Following the relocation of Boko Haram detainees to the Ekwulobia Prisons in Anambra State, the military have taken over the security of the facility.
SUNDAY PUNCH investigations showed that security operations in the Federal Government facility are no longer the exclusive preserve of the officials of the Nigeria Prison Service.
The development, sources told our correspondent, is not unconnected with the calibre of the detainees being held behind the walls of the facility.
A visit by our correspondent to the prison on Saturday showed that armed military personnel were located in strategic locations around the prison.
The development has also brought some form of hardship to residents of the host communities of the prison.
Free human and vehicular movement is no longer allowed around the place. Our correspondent sighted soldiers compelling passers-by to raise up their arms and get frisked before they were allowed passage. Vehicles were also searched.
Residents of Anambra had last week taken to the streets protesting against the relocation of the detainees. But the Federal Government had reacted saying it was a mere rumour.
But happenings around the facility on Friday further learnt credence to the report that the Boko Haram detainees had been relocated to the quiet Anambra town.
“It is like a war situation. We no longer move freely; we don’t even talk freely because you don’t know who is who now. Armoured vehicles are everywhere” Stanley Ezechukwu, a primary school teacher in the area told our correspondent.
One of the soldiers who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “We are here to ensure that the prison is not attacked by the people who have demonstrated their resentment over the transfer of the detainees.”
Professor Chuwuemeka Ike, the traditional Ruler of Ndikerionwu, a neighboring community to Ekwulobia , condemned the transfer of the detainees to the area.
He acknowledged, however that prisons transfers are normal, but maintained that with the sensitive nature of the prisoners, the transfer of the Boko Haram detainee could have been avoided.
A press statement on Saturday by the Senior Special Assistant to Governor Willie Obiano on Media, Mr James Eze, was not specific on whether the detainees had been relocated or not.
The statement titled; “The Transfer of Boko Haram Detainees to Ekwulobia Prisons: the true position,” maintained that the governor had not made any official press statement on the issue as reported in some national dailies.
The statement read in parts, “We wish to inform the general public that Governor Obiano never made any comments to these publications. Since the eruption of this controversy, Governor Obiano’s position has been consistent. This was fully reflected in the two press Statements issued on Sunday, June 28, 2015 and Wednesday July 1, 2015. In both statements, his message was simple – he re-assured Ndi Anambra that he was on top of the situation and that he was speaking with the relevant authorities to achieve a peaceful resolution of the issue. Governor Obiano’s commitment to this extremely sensitive issue remains the same.”
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Mr Uche Eze in his reaction said the police would not want to comment on the matter as “it is purely an affair of the Nigerian Prisons Service.”
The member representing the area in the House of Representatives, Mrs. Eucharia Azodo however urged the Federal Government to rescind the decision in view of its security implications on the people of her constituency.
In a statement in Awka on Saturday, Azodo said the Boko Haram detainees would be better taken care of in a maximum security prison, arguing that Ekwulobia Prison did not have the capacity to accommodate such high risk prisoners.
She said, “The rising tension following rumours that Boko Haram suspects were relocated from some Northern prisons to the South-East, precisely, Ekwulobia in Aguata Local Government of Anambra State, gives me great concern.
“We all are aware of the fact that Ekwulobia Prison in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State is not a maximum security prison.
“Whereas a large number of prisoners, about 134 inmates, are there already in a prison built to accommodate 85 inmates, a total number of 47 Boko Haram prisoners were brought to Ekwulobia Prison in the dead of the night of Sunday, June 28, 2015 amidst tight security.”
The youth wing of the apex Igbo socio- cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, has flayed the Federal Government over the relocation.
The National President of Ohanaeze Youth Council, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro who spoke with our correspondent in Umuahia, described the action as “ exportation of terrorism to the peaceful South-East region.”