By Emma Nnadozie, Crime Editor
The invasion of an Owerri High Court by a dare-devil gang of criminals, last week, and the subsequent rescue and release of suspected hardened criminals on trial could aptly be tagged ‘ The Day of the Jackal’ from the epic thriller novel by celebrated English writer Frederick Forsyth. The auguries are hideous but intriguing.
That penultimate Friday, the sanctity of the court was wantonly desecrated by a gang of gun-toting young men who stormed the premises in a commando-like manner, shooting from all fronts. At the end of the barely 30 minutes operation, two persons lay dead. Many people, including prison officials were seriously injured. The invading criminals succeeded in escaping with their booty which turned out to be the dreaded and highly prized kidnap kingpin and acclaimed serial killer, Henry Chibueze alias Vampire.
The notorious criminal, Henry, 30, from Nwangele LGA in Imo state, for long, bestrode the criminal scene in Nigeria like a colossus. In fact, his exploits and successes have continued to baffle and taunt security officials even after he was caged and kept in the cooler awaiting trial in Owerri prison. Before his arrest early 2016 by operatives of the Department of Security Services, DSS, Vampire was terrorizing both the Eastern, Southern and Western parts of the country unhindered. He was notorious for killing his victims after collecting ransom.
The chilling bloody account of his operation in Lagos on February 16, 2013, still remains a red dot in security circles. It was a day he stormed the home of his girlfriend, Sandra Ijedinma at Igando area of Lagos with an AK47 assault rifle and opened fire on everyone present in the apartment, killing his girlfriend, her elder sister, Praise Ozor and her two children. Not satisfied, Vampire proceeded to a nearby street where one of the elder sisters to Sandra resided and killed the woman and three of her children before fleeing from the scene.
Days after perpetrating the evil, filled with vulgar obscenities and crude hoopla of the wantonly self-obsessed ragamuffin, Vampire still continued threatening to eliminate other remaining members of the family who had no option than to re-locate to an unknown place. His grouse was simply that the girlfriend and members of her family vehemently rejected his continued relationship with Sandra after discovering his deep involvement in crime. The whereabouts of the fleeing members of Sandra’s family still remain unknown till date as efforts they made to be protected by security agencies failed.
However, while security agents spread their dragnets in search of the fleeing butcher in Lagos and environs, Vampire regrouped with his gang in Imo state and they coordinated several kidnappings in the South East and South- South areas of the country. At the last count, he was reputed to have kidnapped no fewer than 200 persons, killing most of his victims including the wife of a royal father in Imo state and an official of the state Environmental Transformation Commission which yielded him about N5million in ransom. It was gathered that anti-kidnapping team from police headquarters in Abuja had cause to place a huge ransom on his head after combing virtually all the nooks and crannies of the criminal hideouts in the country searching for the highly prized criminal kingpin without success.
Luck, however ran against him when he attempted to kidnap the tribunal Judges handling Election Petition in Imo state, at their lodge in Disney Hotels, along Onitsha-Owerri Road when operatives of the DSS, acting on a tip-off swooped on him. He managed to escape with bullet wounds and relocated to the house of his elder brother in Ohafia, Abia State to treat himself when men of the secret police eventually apprehended him. He was subsequently taken to court and remanded in Owerri Central Prison.
While in the prison, Vampire, unfortunately, continued with his criminal exploits unhindered. He capitalized on the porosity of security in the prisons and turned himself into the ‘Lord of the Manor’ – no thanks to gullible officials of the prisons. He reportedly converted some serving officials of the prison and formed a new gang inside while awaiting trial. One of the officials identified as Chukwuma Agim allegedly assembled a six-man gang headed by one Chiboy also known as Ezekudele and they carried out several operations in Imo state aimed at raising funds for Vampire’s freedom.
In one of the operations, they abducted a middle-aged woman and got a ransom of N5m but after the operation, operatives of the Inspector-General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team, IRT, headed by indefatigable Assistant Commissioner of Police, ACP, Abba Kyari, succeeded in rounding up five members of the gang , including the prison official various parts of Imo state.
Surprisingly, that did not deter the rot and connivance of other prison officials in Owerri as they continued to aid and abet not only Vampire but other dreaded criminals inside the prisons. Crime Guard learned that the invasion of the court was planned and executed inside the prisons by new members of the gang in connivance with some officials of Owerri Central Prison.
Feelers revealed that both Vampire and other hardened criminals awaiting trial in the prison had virtually turned officials of the prison into errand boys. The prisoners are known to have free access to all communication gadgets including laptops, assorted high- wired telephones etc. In fact, it was revealed that robbery and kidnapping operations are freely planned and perfected inside the prison after which members of the gang outside would execute the operations and deliver proceeds to their gang leaders awaiting trial.
Most of the time, they have evening rendezvous inside the prison where they review their exploits in the full glare of officials of the prison officials said to be ready to do their bidding for a fee.
On the day of the attack inside Owerri High Court, sources said only five officials of the prison accompanied about 50 awaiting trial inmates to the court without handcuffs. The suspects were left under one shade inside the court instead of being locked up in the cells provided inside there. People were freely allowed to mingle with them and that was why the gangsters that earlier arrived the court in an SUV capitalized on the security lapses and struck.
Eyewitnesses said as soon as they swung into action by releasing volley of bullets in a staccato manner, one of them quickly handed over an AK47 assault rifle to their mentor, Vampire who tuned into Rambo and perfected what he knows how to do better. They all shot their way to freedom and even forced other awaiting trial inmates to join them in escaping from the scene. While the shooting raged, sources said the Commissioner of Police, Imo state; Taiwo Lakano was forced to rush to the scene with his personal aids and engaged the rampaging criminals in a fierce battle.
Unfortunately, they disappeared from the scene without trace. Their escape has placed all the security agencies in the country on red alert and feelers from Force headquarters, Abuja indicated that all units involved in chasing criminals have been mobilized and directed to swing into action with a view to arresting the fleeing Vampire and members of his gang.