From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja, George Onyejiuwa, Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
There were tension, fear and confusion in Imo State, yesterday, as gunmen attacked the police headquarters and the Correctional Centre in Owerri and set free over 1,800 inmates.
The attackers, allegedly detonated improvised explosive devices which turned to fire and razed the correctional facility.
A witness told Daily Sun that they came in several Hilux vans and were barefooted as they stormed the institutions located around the Government House, Owerri, at about 1am.
Reports said the attackers hit their targets with with dynamites. Even the military men that were contacted to protect the scene were said to have been overpowered by the heavy weapons of the men cladded in black.
The source further said the attackers burnt some vehicles parked at the entrance of the command headquarters.
It was also gathered that the hoodlums confronted soldiers stationed at Umuorji on Owerri/Onitsha Expressway as well as at Akabo on Okigwe road.
They reportedly sang solidarity songs and danced at the Government House roundabout for about 30 minutes before attacking the facilities.
On breaking into the prison facility, the attackers had allegedly told inmates: “Go home, Jesus has risen. You have no reason to be here.”
Police spokesman in the state, Orlando Ikeokwu, confirmed the attacks but assured the people that the security agencies were on top of the matter.
According to him, the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID) section of the command was the only place attacked by the gunmen at the headquarters.
Imo State correctional service confirmed that 1,800 inmates were still at large following the attack while six inmates have so far been rearrested.
Its Public Relations Officer, James Madugba, said the gunmen besides freeing the inmates also destroyed the prison records that profiled all the inmates and destroyed the Closed Circuit Television.
“About 1,800 inmates are at large as we speak. We have been able to rearrest six inmates. If you add the number to what we have at the centre, we have about 42 inmates in our custody.
“The gunmen destroyed the CCTV and burnt the prison’s records but all hope is not lost. With the era of ICT, we will be relying on the ICT to retrieve the information of the fleeing inmates and go after them.”
Following the incident which occurred in the wee hours, security agents had condoned off major streets in the state capital while residents grappled with palpable fear.
The attackers cladded in black attires were said to have chanted slogans like: “Who say men no dey” and sang solidarity songs just like the Eastern Security Network of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
However, the IPOB has since denied the involvement of the ESN in the attacks, including the alleged killing of four northern traders in Umuaka, Orlu area.
Media and Publicity Scribe of IPOB, Emma Powerful, in a statement reiterated that neither it nor its security outfit was formed to attack security forces. It said their targets were Fulani killer herders in the forests.
He said: “ESN is in the bush chasing Fulani terrorists, why linking 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 Ukwuorji Junction. It is not our mandate to attack security personnel or prison facilities.”
• Uzodimma condemn attack
Governor Hope Uzodimm has visited and inspected the extent of damage at the police command and the correctional centre where he disclosed he was already working in synergy with the security agencies to arrest those behind the dastardly act.
He said the intention of the attacks was to create tension in the state and make it vulnerable, but the governor affirmed that his administration would rise to the occasion and continue to protect the lives and property of citizens.
• Condemnations trail attacks
Former military administrator of Delta State, Air Commodore Luke Ochulor (retd) described what happened as shocking and alarming, adding that it has shown that insecurity was gaining ground everywhere in the country.
He urged the security agencies to intensify effort in arresting those involved or else the situation may get out of hand.
Also, elder statesman, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu expressed shock over the ugly incident in Owerri, noting such incident never happened before in the state regarded to be the most peaceful in the country.
However, he enjoined security agencies to double their efforts in arresting those behind the attack while urging the state government to live up to expectation of safeguarding the lives and property of the citizens.
For Mike Ahamba: “Anybody attacking a correctional centre is not well, what are they looking for in the facility meant to correct the atrocities of those sent to that place. This act should be condemned in its entirety and government should try and unravel the mystery behind the attack.”
• Terminate this anarchy now, Buhari orders security agencies
President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered relevant security agencies to terminate what he referred to as anarchy.
According to a statement by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, Buhari who called yesterday’s incident an act of terrorism, praised the initial response by security guards and security forces for preventing greater loss of life and the destruction of public property.
He directed security and intelligence agencies in the state and the geo-political zone to fully mobilise and go after the terrorists, apprehend them and get them punished under the full weight of the law.
He further charged them to ensure they rearrest fleeing prisoners, many of whom are believed to be deadly criminals.
President Buhari also appealed to the public to assist the law enforcement agencies with any relevant information that could lead to the apprehension of the criminals who perpetrated this despicable act.
• It’s attack on soul of our nation –IGP
The Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, has described the attack as one on the soul of the nation.
To this end, the IGP 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.
Adamu, in a statement by Frank Mba, force spokesman, said it was an attack on the soulof the nation, noting that preliminary investigations have revealed that the attackers were members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)/Eastern Security Network (ESN).
The IGP, who condemned the attack on the security outfits, has further 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.