Pandemonium, yesterday, enveloped Owerri, the Imo State capital, following the attack on the state’s Police headquarters and the National Correctional Services (NCS), Owerri, with about 1,844 inmates on the run by yetto- be identified gunmen.
New Telegraph gathered that the attack, which was well coordinated, commenced between 1:30 a.m. yesterday, with suspects in police cells and prison inmates released in what observers claim may yet be the biggest jailbreak in this part of the country.
The Owerri prison and the Police headquarters are next door to the Imo State Government House, but gunmen only mutilated the deserted Government House gate with bullets, but did enter.
It was gathered that while the 1,844 inmates escaped, 36 of them stayed back while six were rearrested, according to New Telegraph’s investigations.
The Police Command, according to checks, did not record any casualty as policemen on duty at the command headquarters had reportedly fled while the gunmen attacked the prison facility.
The gunmen swept into the police headquarters and freed all suspects detained in the cells of the Tactical Unit at the headquarters. New Telegraph also gathered that only suspects detained at the Anti- kidnapping Unit, which is located near the Shell Camp Police Division, did not escape.
A police source told our correspondent that the attackers were sure-footed as they moved straight and took over the Police control, neutralising any possibility of mobilising the Police formations across the state.
Though they did not find the armoury, it was, however, gathered that the gunmen did a total mop-up of all the firearms available within the command’s precinct before burning what was left.
As at last count, more than 40 vehicles were burnt within the police premises alongside some tactical units. In similar fashion, the assailants, on gaining entry into the prison facility, promptly destroyed all the Close Circuit Televisions (CCTV) mounted within and around the prison facility before they moved straight to the records unit where they gathered all the files and set them ablaze.
The gunmen, who showcased heavy fire power, seemed to have come from outside the state as some drove in from Orji side of the state (Enugu road), while others got away through Onitsha road.
It is, however, believed that the gunmen were armed with rocket launchers, explosives and other high-caliber firearms.
By dawn, some videos of the smouldering fire occasioned by the torching of different areas of the Police Command and the prison facility were already in circulation. President Muhammadu Buhari has described the attacks on the Imo State Police headquarters and state’s Correctional facility in Owerri as acts of terrorism.
This came just as he directed security and intelligence agencies to arrest the perpetrators of the attacks. In a statement issued by his spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, President Buhari praised the initial response by security guards and security forces for preventing greater loss of lives and the destruction of public property.
He directed security and intelligence agencies in the state and the geopolitical zone to fully mobilize and go after the terrorists, apprehend them and get them punished under the full weight of the law.
The President also called for the best efforts to be made to re-arrest the fleeing prison detainees, many of whom are believed to be deadly criminals, while appealing to members of 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.
Following the attack, Governor Hope Uzodinma, it was gathered, quickly convened an emergency security meeting.
The governor had, yesterday, cut short his Easter trip to his country home, Omuma and returned to Owerri for the security meeting. Speaking with journalists after a tour of the two institutions alongside top chiefs of other security agencies like the Army,
DSS, Civil Defence, the Police, and the Correctional Services Centre, Uzodimma said the attacks were both cowardly and politically-motivated.
He said the primary intent of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) members, who carried out the attack, was to create fears in the minds of the people and, at the same time, strive to secure the release of their fellow criminals in custody.
New Telegraph further gathered that top on the agenda of the meeting was the attack and the precarious security situation in the state.
Though the Police Situation Report (SITREP) had reportedly accused the IPOB of carrying out the attack, the group has since refuted the allegation. IPOB, however, issued a statement by its spokesman, Emma Powerful, and obtained electronically by our correspondent.
The statement reads in part: “The attention of the IPOB 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. IPOB and ESN are known groups and not ‘unknown gunmen’.
“ESN is in the bush chasing Fulani terrorists, why link 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.”
The statement stressed that IPOB was formed on principle of peace and we are still in it.
‘Unknown gunmen’ is a different people, which we don’t know, and they are not IPOB or ESN security outfit. In a police wireless message sighted by the New Telegraph, the men were ordered to move immediately to Imo and on arrival there, should report to the Imo State Commissioner of Police for briefing and deployment.
The policemen were drawn from Mopol 8 Jos, 12 Minna, 13 Makurdi, 15 Ilorin, 21 FCT Abuja, 37 Lokoja, 38 Akwanga, 50 Kubwa, 58 Lafia, 61 Kontagora, 69 Toto, 70 Kabba and 77 Okene. The heads of these squadrons were ordered to raise one fully armed unit each to proceed to the distressed state.
The message states: “IGP Directs as a matter of urgency that you raise one fully armed unit each to proceed to Owerri in Imo State for special duty with immediate effect. On arrival, units are to report to Compol DFA Owerri for briefing and deployment. You’re all directed to acknowledge receipt and ensure compliance and treat it as very important please.”
Meanwhile, Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, yesterday, imposed a curfew on Aba, the commercial nerve of the state and Umuahia, the state capital.
Abia State Commissioner for Information, John Okiyi-Kalu, said the decision is informed by the need to continue to protect innocent citizens and residents of the state, following security reports from multiple sources. Okoiyi-Kalu said: “Security agencies in the state have been directed to ensure strict enforcement and compliance with the directive.
Only those on essential services with proper identification are exempted from the curfew. “We urge traditional rulers, men of the state;s Homeland Security Team and Community Vigilante Services in the state to monitor movement of persons within their respective domains and take necessary measures to protect the people and their property.”
Meanwhile, a retired senior Police officer in Imo State, Mr. Okwundu Udogu, told our correspondent that the police formations in the state were not like people on red alert at the time of the attack.
He said: “With the way these gunmen caught the entire Police formation in Imo State napping, you do not need anybody to tell you that intelligence was mismanaged and the state Commissioner of Police should take the blame.
“Knowing of an impending attack, why were more policemen not mobilised for night duty?
Why were there no deliberate show of force and visible deployment of men to strategic positions in the state to showcase readiness for whatever it is worth?
The Police authorities should be blamed for the breach of security in the state