Unidentified attackers set fire to a correctional facility and the police investigations department in Owerri overnight Monday, according to social media reports.
The assailants hit the prison and police department shortly after midnight, according to multimedia and eyewitnesses accounts on social media, freeing an unconfirmed number of inmates and suspects.
Heavy gunfire could be heard across the Imo State capital, with one source suggesting that hundreds of inmates had fled.
The exact number of inmates who escaped is unknown, but Amnesty International reported over the weekend that Owerri Correctional Centre had 2,156 inmates, compared to its installed capacity of 548.
The extent of the damage and the number of casualties were not immediately clear, but images posted on Twitter showed heavy smoke billowing from what posts said were the scenes of the more than two-hour-long assault.
Residents in various parts of Owerri reported hearing heavy gunshots and explosions, but Imo police spokesman Godson Orlando told Peoples Gazette he was unaware of the violence.
Orlando, a police superintendent, told The Gazette by phone at 4:48 a.m: “I am just hearing it from you now.” I’ll have to wait until later today to find out what happened,” says the narrator.
A request for comment was not immediately returned by a spokesperson for Abuja’s correctional headquarters.
The attack occurred as tensions between Nigerian security forces and supporters of the IPOB separatist movement in the country’s south-east escalated. Repeated clashes between Nigerian troops and IPOB elements have occurred in Imo, Rivers, Abia, and Anambra since January, with both sides denying responsibility for civilian casualties.