BACKGROUND

The Kuje Medium Security correction facility in Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital territory, came under siege by armed non-state actors on Tuesday, 5 July 2022. The breach of the correction facility is not a new phenomenon at the facility or across similar facilities across the country, the attack, however, stands out given the spate of audacious attacks across the country but most interestingly the spread of attacks closer to the national capital, Abuja.

The attack on the correctional facility in Kuje highlights Nigeria’s deteriorating internal security mechanism, given that not only was the facility susceptible owing to its antiquated infrastructure and lack of a fallback plan to contain the situation, but the lack of security in the prison’s immediate environment was also quite apparent since terrorists perpetrated their act for hours unabated and escaped unharmed.

The attack also sets back public support in the fight against terrorism and other forms of criminality ravaging the country, given the effort put into winning Nigerians’ support, which is critical in any counterinsurgency campaign, as seen in the United States following the 9/11 attack.

The attack’s choice of target, at the seat of government, is a huge blow to the administration and its security institutions. In the US, after the 9/11 attack, the government did not sit back and continue with politics as usual; instead, the US government recognised its failures, rolled up its sleeves, mobilized public support in the face of a common adversary, and went to work. However, for Nigeria, it was a matter of finger-pointing, unaccountability, and expression of doubt about the situation.

THE ATTACK

The infiltration of the correction facility was cumulatively a failure to act on intelligence, little to no deterrence, and poor communication. It also brings to light the maladministration in the internal security architecture of Nigeria.

The siege on the Kuje facility is estimated to have commenced a few minutes before the first indication of an attack at 10:18 PM, during which the group: infiltrated the facility, released detainees, and delivered a 15-minute sermon [possibly to justify the purpose of their crusade in an attempt to entice recruits from the facility, given the presence of other jihadi convicts in the crowd] and dispersed. The siege was concluded with the chanting of “Allahu Akbar,” a Takbir abused by terrorists as a form of war cry.

The tactical prowess, firepower, and level of efficiency in carrying out the invasion give off a very coordinated style of operation common with ISWAP fighters in the Northeast region, where the group, has exhibited high ingenuity in adapting to changing military strategy and tactics in exacting decisive blows at the military through guerrilla ambushes and in rare cases direct contact. The number of assailants would thus have needed support from Islamic State (IS-Daesh) cells from neighbouring states with identified presence such as Kogi, Kaduna, and Niger States.

IS CLAIM, GOALS OF THE ATTACK, AND ASSESSMENT OF ISWAP ACTIVITIES

IS-Daesh via its propaganda magazine al-Naba issued on 6 June 2022 claimed full responsibility for the attack, in the magazine the group, discusses its “50 minutes” coordinated attack on the “prison”, where it operated in “two companies” (read: groups) but it goes ahead to highlight the success of a “third group”. The first team employed the use of explosives to “blow the prison gates”, while the second engaged security forces inside the facility and the third group provided cover along the perimeter of the facility to repeal security backup. The claim goes further to highlight arson on vehicles as “8 machines” under what it describes as a “policy of demolishing the accessories of freedom”.

The magazine in its concluding parts writes

“With success, as Al-maqana one was able to free Mahzam aksary who submitted All of them,”

From the above statement, Al-maqana which is “The Veiled” or “masked” a possible reference to ISWAP fighters who carried out the attack, while Mahzam aksary is used as a reference to describe someone who presented the prisoners to ISWAP fighters after they had gained entry, in what appears to be an indication of an inside job.

The propaganda material closes by describing the operation as a “new field expansion…on the outskirts of the Nigerian capital”.

Before this incident, in April, IS-Daesh spokesperson Abu Omar al-Muhajer addressed the condition of imprisoned members, stating it was the group’s top priority and responsibility to secure their release. This statement was likely the motivation behind the attack and could be an indication of possibly more similar attacks to come.

The goals of the attack can be split into two, first is ISWAP’s bid to impress IS-Daesh & secondly IS-Daesh contingency for its failure in the middle-east.

– ISWAPs’ bid to “crown itself as a new queen of terrorism in Africa” is quite apparent, with its orchestration of a well-thought-out attack on Kuje, especially in the nation’s capital was to prove to IS-Daesh of its capability to drive the sects agenda in sections of West and Central African nation-states such as Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad, and the Lake Chad Basin. Asides from the Kuje attack, there has been considerable compliance to propagating new agenda and doing the most in showing considerable complicity to executing accordingly.

– As for the parent organization, the attack was a statement of relevance given IS-Daesh push to Africa comes at a time when the group is facing a stiff military onslaught from the US and its military partners in the Middle East, as a result, the group, that is the IS-Daesh has lost a large portion of its territory in both Syria and Iraq, forcing the group to operate mostly from its scattered cell networks, hence, in a move to sustain its relevance, it has extended its tentacles to other continents, such as we have in Africa, where the group has successfully indoctrinated criminals, ethnic militia groups, and civilians under its franchises known as Wilayahs, exploiting the short-sightedness of the State which has opened up so much ungoverned spaces, from which such criminal/jihadi groups thrive.

ISWAPs’ rash campaigns began 3 days after IS-Daesh called for a “Battle of Revenge for the Two Sheikhs,” on 17 April 2022 following the suicide bombing that killed its overall leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi and his spokesperson Abu Hamza al-Qurashi during a raid by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in Atme, Syria, on 3 February 2022.

In a bid to impress, ISWAPs’ “Battle of Revenge for the Two Sheikhs” resulted in the expansion of sporadic attacks from the group’s traditional Areas of Operations (AOO), especially Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa in the Northeast, to areas beyond its AOO. The map displays both claimed and unclaimed assaults by the extremist group.

According to Evan F. Kohlmann, an expert on Terrorism, Extremist Groups, Cyberintelligence, and Cyberwarfare, he says.

“Nigeria was the location of more officially-claimed ISIS attacks in June 2022 than any other country (21% of all attacks). 69% of the attacks targeted the Nigerian military, 13% targeted allied militiamen, and 9% deliberately targeted civilians.”

At the close of the first half of 2022, documented IS-linked incidents recorded 83.15% of total recorded incidences in 2019 (Q1 – Q4), from where there has been a significant spike in attacks till 2021 (2019 Q1 – 2021 Q4). A predictive forecast shows that this trend is likely to spike higher, using an additive model trend on Tableau, which highlights a forward forecast of 7 quarters (2022 Q2 – 2023 Q4) using the frequency of occurrences based on recorded incidents from 2019 Q1 – 2022 Q1 with a seasonal pattern of 4 quarter cycles.

Interestingly, a linear trendline of ISWAP documented attacks in Nigeria from 2019 H1 – 2022 H1, highlights an upward frequency in occurrences, however, from 2021 H2 – 2022 H1, there was a gradual decrease in the count.

The trend of attacks in the coming quarters (2022 Q3 – Q4) is possibly going to continue in the upward pattern of occurrences as seen from 2019 H1 – 2021 H2, driven by the need for ISWAP to monopolise the jihadi campaign in the country, in pursuit of its caliphate. This attack cannot also be divorced from an impending escalation of more attacks in other facilities scattered across the country.

A change in such trend trajectory may solely be driven by the monopoly of the States’ legitimate use of physical force, this is regarding ongoing counterinsurgency operations in the country and can be supported by the state authorities’ push for their presence and relevance in such affected areas.

THE HOLE IN THE WALL

Kuje correction facility was established in 1989, built to cater for 960 convicts in minimum and maximum holding cells. There are multiple claims of corrupt activities in the Kuje correction facility such as a report by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) which indicted officials assisting in smuggling contrabands and drugs into the facility for a fee. In fact, following the ISWAP Kuje Attack, NCoS officials claim that approximately ₦82,000,000 (eighty-two million Naira) and $36,000 (thirty-six thousand Dollars) cash were stolen from the correction facility commissary, which belonged to the convicts. Many officials and experts have since questioned why such a large sum of money was domiciled at the Kuje correction facility. Such illicit activities appear to be the norm not just at this correction facility, but also at many other correctional facilities across the country.

Today, the correction facility is not only overcrowded but also vulnerable to major security flaws within and around the facility’s outer perimeter as explained by a retired military officer and security expert, Group Captain Sadeeq Shehu, who highlighted flaws within and around the perimeter of the correction facility that was exploited by ISWAP attackers.

In a bid to explain why the attack on the correction facility was successful, the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola is quoted to have stated:

“Our system was primed to prevent and foil internal disturbance and riots, not external attacks/invasion since the facilities were usually built around police and military formations”.

The Minister’s, admission that “our system was not prepared” confirms the government’s persistent failure to prepare against attacks despite several indications and warnings of impending attacks, and even failing to learn from failures and close vulnerability gaps after similar incidents have occurred.

This lack of preparedness on the part of the ministry of interior and officials of the Kuje Correction facility is particularly damming especially when the security trends in the area are taken into consideration. In recent times, Kuje Area has seen a gradual increase in security incidents since 2020. While this trend includes both lethal and non-fatal incidents, it is worth noting that lethal cases of armed confrontations comprised of skirmishes and small-arm attacks (crime) have stood out with a consistent increase trend in occurrences since 2021, notably between Q3 and Q4 to date. Many of the actors are Unknown Armed Groups (UAGs).

Kuje Correction facility is also surrounded by government security forces installations such as the military formation in Gwagwalada, and other multiple military checkpoints approximately 15 minutes from the correction facility. Furthermore, important military cantonments such as Mogadishu, Niger, and Lungi are less than 45 minutes away from the jail.

A MATTER OF CONVENIENCE OVER DUE DILIGENCE

The Kuje correctional institution is classified as medium, yet it houses high-profile (read: dangerous) detainees, including Boko Haram, Ansaru, and ISWAP suspects, the majority of whom have yet to be convicted. As a result, their presence in what is normally a medium-risk institution owing to the closeness of courts in Abuja was a matter of convenience over due diligence, exemplifying Nigeria’s anyhowness. Given the danger presented by their existence in such a facility, there were inadequate contingencies in place to deal with intrusions and even breakouts.

IS-Daesh spokesperson’s call for its Wilayahs to release their members in captivity interestingly did not elude the Department of State Security, Nigeria’s internal/domestic intelligence service to put out a warning foretelling the attack. Nonetheless, despite the communication of the intelligence and implementation of strategies by NCoS, the seamless infiltration of terrorists led to the escape of 69 convicts connected with Boko Haram.

The absence of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) and other perimeter fencing deterrence features such as movement detection sensors lights, which would have assisted security operatives in the control room and watch towers in raising alarm on detection of an infiltration. On 7 July 2022, while performing oversight responsibilities on the breached facility, Nigerian Senate President Ahmad Lawan stated,

“We were told that an estimated 300 terrorists attacked this facility. They came on foot, and I believe they should have been detected. In the first place, three hundred people will not come for an operation like this without planning. Planning must have taken a week, a month or a bit more. I believe that our security agencies should have picked this from their tracking systems in the FCT.

Secondly, having gone round the facility itself, we are disappointed that this facility does not have Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras, something that would record and give you details of what is happening and sometimes record the events. This is a medium security custodial center, how on earth in the FCT facility of this magnitude we don’t have CCTV? It means we can say that all other medium security centers across the country do not have CCTV.

We have asked the Comptroller General of Correctional Centre to ensure that the request for CCTV at the maximum and medium custodial centres of the country are included in their 2023 budget because this is essential and indispensable.”

CONCLUSION

As it stands, inmates need to be recaptured as a failure to do so would contribute to a growth in incidents aimed at undermining the Government and its institutions driven by a sense of unreadiness to tackle these forms of exigencies.

“I think we have to look deeper into what happened, so that we find the culprits, because when things like this happens, then there should be sanctions. Where people fail to do their job properly, and they have been given that responsibility, they should be asked to take responsibility. If people don’t take responsibility for their failure, then it means nobody would bother to do what is expected of their office or the job that the person has been given.”

The Senate President’s remark above emphasises the necessity for persons to be held accountable for dereliction and negligence, and if such a process has begun, there must be openness in ensuring the process is finished to the latter since the long-term consequences of doing otherwise will be detrimental in pursuit of accountability from other services, particularly the paramilitary.

These break-ins are not just sporadic, as it takes great observations to study security gaps and other forms of vulnerabilities which can be exploited for tactical infiltration if no cautious hardening measures are being undertaken.

Unless the internal security architecture is rejigged, it would continue to be business as usual. Security organisations are up against a shared foe, not themselves, hence, the National Security Adviser must address the superiority complex between internal and external security agencies, inter-agency rivalry particularly with internal security outfits, and reorientation for agencies in helping them understand their distinguishing roles in the scheme of things, a push for accountability with the introduction of Key Performance Indicators, and the establishment of an intelligence community which will serve as a central intelligence mechanism for the effective flow, coordination, and effective execution of intelligence for innovation of plans and strategies.

Some of the main elements pushing for increasing IS operational presence in Africa include the indiscriminate rash assaults that have rendered ISWAP an apparent success to its’ IS-Daesh international patrons.

The fight against terrorism, as it is, is not a battle that can be won solely through increased weaponry, but rather through mobilising collective national participation in the fight against terrorism, because a lack of this will largely contribute to the level of participation in terrorist organizations born from, but not limited to, ethnic and religious grievances against the state; this can only be reversed if state ministerial apparatus like communication, orientation, and education are improved to be people-centric.

With increased jihadist engagement across Africa, the Nigerian government is being urged to put their house in order by pursuing a more holistic Whole-of-Society Approach national campaign for both non-kinetic and kinetic ways to reverse these trends of instability. Despite gains in other areas, President Buhari’s administration has been tarnished for ineffectiveness and weaknesses in tackling the country’s myriad difficulties. However, the government still has time to make amends before handing over power in 2023.