…Police command headquarters, vehicles set ablaze
…They threw explosives at us —police officer
…Say gunmen were over 100
…NCoS probes escape of inmates
…IGP deploys security reinforcement squads, sets up special investigation team, SIT
…IPOB denies involvement in Owerri prison attack
…It’s an act of terrorism —Buhari
…I have ordered detailed investigation —Uzodimma
…Ohanaeze Ndigbo sues for peace
By Kingsley Omonobi, Chidi Nkwopara, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Omeiza Ajayi, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Chinonso Alozie & Ugochukwu Alaribe
Anarchy broke out yesterday in Owerri, Imo State, as thousands of prison inmates from Owerri Correctional Center were freed, after heavily armed hoodlums attacked the facility.
Investigations by Vanguard linked the attacks to failure of the authorities to free members of pro-Biafra groups in the correctional facility.
A source claimed there were several warnings, calls, and ultimatum that were ignored by officers of the centre to release them.
An eyewitness who spoke to Vanguard said the operation started at about 1a.m. and ended at 3a.m. “These men are heavily sophisticated. They came in their security vehicles and we thought they were army and police. They were shooting everywhere and went straight to the prison,” the source said.
Another source told Vanguard: “Some days back, we heard of warnings from the Eastern Security Network, ESN, that their members should be freed from that prison or it will be done by force.
“They even gave them 14 days to do that. What you are seeing can be the result of not doing that. However, you can see that the freed inmates are not only members of ESN. Non-members also benefited from it.”
A security officer who didn’t want his name in print, said the attackers used dynamite and sophisticated guns during the attacks.
“Heavy gunshots and explosions could be heard in the area when they arrived with sophisticated weapons, including dynamite and guns. While some of the inmates in the correctional facility refused to go, others have voluntarily returned,” the security officer said.
How attack happened
Explaining how the attack happened, an official said: “At about 0100hrs on Monday (yesterday), armed men suspected to be members of IPOB/ESN in their numbers invaded Owerri Prisons using dynamites and other heavy explosives, gained entrance and released hundreds of the inmates in the prison.
“The hoodlums also attacked the Police Station, Owerri, while firing consistently with AK-47 rifles and explosives, released some suspects detained in the SCID cells and set ablaze many vehicles parked at the headquarters premises, including the SCID office building. The operation lasted close to three hours.”
Vanguard visited the Owerri Correctional Centre located along Okigwe Road and saw different sizes of bags and even religious books as well as writing materials.
Clothes of both male and female inmates were seen on the road sides and at the front of the correctional centre.
Luggages of fleeing inmates were also seen at Wetheral and Assumpta roads and in front of Imo Government House.
An eyewitness who spoke to Vanguard, said: “The inmates decided to abandon their belongings because they think escaping with their bags can give them out easily and some of the bags were heavy for them to carry and run at the same time, so they abandoned them.”
‘Attackers numbered more than 200’
Vanguard gathered that the hoodlums used explosives on Imo State Police headquarters, which shares a common perimetre fence with the prisons, destroying some parts of the buildings. Many vehicles parked in the premises were also burnt.
A police officer who said he would not want his name mentioned, said: “They were over two hundred boys in their cars singing a song of victory and when they reached the gate of our Police headquarters, they threw dynamite at us and the thing exploded and the vehicles caught fire.
“I jumped over the fence because they were many. When they started shooting, a bullet hit one of my colleagues and he fell.”
When Vanguard moved towards Government House Roundabout, two vehicles set ablaze by the hoodlums were senn burning.
It was learned that Njaba Local Government Area secretariat was also attacked, with the doors, windows and vehicles parked in the premises damaged.
The attacks were linked to the hoodlums who broke into the Owerri Correctional Center. The hoodlums were also said to have set ablaze military checkpoints along Onitsha Road and the one around Ugwu Orji in Owerri North Local Government Area.
Vanguard also learned that military men on sighting the hoodlums, took to their heels and abandoned their duty post.
At press time yesterday, it was learned that one person died in the attack, while several others sustained injuries.
NCoS probes escape of 1,844 inmates
Sequel to the attack, the Nigerian Correctional Service, NcoS, launched a probe into what led to the forced release of 1,844 inmates.
Spokesman of the NCoS, CC Francis Enobore in a statement yesterday, explained that the attackers who stormed the facility at about 0215hrs on Monday, April 5, 2021, gained entrance into the yard by using explosives to blast the administrative block.
The attackers were said to have arrived the centre in large numbers in several Hilux pick-up vans and Sienna buses, armed with sophisticated weapons and immediately engaged the security personnel on duty in a fierce gun battle.
“They eventually detonated the explosive to gain entrance,” Enobore stated.
He added that the Acting Controller-General of Corrections, John Mrabure, has ordered a comprehensive investigation into the incident, in collaboration with other security organizations, who yesterday commenced a search-and-recover operation to recapture the fleeing inmates.
“While appealing to the good citizens of Imo State and, indeed, Nigerians to volunteer useful intelligence that will facilitate the recovery effort, the Ag. Controller-General wishes to assure that the security of custodial centres in the country remains sacrosanct.
“He equally directed all officers attached to custodial facilities to remain vigilant at these trying moments in our history. As at the last count, six inmates have so far voluntarily returned to the facility while 35 inmates refused to escape from custody during the attack.”
IGP deploys security reinforcement squads, sets up special investigation teams
Similarly, the Inspector-General of Police, IGP M.A Adamu, yesterday ordered the immediate deployment of additional units of Police Mobile Force, PMF, and other Police Tactical Squads to Imo State to strengthen security in the state and prevent further attacks on security formations or any other critical national infrastructure in the state.
Preliminary investigations, according to the police, have revealed that the attackers, who came in their numbers with sophisticated weapons such as General Purpose Machine Guns, GPMGs, Sub-Machine Guns, SMGs, AK-49 rifles, Rocket Propelled Grenades, RPGs, Improvised Explosive Devices , IEDs, are members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB/Eastern Security Network, ESN.
“The attempt by the attackers to gain access to the Police armoury at the headquarters was totally and appropriately resisted by Police operatives on duty who repelled the attackers and prevented them from breaking-in and looting the armoury.
“The armoury is thus intact! The police suffered no human casualty, apart from a police Constable who sustained a minor bullet wound on his shoulder.
“Meanwhile, one of the operational vehicles of the attackers has been recovered by the Police and is currently being subjected to forensic scrutiny and investigations,” the IGP said in a statement signed Force PRO, CP Frank Mba.
The IGP, who condemned the attack on the security outfits, directed the Commissioner of Police, Imo State Command, and a new Special Investigation Team (specifically set up to deal with cases of incessant attacks on security formation/operatives in the region), “to carry out holistic investigations into the incident, with a view to fishing-out the perpetrators and bringing them to justice.
“The CP is to harness the security reinforcement squads and other operational assets at his disposal to take the battle to the door-steps of the attackers and prevent any further attack anywhere within the state and its environs,” he said.
The IGP, who described the deliberate and criminal attack on security operatives as an attack on the soul of the nation, enjoined leaders in Imo State, the South-East and other parts of the country to speak out against the unfolding violence and criminality.
He equally called on citizens to avail the Police and other security agencies with useful information that could assist in identifying and arresting the criminals.
He vowed that the perpetrators would be brought to book, noting that the Force was doing all within its powers to curb the activities of unscrupulous elements hell-bent on threatening the unity, safety, security and socio-economic well being of Nigerians.
IPOB denies involvement in Owerri prison attack
However, the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, yesterday said its mandate and that of its security arm, Eastern Security Network, ESN, was not the attack on prison and police headquarters in any part of the country or any security agency, including Army, Navy and Air Force, let alone the ones in any Biafra State.
IPOB, however, mocked South-East governors who refused to set up security outfits to confront security threats to the people of the zone.
In a statement by its Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, IPOB denied its alleged involvement in the attack, saying it was not part of its mandate or that of ESN to attack security agents and their facilities, saying IPOB was formed on the principle of peace and is still on it since Biafra actualization was built on a peaceful approach.
IPOB said in a statement: “The attention of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, has been drawn again to the fallacious and fabricated news that IPOB and ESN are involved in the attack on prison and police headquarters in Owerri, Imo State.
“IPOB and ESN are known groups, not unknown gunmen. ESN is in the bush chasing herdsmen, so, why link IPOB and ESN to this attack?
“IPOB and ESN were not involved in the attack in Owerri Imo State and the recent attack on Onitsha, Owerri road at Ukwu-orji junction. It is not our mandate to attack security personnel or prison facilities.
“The Nigeria government and its compromised media outfits should stop linking IPOB and ESN to the multiple attacks going on in Nigeria now.
“IPOB was formed on the principle of peace and we are still on it. Unknown gunmen are people we don’t know and they are not IPOB or ESN security outfit. If the governors or those accusing us know them, they should tell the world and go for their arrest.”
IPOB wondered why anybody will be linking it with the attack on Imo State headquarters of Nigeria Correctional Centre when the authorities at the centre had confirmed that there was no IPOB inmate in the centre that will warrant involvement of the pro-Biafra group in the attack.
I’ve ordered detailed investigation — Uzodimma
Speaking yesterday, Imo State governor, Hope Uzodimma, said he had ordered detailed investigation into the jail break that resulted in hundreds of inmates being freed after hoodlums attacked Owerri correctional facility.
Uzodimma spoke in Owerri yesterday, when he visited the Owerri Correctional Centre along Okigwe Road to see for himself the extent of damage.
He also visited Imo State Police Headquarters that was attacked by the same hoodlums.
He said: “I want to assure our people that the situation is under control. We are currently working with the security agencies to get to the end of the matter. Whoever has done this wants to put fears into our people.
“I have already ordered a detailed investigation into this ugly incident to find the perpetrators of this ugly incident. The lifeless body along Okigwe Road is not a result of gun shot. I think the body became unconscious as a result of shock.
“On Onitsha-Owerri road, I am not aware of any loss of life there. I have commissioned a comprehensive investigation into the causes of the action, with a view to finding a permanent solution to the matter. Until that is done, I don’t want to blame anybody.”
It’s an act of terrorism — Buhari
Reacting to the attacks yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari condemned what he described as “deadly insurgent attack” on the Police Command Headquarters and the correctional facility in Owerri, Imo State, calling it an act of terrorism.
President Buhari in his reaction contained in a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, in Abuja, yesterday, commended the initial response by security guards and security forces for preventing greater loss of life and the destruction of public property.
“The President directed security and intelligence agencies in the state and the geo-political zone to fully mobilize and go after the terrorists, apprehend them and get them punished under the full weight of the law.
“He also called for the best efforts to be made to rearrest fleeing prison detainees, many of whom are believed to be deadly criminals,” the statement read.
President Buhari appealed to members of the public to assist law enforcement agencies with any relevant information that could lead to the apprehension of the criminals who perpetrated the despicable act.
He also urged members of the public to be vigilant, saying “all of us have a stake in preserving our way of life from disruption by terrorists and anarchists, while the Federal Government will use every available tool at its disposal to confront and terminate this bare-faced anarchy.”
Ikpeazu imposes curfew on Umuahia, Aba
In a related development, Okezie Ikpeazu, Abia State governor, has imposed a curfew on Umuahia and Aba metropolis of the state between 10pm and 6am.
He said the decision was a result of security reports from multiple sources.
The governor did not give details of the security reports but said there was “need to continue to protect innocent citizens and residents of the state”.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo sues for peace
Peeved by the security challenges in the South-East, apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, has sued for peace over the killings in Enugu, Ebonyi and Imo states, warning that reprisal attacks will aggravate the situation.
In a statement signed by the Chidi Ibeh faction, the group described as madness, the alleged killings of Northern traders in Imo State by people suspected to be members of Eastern Security Network, ESN.
The group urged the Arewa Consultative Forum and the Northern Elders Forum to restrain their people from reprisal attacks against Ndigbo residing in the North.
It called on the Federal Government to take urgent steps to prevent reprisal attacks, stressing that drastic measures must be adopted to reduce the growing tension in the country.
“Ohanaeze Ndigbo condemns the killing of Northern traders in Imo state as well as the massacre in Ebonyi State.
“There’s no amount of provocative actions sponsored by enemies against the East and North that will pitch the two regions into escalating tensions and war between them again since after 1970.
“The evidences on ground show that there are fears among both Northern communities residing in the East and Ndigbo residing in the North. We sue for peace both in the North and East. Urgent steps must be taken to prevent reprisal attacks both in the North and East,”the statement read.
The group disclosed that it had waded into the crisis by reaching out to various stakeholders in the Nigerian project, such as ethnic and religious leaders and other interest groups.
“We are in touch with various prominent leaders and groups in the country, especially in the North; the Arewa Chieftains and the Arewa youths on the alleged attacks on Northern traders.
“We sympathize with them. Even as investigations are still ongoing, we give assurances to Northern leaders that no Northerner doing genuine business will be molested again. We equally assure Ndigbo residing in the North to be calm as their security is guaranteed.”