Abia Police detainees escape: Group urges inquiry into incident, rumours of COVID-19 outbreak

The escape of 29 detainees from the cells of the Central Police State (CPS), Umuahia, Abia State last week, should be investigated and proper measures put in place to ensure security in police cells.

This was the view of a rights group, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre on the development which occurred on the 20th of July, 2020.

The detainees were said to have escaped at night from both the female and male cells, with one of the escapees identified as Chioma Gold, who is standing trial at the Federal High Court with 3 others for the offence of child stealing which was tagged terrorism by the police.

The Police in the latest statement last week said it had re-arrested 20 out of the 29 escaped detainees but failed to explain what caused the escape.

However, rumours of complaints about congestion in the cells and the outbreak of coronavirus at the State CID Umuahia was alleged to have sparked fears of the spread of the virus among inmates at a State CID cell.

It was gathered that Police authorities are already taking measures to ensure that the disease does not spread to other police formations in Umuahia while samples have been taken from detainees at Central Police Station Umuahia for test, although they had denied any outbreak among the inmates.

The Executive Director of RULAAC, Okey Nwanguma in a chat with TNC correspondent, commended the officers at Abia State Police Command who were involved in the operation to re-arrest the 29 escaped inmates, for exercising restraint during the operation.

According to him, there was no report of misuse of force or casualty during the operation.

He, however, said it is imperative to inquire into the reason the detainees made the escape.

“It is also important to ascertain the categories of offences of the detainees to know if they fall within categories of offences permitted under the IGP’s directive to detain accused persons. It is also important to ascertain the conditions and security of the cells and whether there was/is congestion, maltreatment of inmates or fear about infection.

“It is clear, however, that the refusal by correctional centres to accept persons on trial ordered by courts to be remanded in prison, has forced Judges and Magistrates in Abia and in many other States to order the remand of defendants in police cells thereby creating challenges for the Police with regards to efforts to ensure decongestion of Police cells. This has led to breaches of the IGP’s directive that arrests and detention should be minimized to only major offences,” Nwanguma noted.

It will be recalled that the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu had earlier in June, unveiled a new set of operational guidelines for police officers and other law enforcement agents on enforcement of COVID-19 safety measures.

The guidelines were developed in collaboration with the CLEEN Foundation and the United Kingdom High Commission, to foster a more harmonious relationship between the Police and members of the public.

A follow-up to the directive was a directive by the IGP that offenders for minor offences should not be detained in remand centres so as not to congest them especially with the concerns over the spate of COVID-19 in the country.

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