From George Onyejiuwa, Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri and Molly Kilete, Abuja
There is tension in Imo State as gunmen numbering about 30 in the early hours of yesterday invaded the Omuma in Oru East Local Government Area country home of the governor, Hope Uzodimma and set his house on fire.
The gunmen also killed an official of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) who confronted them at the house.
According to an eyewitness, the gunmen who came in three SUVs and other vehicles, dressed in black and army camouflage arrived at the compound at about 8:30a.m, and started shooting sporadically in the air before launching their rocket to rip the entrance gate to the compound open.
Also, several cars parked in the compound were said to have been burnt, including Uzodimma’s Rolls Royce, which was parked in a garage just as the security house was razed.
The fire, however, was said to have affected only a part of his house even as an eyewitness said that efforts by the governor’s neighbours helped in extinguishing the fire before the arrival of fire fighters.
However, prompt response by combine team of the military, police, Air Force and NSCDC saved further damage to the governor’s house, but a police sergeant, and another official of the NSCDC was killed by the gunmen at Mgbidi junction while making good their escape.
The state police spokesperson, Orlando Ikeokwu confirmed the incident, but stated that the hoodlums only attempted to raze the governor’s house, but were repelled by the gallant efforts of the security deployed to the scene.
Ikeokwu, however, confirmed that three security operatives were killed in the incident.
He said: “I can confirm the story, the hoodlums attacked the governor’s house by throwing in petrol bomb as a result of which two cars were burnt.
“But they were successfully repelled, and none of the building was set ablaze, however, one unarmed personnel of the NSCDC was killed in the process, the hoodlums while escaping also killed a Police Sergeant and another NSCDC personnel both in their private vehicles at Mgbidi junction.”
But a reliable source in the community told Sunday Sun that he saw six persons in critical condition being hurriedly moved out of the governor’s residence, but could not confirm if they survived the attack or not.
“These people are looking mean, they drove in a large convoy and headed straight to the governor’s house, they threw a bomb because we heard a loud explosion and some of them went in while some of them remained outside.
“They were shooting heavily as they made their way into the building, we saw some of them outside carrying tyres which they used in setting the vehicles outside ablaze,” the source said.
Another source who also did not want his name mentioned said that he felt the gunmen actually came to kill the governor.
“From what I saw from my house, these people are dangerous and I think they came to kill the governor. From the way they were shooting and bombing everywhere you will think the war has started. We were all afraid, we thought they will come for us in our buildings, but they never did until they left,” he narrated.
Another resident of the community, Obiozor Tony, whose house is close to that of the governor disclosed that he and members of his family had to lie down flat for fear of being hit by bullets as a result of the barrage of gunfire by both the attackers and the security at the governor’s house.
“At about 9:50 a.m there was a sudden outburst of gunfire. My house is opposite that of the governor, I and my wife had to lie down flat on the floor to avoid being hit by stray bullets because some had already landed on our roof,” he said.
Also, Modestus Uzo said that initially the people did not know what was happening until they started hearing gunshot.
His words: “Initially, we did not know what is happening until we started hearing gunfire around the governor’s house that we knew that something was wrong. And so, people started running helter skelter to avoid being hit. You know that today is Saturday and there is lot of events and so many people were caught unawares.”
However, Sunday Sun gathered from sources in Omuma village that the attack followed the attempted arrest of an IPOB commander in the state popularly known as Ikonso by a combined team of soldiers and the Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Squad early in the morning of yesterday.
According to security sources, after the fierce gun battle, the security team recovered the remains of Ikonso Commander and that of six of his fighters while several sophisticated weapons including six AK-47 rifles, hundreds of ammunition of different caliber and lots of charms, including bullet-proof charms were recovered from them.
The security operatives comprising personnel from the Nigerian army, police and the Department of State Services (DSS), were said to have destroyed the operational base and headquarters of the IPOB, located at Awomama village in Oru East Local Government Area and killed the overall commander of the group in the Southeast, Ikonso Commander and six others in the operation.
Commander Ikonso is said to be the vice president designate as well as the coordinator of all the groups in the region.
Three policemen and one army officer who sustained gunshot injuries during the operation are said to be receiving treatment at an undisclosed hospital.
“Angered by the brazen invasion and destruction by the security operatives, a detachment of youths suspected to be members of the IPOB arrived at the community and marched straight to Mgbidi, Oru West LGA, where they confronted some security operatives.
“From Mgbidi, they marched to Omuma community and first of all set a police station there ablaze before matching to the governor’s house to attack it”, one of the sources told our correspondent.
But the Imo police spokesman, Orlando Ikeokwu, insisted that no police station was set ablaze.
Following the attack on Governor Uzodimma’s house major roads leading to the Omuma community has been taken over by joint military/police roadblocks as commuters who are either coming from the Onitsha end or those coming from the Owerri axis were ordered out of their vehicles, searched and then ordered to raise up their hands before they are allowed to walk past the barricades.
Soldiers have also blocked the roads leading to the governor’s community, leaving residents trapped in their homes.
One of the residents, Cliff Ihegbulem said: “As I speak with you now, I am indoors and watching events from my house, nobody is allowed to come out, our neighbour that came out is still crying from the severe beating he received from the military from daring their orders.”
Meanwhile, the Imo State government has linked the attack to the detractors of the state government.
The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, in a statement, noted that the attack on the governor’s house was politically motivated even as he commended the security operatives drafted to save the situation.
He said: “Gallant security operatives this morning repelled an attack on the Omuma country home of the governor of Imo State, Sen. Hope Uzodimma.
“At 9:00a.m today, Saturday, April 24th, a group of hoodlums numbering about 15 driving in a motorcade of three vehicles accompanied by a tipper loaded with used tyres, stormed the country home of the governor in Omuma, Oru East LGA and attempted to burn down the house.
“However, vigilant security operatives attached to the governor’s house successfully repelled the attack and consequently minimised the damage they had planned to unleash.
“In the crossfire that ensued a few casualties were recorded. Preliminary investigation suggests that the foiled attack may have been politically sponsored.
“The government has directed the relevant security agencies to expedite investigation on the incident and promptly apprehend the sponsors and their agents and bring them to justice.”
But IPOB in a statement late last night signed by its Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, entitled “Killing of ESN Commander: Hope Uzodimma has stirred the hornet net,” said that they “strongly condemn the unprovoked attack on some members of IPOB and ESN operatives at Oguta junction at Mgbidi, along Owerri road Onitsha expressway by a joint security force comprising the the army, police and DSS operatives, with the support of Imo State government.
“The killing of the heroic innocent Biafrans protecting our communities and towns from Fulani terrorists herdsmen masquerading as cattle herders in cold blood is very painful.”
The group, therefore, vowed that “Uzodinma and all those who had a hand in this wickedness will pay dearly. Hope Uzodinma and his cowardly Nigerian security agencies that cannot confront Fulani terrorists, but only flex their muscles when they see Biafra agitators. For murdering Ikonso, the ESN unit Commander in cold blood, Uzodinma has stirred the hornet nest! He should get ready for a sting.”
IPOB alleged that “Uzodima decided to kill Ikonso because he refused his offer to head Ebubeagu ghost security outfit formed by South East governors. Uzodima has tried but without success to lure ESN operatives into Ebubeagu. He had made irresistible offers to them, which were turned down, hence his resorting to elimination of these patriotic heroes who vowed never to betray Biafra.”