…We thought another Biafran war had started —Resident
By Chidi Nkwopara
The Easter Monday morning attack in Owerri, obviously, took most residents by surprise. That was the candid opinion of most respondents who discussed the mayhem with Sunday Vanguard.
Another truth that must be told is that it was not targeted at any private home or the multiple hospitality outfits in the town. The perpetrators carefully focused their operation on the Imo State Police Command Headquarters and the Nigerian Correctional Service Headquarters, both in Owerri municipality.
The ugly incident may have become history, but it will, definitely, not be forgotten in a hurry. Put simply, it was a day Owerri bowed to criminals!
To all those who live around Okigwe Road, Mbari Street, Works Layout, Ikenegbu Layout, the indigenous villages of Owerri and the adjoining Uratta and Orji communities in Owerri North local government area, it was almost a replica of what happened during the Nigeria/Biafra war.
Indeed, Owerri ground to an abrupt halt, courtesy of a rampaging gang of unidentified armed hoodlums that brazenly stormed specific establishments in the municipality.
The booming guns, which disturbed the silent night, betrayed a few things: It was not a small arms competition, by any military formation! It was equally not a mutiny. The attack was real. The different gunshot sounds proved that different brands of weaponry were deployed in the attack. People were forced to keep awake.
They panicked and prayed. People’s blood pressure increased uncontrollably. Succour only came when the attackers had accomplished their mission and the staccato firing died down. But sleep disappeared completely, from their eyes. One resident, whose chose to remain anonymous, in fact said “with the explosions that rocked Owerri that night, we thought Biafra had started”. Another claimed it was some war of sort “because there were explosions throughout the night and we could not sleep or go out to see what was happening because of fear”.
But at daybreak, it was discovered that the State Police Headquarters had been ravaged. Similarly, the Correctional Centre, which was also attacked, had been reduced to a ghost of its former self, while the inmates disappeared.
Some people called it a jail break. Others preferred to term it “a forceful injection of hardened criminals into the society”.
The implications of this development worried a lot of concerned citizens, especially as it was also discovered that suspected criminals in police cells, were also let loose.
Discussing the incident, the State Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Nze Ray Emeana, had a different thinking.
He said: “How on earth could this attack be made possible considering the location of the federal establishments in the city centre?
“They (attacked facilities) are close to the Government House and the residence of the Commander of 34 Artillery Brigade, as well as the Shell Camp Police Division and barracks. “The attackers must have carried out a careful surveillance of the facilities before storming the places. How come that nobody suspected movements around the targets?
“Whatever happened to the over 4,000 police personnel the Commissioner of Police promised to deploy during the Easter festivities, to ensure adequate security of life and property during the Easter festival?
“It still beats the imagination of Imo people, how the rampaging hoodlums managed to outsmart the security personnel. Imo people are today, to say the least, afraid, uneasy and unsure of their tomorrow.
“We are told that no life was lost. That may be true, but the hypertensive patients obviously, have a different story to tell.
“There were lots of questions begging for answers, but the truth remains the security architecture completely failed under Mohammed Adamu, as the Inspector General of Police.
“The former IGP was quick in blaming IPOB for the attack. Nobody knows the parameters he used in arriving at his preliminary investigation. “There was no arrest whatsoever. Today, the Governor says it is the handiwork of opposition politicians. When criminals unleash mayhem in the society, they don’t discriminate between APC or PDP.
“Which opposition politicians is the Governor referring to? Is it PDP where I belong, or a faction of the All Progressives Congress, APC, where he has serious opposition from within his party.”
IGBO NATIONAL COUNCIL REACTS
As news of the incident spread like wildfire, people and groups joined the fray, including the leadership of Igbo National Council, INC.
Part of their press statement, signed by Chilos Godsent, read: “The Igbo National Council, INC, Worldwide has noted with heavy heart, the unprovoked wanton coordinated attacks on the Federal Correctional Centre and Police Headquarters, Owerri, by unidentified gunmen on the wee hours of Monday April 5, 2021.
“The most terrifying aspect of the devilish attack was the release of over 1,844 prison inmates into the society. While we condemn the attacks in its totality, we also urge the Federal Government to detrabilize the process of recruitment, training and promotion of the members of the Nigeria security operatives.
“We are very surprised that that number of gunmen can move into the heart of Owerri Capital City with the number of vehicles they came with and yet could not be spotted by the police.
“It is noteworthy that there are several police check points within the Government House Roundabout in Owerri. This is a complete failure of intelligence on the side of the security agencies.
“The leadership of IPOB and ESN has also denied carrying out the attack. We therefore urge the Federal Government to carry out a thorough forensic investigation of the ongoing militarization of the South East Zone of Nigeria. We suspect that the attack has political under tone.
“Finally, we demand for the immediate demotion, arrest and trial of all the heads of security agencies in Imo State, for suspected conspiracy and lack of capacity to effectively protect Nigerians of South East extraction.”
An Owerri based public opinion analyst, Dr. Chuks Osuji, also bared his mind on the mayhem in Owerri.
He captioned his position ‘Imo and a cloud of uncertainty without despair’.
His words: “What happened was enough to tremble a community of people in Imo State. “Yet, in the early morning of Easter Monday, after the foundation of Imo community was shaken by volleys of bullets, the people woke up.
“Although threatened and frightened, they gradually but steadily moved around to their various destinations, as if nothing happened.
“Without doubt, those volleys of bullets, which rattled the entire state capital were enough to force the population of Imo State capital to scamper for safety. Nothing of such happened.
“With the exception of one or two bank robberies, which took place in the night, along Wetheral Road, without any loss of human life, Owerri has enjoyed peaceful atmosphere. “Painfully and unfortunately, the peace of the state capital was subjected to violent disturbance by some unidentified culprits who, according to some sources, operated for over three hours, destroying the state police headquarters, burning vehicles and buildings and also rampaging the correction center in the heart of the state capital.
“In the process of this mayhem, several buildings within the premises of the police headquarters were torched and many vehicles parked in the premises were destroyed or even burnt.
“By the time the attackers were through, they had no challenge of whatever kind.
“As usual, tongues have started to wag as to who the suspects were.
“Why there was no challenge from any of the security agencies, and why there was no slightest attack or challenge against the night marauders.”
Osuji opined that while some of the questions were legitimate, many of them were misdirected because, planners of such attack must have perfected their strategies over a period of time.
He said: “I do not share in the blaming of security apparatus for so many reasons. The planners of the attack were no fools because they were professionals in their strategies, in choosing their targets and identified the time of the night when they would strike.
“Those who were blaming the security operatives, including policemen who live in the barracks and soldiers at Obinze, forgot that in every security command, that unless there is a raging war, no soldier or police officer can fire a gun at any target without his superior’s command to do so. At that period of the morning, from the chief security officer to the last recruit, none without the superior’s command can come out to mount counter attack on the marauders
“The only blame that could be apportioned to security personnel in the state is on those not monitoring gatherings, which would have given them a fair knowledge on the attack.
“But now, all is done and gone. They have the opportunity to show their class in intelligence strategy to unravel some of the mysteries and complexities surrounding this attack. It is only after a reasonable time has elapsed and nothing concrete is found out of these great assault and insult on the people of Imo State, by the security operatives that we can begin to apportion blames.”
Continuing, Osuji canvassed that the citizenry should collectively blame themselves for not being able to pick up the slightest information about the impending attack.
“Why did they not speak up? Here, there is concrete evidence of reciprocal blame on the people of imo State. That having been said, the people of Imo State have once more demonstrated resilience without despair. “According to Hubert Humphrey, one of America’s Vice Presidents, ‘the collective will of the people if united, can stop a raging hurricane with their hands wide open.’”
Meanwhile, no fewer than six police facilities have, as at the last count, been attacked and destroyed by hoodlums.
The latest police facility that was attacked and destroyed is located at Mbaitoli local government area.
Reacting to the series of these attacks, a chieftain of Concerned Citizens for Good Governance, Mr. Duru Daniels, warned that “anarchy looms”.
His words: “What we are experiencing today is what usually happens when the people are shortchanged in the social contract, suppressed and never listened to.
“Regrettably, this is just the beginning of more attacks to come, if the leadership of the country does not act fast, and toe the path of fairness, equity and social justice, and not to proscribe a group of people with flags, while still negotiating with those maiming and killing innocent people.
“Again, anarchy looms! Anarchy is at our door post! Anarchy is staring us in the face. The leadership of the country has refused to put out the fire on the mountain top, even when they see the river overflowing. May God help us!”