It was like Biafran war, prison inmates escaped through my compound
-Chief Reginald Ebere
From Chijioke Agwu, Abakaliki
Chief Reginald Ebere from Amawom village in Owerri Municipal Council, Imo State, witnessed the recent attack on the Correctional Centre in Owerri, Imo State. He told Saturday Sun what he witnessed that night.
You are one of the persons that witnessed the attack on the Correctional Centre and Police Headquarters in Owerri, Imo State. How did it happen; what can you say about the incident?
The incident took place around 1:13 am that day. We started hearing gunshots; it was not sporadic at the beginning. And it was faint; like coming from a distance. But gradually, the gunshots became closer and sporadic. Everyone in the neighbourhood became apprehensive. I thought of what to do. I called Chief Dan Okoro, who is the security adviser to Governor Hope Uzodinma. I told him that there was shooting in Owerri. He said he was hearing the shootings too. He told me that it could be from the Air Force people. I said no, that the shooting was coming from an axis around the Okigwe Road and the Bank Road; which is the prison area.
Shortly after, my friend in the USA sent me a message through WhatsApp that unknown persons set the Imo Prison ablaze and released inmates. That was around 4:55 am. Then I forwarded the message to Dan Okoro, the Governor’s SA on Security. It was then that he started making calls. But I didn’t know the persons he called but I suspected it must be the various state security networks that he was calling to alert.
In the morning after the attack, what was the mood of the city?
Before 7am that day, the news of what happened had gone viral on most social media platforms. So, people were being advised to stay in their homes until there was security information that people could go out. And if you must go out, you must move with a valid identification card because security personnel flooded the state capital. So, nobody was in a hurry to move out that day until later in the morning, from around 9 to 10.
The gunmen were said to have released inmates in the prison during the attack. Was there anything like that?
Yes, as early as 6am that day, we started seeing people running helter-skelter from the prison side like what we saw during the Biafra war. Some of them who are still young were running as fast as their legs could carry them while others who were old were just walking but moving out of the prison.
One of them; a very old man, he said he was 90 years old. He said he is from Ngor Okpala. He walked into my compound and sat down. I asked him; he said some people came and opened the prison and asked them to go. The man said he had been in the prison for a long time over murder case and that every other person in the case except him had died. He said he was innocent of the allegation. There were also some of the inmates who refused to run; they just sat down there waiting for day to break.
Was there any casualty during the attack?
There was no case or record of death, except one of the inmates who was reportedly injured by stray bullet. No security person was killed. I think that the attackers came to release some persons from the prison because after they threw something like dynamite and opened the prison, they picked their friends and moved out immediately. No trace of them anywhere. They didn’t touch anybody except that they burnt many vehicles.
It was strange that the attack happened without resistance from security agencies. What can you say about that?
You know the EndSARS protests across the country affected the morale of security agents. Many of them were afraid to face attackers. All you need to clear your way and do whatever you want to do now is just a gunshot, all the police and army personnel will run away. You saw the pictures and videos of the army checkpoint that they attacked and razed. It is terrible. That’s all I know about the attack.
I saw police officers with AK47 rifles running for their lives
–Damian Paul Nwokeoma
You live close to the Imo Prisons. Could you relive your experience that day?
Sincerely talking that was the most horrible and fearful day of my life and that of the members of my family. In fact, I was woken up by the sporadic shootings around the prison premises because our house is very close to the prison. What separates our house with the prisons is just a fence. When I peeped through my window, I saw men with AK47 jumping into our compound. Some of them were just in boxers while others were just in plain trousers. At that point I got very scared because I did not know whether they were Fulani herdsmen or Boko Haram. In fact, some of them ran towards the orange tree to hide. And all this while, the sounds of shootings was continuing. I had to call my brother to please provide us with reinforcement because I don’t really know what their mission was. I must tell you I have never been so afraid in all my life because I had to say my last prayers. When I called my brother on his cell phone that he should please tell the Imo State Police Commissioner that we had some strange, armed men in our compound, he said the CP had informed him that the mobile policemen who he had already deployed around the Government House would take care of the situation. It was then that I got more afraid.
Were your parents in the house?
In fact, that was my main concern because my father is over 80 years and my mother is 78 years and they are hypertensive. It was when I called my brother to send police reinforcement to our compound that he knew. He got hysterical and was trying to run out of the house. But I stopped him and covered his mouth from shouting so that he would not attract attention of the men already in our compound. So, I quietly took him back to his room and lay him down on the floor. My mother was already running to the kitchen and also shouting, ‘God save us oooo.’ I took her back to the room where my father was already and ask her to lie down. There after, I took my children from their room and took them to the same room where both my mother and father were already lying down on the floor and then locked them inside. All the while, the sporadic shootings which started around 1 :45 am continued unabated both from the direction of the prisons and the police headquarters.
Those who had scaled your fence and jumped into your house, were they the freed inmates or the police?
The attackers had ended their operation around 3:45 am. So, around 5am when I came out, I got to know that those armed men who had jumped into our compound were in fact the police officers at the Government House who were running for dear life. This is because they were not in uniform like I said earlier. Most of them were in boxers without any clothes on. Only one had his trousers on without any clothes on him. But they all had their AK47s with them. I thanked God that my parents were able to survive that situation.
Any plans of relocating from your present abode?
Exactly. In fact, we wanted to sell the house some years ago but my brothers had said no. Now, with this terrible experience we have agreed to relocate to Abuja. In fact, my brother and sister have told my parents that they have to relocate to Abuja. As I speak, my parents are yet to recover from the shock of that terrible morning of Easter Monday. Anybody who lives around this area will tell you that it was indeed a terrible day because nobody in his wildest imagination would have thought that armed men would destroy the prisons and police headquarters because this was the most secured area of the state. But it happened. Even the prison warders had to run for their lives and some of them told me that they had to hide at the Government Secondary School Owerri to escape.
It was like war; armed policemen, warders ran to hide in our compound
What was your experience like on that Easter Monday?
I first heard gunshot sounds around the prisons because we live close to the Government House. In fact the house we are living in right now was part of the former government quarters, which were later sold to retirees. When I heard that sound and the rapid shootings that followed, my instinct told me that was something definitely wrong. This was some minutes past 1am. Then after some minutes, people started running into our compound. Some even scaled the fence of a Judge of the Federal High Court who is our neighbour. Some ran into Rockview Hotel, which is opposite our own compound. And I was very frightened because we don’t know what was actually happening except that the shootings were continuous. It was like a war.
My mother who is hypertensive nearly collapsed, because we were sort of trapped, especially when people continued to jump into our compound from the SCID with arms as the shootings continued. I had to reassure my mother to calm down and to lie down, that nothing would happen to us.
I became more frightened when I heard the singing by these attackers close to the Government House, as the sound of heavy gunfire continued. I made a silent prayer that God, please spare us this Monday, especially as it was Easter Monday.
Did any of the freed inmates run into your compound?
No, Those who actually ran into our compound by jumping through the fence were the police and warders who had come to hide. The inmates we learnt followed the Okigwe Road. But the policemen and prison warders. However, it was not a good experience for those of us who live within the area and I thanked God my mother survived that bad experience.