The Nation has revealed how gunmen looted police armoury, freed detainees in Imo State.
The Imo Police Command headquarters and the Correctional Centre in Owerri, the state capital, came under heavy attacks yesterday by gunmen.
They looted the armoury and burnt vehicles after freeing no fewer than 600 detainees at the police headquarters.
A police source said the hoodlums took away sophisticated arms and set the rest ablaze.
But the police said the armoury was not looted.
The Nigerian Correctional Service said the hoodlums freed at least 1,844 inmates.
Eyewitnesses said it was like an action movie as the hoodlums, armed with dynamites, launched the attack on the correctional facility near the Government House along Okigwe Road.
It was gathered that one person was killed along Okigwe Road near the correctional centre and two others along Onitsha Road.
It could not be confirmed whether the incidents were connected to the attacks.
Eyewitnesses said the attacks started around 1.30 am and ended two hours later.
Our correspondent gathered that the hoodlums, who came from Okigwe axis, converged on the Imo State Government House roundabout.
They burnt two police vans and a motorbike at the roundabout and sang solidarity songs.
They were said to have circled the roundabout, chanting various incantations for about 30 minutes before setting out to attack the police headquarters.
Heavy gunshots rang out as the assailants approached the command headquarters and launched the dynamites on the administrative building housing the state Criminal Investigative Department (CID).
They broke open the cells and freed almost every suspect in detention after overwhelming policemen on duty, who fled.
The only unit the hoodlums did not attack, The Nation gathered, is the anti-kidnapping unit, which is located at Shell Camp, some meters away from the main offices in the police barracks.
Sources said the hoodlums were heard telling the detainees and prisoners: “You have been released because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead today.”
After freeing the detainees, the hoodlums set off the explosives which exploded into the night skies.
Done with the police headquarters, they moved to the Correctional Centre.
They forced the prison gates open with dynamites and freed the prisoners.
An eyewitness, who simply identified himself as Francis, said: “I live opposite the Government College Owerri, a few metres away from the Prisons headquarters.
“At about 1 am, we heard a bombshell that shook the foundation of our building. When I came out, I saw prisoners, both old men and young people, running away naked.
“They collected clothes I washed to cover themselves. Some sympathisers were throwing dresses to them from their storey building.
“Some of the gunmen were wearing tortoise shells on their necks; they were shouting: ‘IPOB, IPOB. Who say men no dey, men dey.’”
A source at the Correctional Centre said only 11 of the over 2,000 inmates refused to leave.
“Since I was born, I have never seen nor heard the kind of gunshots that I heard early this morning (yesterday).
“Our happiness is that there was no casualty. Those who have gunshot wounds are receiving treatments in the hospital,” the source said.
It was learnt that as the hoodlums left through Onitsha Road, they got to an Army checkpoint at Ukwu Orji and attacked the soldiers, who abandoned their operational vehicles and fled into the bush.
The thugs set the military vans ablaze.
Roads were littered with the debris of the shattered vehicles and buildings.
Soldiers later took over the Okigwe roundabout and road leading to the Correctional Centre, diverting traffic to other routes.
‘1,844 inmates freed’
The Nigerian Correctional Service confirmed that 1,844 inmates were set free in the attack.
Its spokesman, Francis Enobore, in a statement in Abuja, said the attackers stormed the facilities at about 0215 hours.
He said the Acting Controller-General of the Service had ordered an investigation.
According to him, the attackers “gained entrance into the premises by using explosives to blast the administrative block “
Six inmates, he said, had voluntarily returned to the facility so far, while 35 refused to escape.
Enobore said: “They were said to have arrived the centre in large number in many Hilux pick-up vans and Sienna buses armed with sophisticated weapons.
“They immediately engaged the security personnel on duty in a fierce gun battle. They eventually detonated the explosive to gain entrance.
”The Acting Controller-General of Corrections, John Mrabure, has ordered a comprehensive investigation into the incident.
“In collaboration with other security organisations, a search and recover operation to recapture the fleeing inmates has commenced.
“While appealing to the good citizens of Imo State and indeed Nigerians to volunteer useful intelligence that will facilitate the recovery effort, the Ag. Controller-General wishes to assure that the security of custodial centres in the country remains sacrosanct.
“He directed all officers attached to custodial facilities to remain vigilant at this trying moment in our history.”
Files missing as governor orders probe
Piles of files in the records unit of the Correctional Centre were burnt to ashes.
The spokesman of the centre, James Madugba, said the hoodlums also destroyed the Closed-circuit television (CCTV) on the premises.
He, however, said details of the inmates were saved in computer files.
Governor Hope Uzodimma summoned heads of security agencies in the state to a meeting.
Security was beefed up within and around the Government House while the meeting lasted.
The governor visited the Correctional Centre and police headquarters and ordered an investigation.
He told reporters: “I have commissioned a comprehensive investigation to find a permanent solution. Until that is done, I don’t want to blame anybody.
“I want to assure our people that the situation is under control. We are currently working with the security agencies to get to the end of the matter. Whoever has done that wants to put fears into our people.
“Luckily for us, no life was lost. However, the properties that were destroyed are unimaginable and unacceptable. We are on top of the situation and there is no need for undue anxiety.
“The body along Okigwe Road is not as a result gunshot or bullet wound. I think the fellow became unconscious as a result of shock. I am not aware of any loss of life on the Onitsha-Owerri Road.”
He appealed for the cooperation of every resident, especially traditional rulers, as security agencies work to fish out the perpetrators.
After the security meeting, the governor said: “The gunmen were at the police headquarters where they destroyed 38 vehicles and also set the facilities ablaze.
“Efforts by the gunmen to penetrate into the Imo State Government House were not successful as they ended up shooting sporadically at the entrance gate.”
IGP: perpetrators are IPOB members
Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Mohammed Adamu accused the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its security arm, the Eastern Security Network (ESN), of carrying out the attacks.
He ordered an immediate deployment of additional units of the Police Mobile Force (PMF) and other tactical squads to Imo to strengthen security and prevent further attacks on security formations or any other critical national infrastructure in the state.
Police spokesman Frank Mba said: “Preliminary investigations have revealed that the attackers, who came in their numbers with sophisticated weapons such as general-purpose machine guns (GPMGs), sub-machine guns (SMGs), AK49 rifles, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), improvised explosive devices (IEDs), are members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)/Eastern Security Network (ESN).
“The attempt by the attackers to gain access to the Police armoury at the headquarters was totally and appropriately resisted by police operatives on duty who repelled the attackers and prevented them from breaking in and looting the armoury.”.
The armoury, Mba said, was intact, adding that the police suffered no casualty. He said a constable sustained a minor bullet wound on his shoulder.
He said the police had recovered one of the operational vehicles of the attackers, which is being subjected to forensic scrutiny.
The IGP, he said, condemned the attacks and had directed the Commissioner of Police, Imo State Command, and a new Special Investigation Team (set up to deal with cases of incessant attacks on security formation/operatives in the region), to carry out holistic investigations into the incident.
Adamu urged the CP to harness the security reinforcement squads and other operational assets at his disposal to take the battle to the doorsteps of the attackers and prevent any further attack in the state.
He described the deliberate and criminal attack on security operatives as an assault on the soul of the country and urged leaders to speak out against the unfolding violence and criminality.
“The IGP calls on citizens to avail the police and other security agencies with useful information that can assist in identifying and arresting the criminals.
“He vowed that the perpetrators will be brought to book, noting that the force is doing all within its powers to curb the activities of unscrupulous elements hell-bent on threatening the unity, safety, security and socio-economic wellbeing of Nigerians,” he said.
IPOB denies culpability
IPOB denied any involvement in the attacks, saying it remained non-violent.
Its spokesman, Emma Powerful, in a statement, dismissed “the fallacious and fabricated news that IPOB and ESN are involved in the attack of prison and police headquarters in Owerri, Imo State”.
He added: “IPOB and ESN are known groups, not unknown gunmen. ESN is in the bush chasing terrorists. Why link IPOB and ESN to this attack?
“IPOB and ESN were not involved in the attack in Owerri and the recent attack on Onitsha-Owerri Road at Ukwuorji junction. It is not our mandate to attack security personnel or prison facilities.”
IPOB leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, tweeted that “no single soul deserves to be in prison in Nigeria.”
In a tweet yesterday via his Twitter handle @MaziNnamdiKanu, he stated: “If Miyetti Allah terror herdsmen & other murderous #Fulani groups, including Boko Haram insurgents can be arrested, freed and rehabilitated by this neo-colonial Fulanised @NGRPresident, then no single soul deserves to be in any prison in Nigeria. If you know you know! #UGM.”
Abia imposes curfew
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of neighbouring Abia State directed the imposition of a curfew in Umuahia, the state capital, and Aba, the commercial centre.
Commissioner for Information, John Okiyi-Kalu, in a statement, said the curfew would begin from 10 pm to 6 am as from yesterday until further notice.
The statement reads:
“This is sequel to security reports received from multiple sources and informed by the need to continue to protect innocent citizens and residents of the state.
“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 Homeland Security Team and community vigilante services to monitor the movement of persons within their respective domains and take necessary measures to protect the people and their property.
“All law-abiding citizens are advised to go about their normal duties, outside the curfew period, without fear of molestation as the security architecture of the state is robust enough to guarantee their safety.”