Nigerian Officials Search For Escaped Prisoners

Nigerian security forces continue searching for hundreds of inmates who escaped following a Tuesday attack on an Abuja prison. The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) has claimed responsibility for the jailbreak and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has criticized the intelligence service for failing to stop it.

But security critics have pointed the finger back at Buhari, saying he has failed to secure the nation after more than seven years in office.

For a second day Thursday, teams of armed security and prison officials spread across Abuja searching for missing inmates.

After raids the day before, about 436 of nearly 900 escapees were recaptured, but hundreds remain at large, including all 64 high-profile Boko Haram suspects.

Authorities say back at the prison they’re also profiling those who fled.

A prison service statement on Wednesday said 879 inmates escaped when gunmen with explosives blasted open a perimeter fence and prison walls of the medium security prison in Kuje, Abuja on Tuesday.

The attackers also sporadically fired weapons.

Islamic State West Africa Province, the Islamic State affiliate known as ISWAP, later claimed responsibility for the invasion.

Buhari visited the facility Wednesday and blamed the security intelligence system. The president also said he wanted a comprehensive report on the attack.

Permanent Secretary of the Defense Ministry Ibrahim Kana told VOA that officials are addressing the matter.

“We will do all that we can through our military personnel, police, spies and even the prison warders, to bring these people to book,” Kana said. “So we are calling on Nigerians to be calm — there’s no cause for alarm. We are still trying to count the numbers of the inmates that have escaped.”

The president’s criticism of the intelligence system generated widespread public condemnation. Critics said the president was pointing fingers while he failed to fulfil a promise he made in 2015 to address insecurity.

Kuje resident Peter Onoja, who said the explosions at the prison shook his family, is among the critics.

“I believe in proactive activities, not when things have happened [and] you now begin to run helter-skelter; no, I believe in preventing something before it comes to happen,” Onoja said. “This is not the first time.”

Security experts have also weighed in on the president’s response to the incident.

Security analyst Senator Iroegbu said authorities and security agencies are losing focus, distracted by political events around the country.

“Unlike before when you can actually press the president, hold him accountable … the attention has shifted to focus on who will possibly be the next leaders come 2023,” Iroegbu said. “This also has affected the alertness level of security and intelligence agencies.”

Nigeria is due to go to the polls in February 2023.

But as the search for more escapees continues over coming days, Abuja residents say the peace they once enjoyed is now threatened.

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