Kuje prison attack: Monkeys can do better By Lasisi Olagunju



By Lasisi Olagunju Ph.D


“Before the Kuje and Katsina attacks of last week, there had been tens of others before them. After the attacks of last week, there may still be more if Nigeria remains an ungovernable or an ungoverned space; if we continue to have no government or the government continues to disdain governance. This is to say tomorrow is yesterday complete with its ugliness, or as T.S. Eliot put it: “Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future,/And time future contained in time past.”


The July 5, 2022 attack on Kuje prison, Abuja was more than a story of shame. You cannot be safe in the hands of a people that lack basic skills in attending to little details. Check the figures released the morning after the attack. The first press statement was issued by Umar Abubakar, a public relations officer who signed for the Controller-General of Corrections: “A total of 879 inmates escaped from the facility during the unfortunate attack. As at the time of this report, 443 have been recaptured, 551 inmates are currently in custody, 443 inmates are still at large…” Check the figures in that statement: 879 inmates escaped; 443 recaptured; 443 still at large. Do the maths; addition and subtraction. Does the answer make any arithmetical sense? The number of the recaptured added to that of those still at large should give us the total number of prisoners who escaped. The total number of the inmates who escaped minus the number of those who were recaptured should tell us how many more we are looking for. Our Prisons authorities didn’t think it was necessary to do that simple dyadic operation before issuing its statement of errors.


I called a friend’s attention to the figures and he exclaimed: “what kind of math is this?” But I told him that was not the end of sorry figures. I sent him another report: The president visited the facility after which the presidency released a statement quoting its own figures: “The president was also informed that the security forces have recaptured 350 of the escapees while about 450 others are still unaccounted for…” Our presidency’s guess words did not include the total number of inmates there but an addition of its 350 and 450 cannot be equal to the 879 figure announced by the custodians of the prison house. Numbers tell stories and, in politics, you use figures to predict behaviour. I could see in the above numbers incompetence. I could also see carelessness in being incompetent. If they did not know the actual number of the inmates, at least they should have been consistent in their cluelessness. Silence was an option. Or, maybe, the confusion in figures simply point to some sinister attempt at obfuscation of what really happened. When your result has many shades of inaccuracy, you invite conspiratorial questions. Your enemies will also join in mocking you.

Infants, kindergarten pupils know that two addends normally equal the sum of their values; not with the Nigerian government and its agencies. Even monkeys could do better than what the prison authorities have done with their prison figures; yet we think the monkey is not wise. You can’t survive the jungle if you can’t “glance up and see how many lions are about to attack you.” That is a takeaway for me from ‘Monkey can do Maths,’ an April 2014 report in Science magazine on a study that confirmed rhesus monkeys as mathematicians. The 1995 experiment showed apes’ ability to rival humans in doing plus and minus arithmetical exercises, the sort of which is rattling our prison authorities since the jail attack. “More dramatically, after being taught the meanings of the Arabic numerals 0 through 4, one chimpanzee was able to compute the sum of two numerals without further training,” a report of the experiment said. Are monkeys, therefore, better than those ruling us? I have not said that.

Again, in an August 21, 2008 report, British newspaper, The Guardian, published a study that showed that animals could add numbers and get accurate results. Elephants were the study subjects and they proved that they “were as good at telling the difference between five and six as they were at distinguishing between five and one.” The report said elephants evolved to count in order “to keep track of other members of their herd so that no individual is left behind. ‘You really don’t want to lose your group members’.” Losing members in hundreds rarely become of utmost official concern in Nigeria; it is a curse. People may die; persons may get lost. Politicians will rock towns and cities for votes; the president will fly to where he has to jet to; the Villa will host nuptial feasts. My people say the dead and the missing will ultimately be united one day in a meeting of fate. That philosophy should explain why severity of calamity never disturbs life from going on here. We are not bothered about bridal trains in the Villa crushing the shocks of Kuje terror attack. The murder of a police chief by Katsina bandits never affected sallah festivities in Katsina. We are used to sonorous death-beats from drummers of power. We ask no question on who got married to whom last week in the Villa while the nation bled from Katsina to Kuje. We seek no explanation on why our leaders are scratching their heads over how many Nigerians are in captivity of terror and how many terrorists are on the prowl.

There is no two-plus-two-is-equal-to-four here. Every figure is cooked and crooked. We are the victim of our flaws. American poet, Jack Gilbert, says “we think the fire eats the wood. We are wrong. The wood reaches out to the flame. The fire licks at what the wood harbors, and the wood gives itself away to that intimacy…” This land is as bound to violence as it is curled up in bed with manipulative error.

I asked Google for the distance between the shellacked territory in Kuje and the Presidential Villa. Google’s answer was 45 minutes. Such an audacious invasion occurring so close to the government seat would alarm any rational people. The president was the first casualty of that attack. I hope he knows this and gets sober about it. There is a hunters’ story for him here: Chief hunter (Oluode) wept and refused to be consoled because Leopard killed his dog. Oluode’s aides told him it was never heard of that hardwood bled in tears (ako igi kìí s’oje). But Chief hunter refused to be consoled. He said he won’t stop whining and crying. But why? He could always get a hundred dogs to replace the killed one. He replied that the leopard killed much more than the hunter’s dog. He wondered why his associates did not see his reputation in the belly of the beast. He said the big cat killed, with the dog, his own worth as the head of the expedition. Would it have been worse if there was no government in Nigeria? President Buhari’s immediate reaction was to ask: “How can terrorists organise, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it?” If the Commander-in-Chief, who is also an army General, asked those questions, what then remains for poor you to ask? Should the president not even note and ask questions about the incoherent figures? You know how messed up Nigeria’s Oluode is when you remember that the same day the bad boys struck in Abuja, their far northern squadron attacked a convoy of presidential cars in the president’s Katsina State. It does not rain in Nigeria; it pours.

There is a list of recent jailbreaks and attempted jailbreaks published last week by BBC pidgin. Agba Jalingo, a Nigerian journalist, also posted a list of what he called ‘15 successful jailbreaks’ starting from 2015 when the Buhari regime happened to Nigeria. I ran a quick check on the post and found the claims largely correct. His list, rearranged with some other amendments, is here:

September 3, 2015 – Sokoto Remand Home break (13 inmates escaped); October 7, 2017 – Enugu Maximum Prison break (2 inmates escaped); December 27, 2017 – Ikot-Ekpene Prison attacked (47 inmates escaped); June 4, 2018 – Minna Maximum Security Prison break (210 inmates escaped); October 19, 2020 – Oko Prison in Edo, attacked; Benin Prison break (1,993 inmates escaped from the two facilities); October 22, 2020 – Okitipupa prison break (58 inmates released); April 4, 2021 – Owerri prison break (1,844 inmates freed); July 19, 2021- Jos Maximum Security Prison attacked (4 inmates escaped); September 13, 2021 – Kabba prison break, Kogi (240 inmates freed); October 22, 2021: Abolongo Prison, Oyo break (837 inmates escaped); November 28, 2021 – Jos Medium Security Prison attacked (262 inmates released, 10 killed); January 2, 2022 – Mandala Prison Ilorin, break (3 inmates escaped); May 13, 2022 – Agbor Prison, Delta State, fence collapsed, 3 inmates escaped); July 5, 2022, Kuje Prison, Abuja, attacked…”

We may not have accurate figures of our adversity, but outsiders are keeping the records for us. The United States-based Council for Foreign Relations does a weekly track of violence in Nigeria and publishes findings with figures. Its report of the last week of last month is horror: “June 25: Bandits killed a priest in Chikun, Kaduna. June 25: Bandits killed eleven farmers in Rabah, Sokoto. June 25: Bandits kidnapped seven in Umunneochi, Abia. June 25: Bandits kidnapped three in Maru, Zamfara. June 25: Gunmen killed two in Enugu South, Enugu. June 26: Kidnappers killed a priest and two others while one of the kidnappers was also killed in Etsako West, Edo. June 26: Police officers killed one gunman in Ihiala, Anambra. June 26: Police officers killed two kidnappers in Idemili North, Anambra. June 26: Soldiers killed ten civilians in Yakurr, Cross River. June 26: Hunters killed two kidnappers in Okehi, Kogi. June 27: Communal violence led to eighteen deaths in Ohaukwu, Ebonyi. June 27: Police officers killed two civilians in Ewekoro, Ogun. June 28: Nigerian troops killed three Boko Haram militants in Gubio, Borno. June 28: Bandits killed two and kidnapped sixteen in Chikun, Kaduna. June 28: Gunmen killed one police officer in Oyigbo, Rivers. June 28: Soldiers killed one bandit in Barkin Ladi, Plateau. June 29: Bandits kidnapped four Chinese nationals and killed thirty-four soldiers, eight police officers, and six civilians while fifty bandits were also killed in Shiroro, Niger State. June 29: A cult war resulted in five deaths in Oredo, Edo. June 30: A cult war resulted in three deaths in Oredo, Edo. June 30: Gunmen killed three police officers in Enugu, Enugu. June 30: Herdsmen killed two in Isi-Uzo, Enugu. June 30: Police officers killed one Indigenous People of Biafra/Eastern Security Network militant in Ezza North, Ebonyi.June 30: Bandits killed twenty and kidnapped twenty-five in Kajuru, Kaduna.”


Before the Kuje and Katsina attacks of last week, there had been tens of others before them. After the attacks of last week, there may still be more if Nigeria remains an ungovernable or an ungoverned space; if we continue to have no government or the government continues to disdain governance. This is to say tomorrow is yesterday complete with its ugliness, or as T.S. Eliot put it: “Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future,/And time future contained in time past.”

Countries of the world are tired of Nigeria; they no longer share in our grief; they issue travel warnings to their citizens. Unremitting violence in Nigeria is dirty rodent pissing into the soup pot; an alarmed world has recoiled in disgust. Reports from here may drip of horror like the ones before them, but they won’t shock us. The world may be fainting at the pangs of our pains; we do not feel what they feel. Figures may suffer errors; official reactions may get drowned in politics of 2023 and its apostasy; the president will go to Daura to eat his sallah meat without disturbance. And he is there right now away from all distractions.

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