Gunmen in the early hours of Monday attacked the Nigeria Correctional Service, Owerri, the Imo State capital and the state police command headquarters.
Also, on Monday, gunmen killed two persons and burnt operational vehicles of the Nigerian Army when they attacked a military base at Umuorji on the Owerri- Onitsha expressway.
The headquarters of the NCoS said 1,844 inmates fled the facility in Owerri during the attack.
Amid increasing spate of attacks on security formations in the South-East, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), described the attacks in Imo State as terrorism and ordered security agencies to apprehend the culprits.
On his part, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, blamed the Indigenous People of Biafra and the Eastern Security Network for the attacks.
But IPOB in its reaction denied involvement in the attack, saying its men were in the bush chasing herdsmen.
An officer of the NCoS, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, said the gunmen arrived at the correctional centre at 1am and operated till 3am.
The hoodlums engaged in a shooting spree and freed no fewer than 1,844 inmates of the correctional service before setting vehicles on fire.
Our correspondents gathered that the hoodlums gained access into the centre with the aid of explosives and told the inmates to go home, saying “Jesus has risen, you have no reason to be here again.”
They were said to have sung solidarity songs at the Government House roundabout for about 30 minutes before attacking the facility.
It was gathered that the armed guards of the facility fled as the invaders stormed the facility. An officer said wardens sustained injuries as they fled.
The officer, who confided in The PUNCH, said the hoodlums carted away arms and ammunition and destroyed the closed-circuit television of the centre during the attack.
At the state police command, it was learnt that the gunmen burnt almost all the vehicles parked at the command and freed all the suspects in almost all the cells at the state Criminal Investigation Department.
The PUNCH observed that only the anti-kidnapping department of the state CID was spared by the attackers.
The gunmen, who operated in over 10 vehicles, also attacked soldiers at Umuorji on the Owerri-Onitsha expressway.
A villager told one of our correspondents that the hoodlums burnt the operational vehicles of the soldiers, as the military men fled the area.
Two persons including a soldier died during the attack.
When contacted, the police spokesperson in the state, Orlando Ikeokwu, confirmed the attacks.
He, however, assured the people of the state that the security agencies were on top of the matter.
Confirming the attack on the NCoS, the spokesman for the Owerri correctional service, James Madugba, in an interview with one of our correspondents, stated that the attackers also destroyed the prison records.
But while the correctional service headquarters said 1,844 inmates fled, Madugba stated 1,800 prisoners were at large.
He stated only six inmates had been rearrested by the command. He said, “About 1,800 inmates are at large as we speak. We have been able to re-arrest six inmates. If you add the number to what we have at the centre, we are talking about 42 inmates in our custody.
“The gunmen destroyed the CCTV of the centre and burnt the prison’s records but all hope is not lost. In the era of the ICT, we will be relying on the ICT to retrieve the information of the fleeing inmates and go after them.”
Uzodimma summons emergency meeting with security chiefs
Following the jailbreak, the state Governor, Hope Uzodimma, convened an emergency meeting with heads of all the security agencies in the state at the Government House, Owerri.
The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, who confirmed the security meeting to one of our correspondents in a telephone conversation, said that the government was on top of the situation.
In a statement on Monday, the spokesman for the NCoS, Francis Enobore, said 1,884 inmates fled the prison during the attack.
The statement titled, ‘Owerri custodial centre attacked by unknown gunmen,’ stated, “The Owerri Custodial Centre in Imo State has been attacked by unknown gunmen and forcefully released a total of 1,844 inmates in custody.”
He explained that six inmates had so far voluntarily returned to the facility while 35 inmates refused to escape from custody during the attack.
“While appealing to the good citizens of Imo State and indeed Nigerians to volunteer useful intelligence that will facilitate the recovery effort, the acting Controller-General wishes to assure that the security of custodial centres in the country remains sacrosanct.”
Following the attack in Owerri, the Governor of Abia State, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, on Monday directed the imposition of a curfew on Aba and Umuahia metropolis.
The curfew holds between 10pm and 6am daily from Monday 5, April, 2021 till further notice.
The state Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi-Kalu, in a statement in Umuahia, stated, “This is sequel to security reports received from multiple sources, and informed by the need to continue to protect innocent citizens and residents of the state.”
The governor therefore directed security agencies in the state to ensure strict enforcement and compliance with the directive, except for those on essential services with proper identification are exempted from the curfew.
IPOB, ESN masterminded attacks on police formation, Owerri correctional centre – IG
The Inspector-General of Police accused IPOB and the ESN of attacking the police headquarters of and the NCoS in Owerri.
The IG said he had ordered the immediate deployment of additional units of Police Mobile Force and other police tactical squads in the state to strengthen security and prevent further attacks on security formations or other critical national infrastructure in the state.
A statement on Monday by the Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba said,” Preliminary investigations have revealed that the attackers, who came in their numbers with sophisticated weapons such as General-Purpose Machine Guns, Sub-Machine Guns, AK49 rifles, Rocket Propelled Grenades, Improvised Explosive Devices, are members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra/Eastern Security Network.
“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, the police said, was intact, adding that the police suffered no casualty, apart from a constable who sustained a minor bullet wound on his shoulder.
The statement titled, ‘Imo attack: IGP deploys security reinforcement squads, sets up special investigation team,’ said one of the operational vehicles of the attackers had been recovered and was being subjected to forensic scrutiny and investigations.
The IG, who described the deliberate and criminal attack on security operatives as an attack on the soul of the country, enjoined leaders in the state, the South-East and other parts of the country to speak out against the unfolding violence and criminality.
But IPOB said it was not involved in the attack.
IPOB’s spokesperson, Emma Powerful, in a statement on Monday, said that it was “ fallacious” linking IPOB and the operatives of the ESN to the attacks.
According to the statement, the ESN operatives were in the bushes chasing herdsmen and couldn’t have attacked the facilities.
The statement read, “The attention of the Indigenous People of Biafra has been drawn again to the fallacious and fabricated news that IPOB and ESN are involved in the attack of prison and police headquarters in Owerri Imo State.
The apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation Ohanaeze Ndigbo condemned the attacks.
Ohanaeze however, called for immediate restructuring of Nigeria’s security architecture to decentralize the security to regions and states to takes care of their security needs.
Ohanaeze spokesman, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, who spoke with one of our correspondents on telephone, expressed concern about the worsening security situation across the country in general and Sout- East in particular, querying “where are we going with all these happenings.”
Ogbonnia stated “What is happening in Nigeria and in Igboland for now in particular is very worrisome; and one will begin to think where are we going with all these things. When they were growing Ohanaeze requested that government should be on top of the situation. It appears to me that on daily basis the situation is on the increase, and is very worrisome.
“If you look at the front page of newspapers on a daily basis you will be seeing killings, banditry, Boko Haram, this and that nothing positive. So, the question is where are we going with it.
“Ohanaeze called on the Federal Government earlier on to try to be on top of the situation but it appears to all of us that the Federal Government doesn’t have the capacity to stop or contain the level of violence in Nigeria.
“Our own interpretation of the whole scenario is that unwittingly the Federal Government has allowed the Fulani herdsmen the indulgence of carrying arms. And because of that, it has escalated to a point where it has become difficult for us to know the extent of where the arms can go in Nigeria.
“It is a major problem. It is an ill-wind that blows no one any good. So, the solution to it as far as Ohanaeze is concerned is restructuring so security management can be decentralised. In states for example where you say a governor is the chief security officer, but a governor doesn’t have control over security of his state. He doesn’t have power, he doesn’t have authority over all the security architecture within the state.
Ohanaeze insisted that the only way to come out of this scenario is restructuring. “Restructuring of security architecture that each state, region or what we call zone to have the authority over the security architecture of their area.”
Buhari Says Imo Attack, Act Of terrorism
The President described the attacks as an act of terrorism.
He therefore directed the nation’s security agencies to ensure that the culprits were brought to book.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, disclosed this in a statement titled, “President Buhari condemns daring terrorist attacks in Imo.”
Buhari reportedly appealed to members of the public to assist security agents with information that could lead to the arrest of the criminals.
The statement read, “President Muhammadu Buhari has condemned the deadly insurgent attack that took place on the Police Command Headquarters and the correctional facility in Owerri, Imo State, on Monday, calling it an act of terrorism.
“In his reaction to the incident early on Monday, President Buhari praised 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.”