been one of the factors that influenced its choice for the new role which the government dreamt for it.
I found out that in that same year, 2012, a team made of three army officers of the Nigeria Army Engineering Corps, led by a colonel, arrived at Ekwulobia Prison and for almost one month, carried out some fortification works at the prison. That involved building another taller inner perimeter wall behind the old wall, installation of barbed wire
cordons above the walls and construction of watch towers.
According to my information, other security gadgets were also installed at the prison. Not many people at the prison then, nor even at the headquarters, were aware of what those reinforcements were for. Nothing much seemed to have happened till sometime early this year when it leaked that some Boko Haram people would be shipped to Ekwulobia.
It must have been at that point that some worried Anambra people close to the Jonathan administration were suspected to have leaked the information to Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State who naturally became livid and immediately sent his strong objections to the Jonathan administration in Abuja, complaining that the Boko Haram terrorists should not, under any pretext, be brought to his state, which security he was still doing a yeoman’s job to stabilize.
Without giving the Anambra government concrete answers, the plans seemed to have been stalled as nothing happened thereafter. When three weeks ago, the people of Anambra State got the wind that the transfer plan had been dusted up and was in fact at its advanced stages of implementation, hell was let loose all across the state, with the full backing of all the levels of government in the state, behind the people who closed down their businesses to show their disapproval.
The tempo of the protests seemed to have ebbed when APC politicians at the state denied the plans and put it as the antics of mischief makers out to discredit the Buhari Government. In fact, it was the APC that unwittingly dragged the Buhari name into the imbroglio because if they had been painstaking and sourced information and the veracity of the matter, they would have stoutly defended any attempts to link Buhari government with a policy that was conceived and perfected two years before he came to power.
In the wee hours of May 28th, several Black Maria vans, accompanied by heavy security columns made their way to Ekwulobia Prisons with their passengers of 47 Boko Haram detainees. Obviously, it is wrong to label them as prisoners being that they had not been tried or convicted. In fact, my information has it that among the people that were brought to Ekwulobia prison are also young ladies and women, obviously those who were involved in attempted suicide bombing.
It was not possible to ascertain the number of the female members of the group that were transferred to my local government area last week. Even though the complaints and repudiation of the action by federal government has continued, but it is abating for a number of factors.
Even though the federal government has not deemed it important enough to allay the fears of the people, in the usual show of government’s contempt and disdain for the people, it is clear that the morbid fear is being relaxed as the people are learning that security has been beefed up around the prison.
People who drive or walk past the prison are said to have noticed that there are two armoured cars now stationed at the prison, but whether as a temporary or permanent feature, is yet unknown. The Aguata Local Government Council chairman, Hon Chukwuma Umeoji, whose home is a few minutes from the prison is certain that security has been beefed up. Sources close to him confirmed to me that there might be as many as 30 heavily armed soldiers now overlooking the new guests to the prison.
Last weekend, Governor Willie Obiano’s body language showed that things might no longer be as dangerous and as chilly as they had appeared in the two previous weeks. While addressing the press in Awka over the weekend, he called on the people to sheathe their swords as he was on top of the situation. Obiano claimed that the policy would be reversed, but it is obvious that he does not even believe himself.
Rather, what looks more obvious, and a truth our people have to brace up to accept, is that the Boko Haram prisoners at Ekwulobia Prison are not going to be moved out in the very near future. I have presented the sacred facts of the matter as they are. It is the business of the people who are concerned at the different levels to react in responsible and legal ways.