Friday, 12th April 2024

1,844 inmates roam free after Imo prison break

By Charles Ogugbuaja, Collins Osuji (Owerri), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), John Akubo (Abuja)
06 April 2021   |   4:15 am
The spate of coordinated attacks by suspected separatist fighters against security forces in the Southeast continued yesterday as unknown gunmen in the early hours of Monday attacked the Nigerian Correctional Services....

Mohammed Adamu

• Gunmen invade prison, police headquarters
• Burn over 50 vehicles, sack army checkpoint
• Buhari orders security agencies to go after perpetrators of anarchy
• Uzodinma summons security chiefs, worries over security challenge
• Police IGP fingers IPOB as body denies responsibility
• Ikpeazu imposes curfew in Aba, Umuahia indefinitely 
• HURIWA, S’East youth group seek investigation, allege sabotage

The spate of coordinated attacks by suspected separatist fighters against security forces in the Southeast continued yesterday as unknown gunmen in the early hours of Monday attacked the Nigerian Correctional Services and the police headquarters in Imo State, freeing 1,844 inmates, after which the hoodlums set the facilities ablaze.

During the attack, one person suspected to be a fleeing inmate was hit by a bullet while carrying his travel bag. His lifeless body was seen on the ground in front of the correctional centre located near the Government House, along Okigwe Road.

The gunmen also razed the Imo State Police Command headquarters and burnt almost all the vehicles parked at the command’s headquarters. No fewer than 50 cars were set ablaze in the process. Sources disclosed that after the bandits invaded the command, they also freed scores of detainees.

They were said to have operated from 1:00 a.m. till 3:00 a.m. during which they sang solidarity songs at the Government House roundabout for about 30 minutes before attacking the facilities.

On breaking into the prison facility with the aid of explosives and dynamite, the attackers told the inmates: “Go home, Jesus has risen. You have no reason to be here.”

According to residents of Ikenegbu Layout, Okigwe Road axis of the Correctional Service, Wethdral, there was heavy exchange of gunfire, which was followed by bomb explosion. A resident, simply identified as Paul, said: “I was so terrified. The sound of gunshots was heavy. Those people who invaded the prisons were well armed. They exchanged heavy gunshots for over two hours. I thought the city was gone.”

When contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Orlando Ikeokwu, confirmed the attacks. Also, the Imo State Command of the Nigeria Correctional Service confirmed the attack on its facility.

The Guardian gathered that a sizeable number of the inmates who fled during the prison break earlier in the day have returned. Though movements around the facility were restricted with scores of soldiers deployed to the area, a source from the prison disclosed to The Guardian that around 5:00 p.m., some of the inmates returned to the centre. He said: “Many of the inmates have returned on their own. They have conscience. We saw them return.”

The Nigerian Correctional Service confirmed that 1,844 inmates were set free during the attack on its facility. Public Relations Officer of the Service, Francis Enobore, in a statement in Abuja, said the attackers, around 2:15 a.m. “gained entrance into the yard by using explosives to blast the administrative block and forcefully released a total of 1,844 inmates in custody.”

Enobore explained that as at last count, six inmates voluntarily returned to the facility while 35 inmates refused to escape.

“They were said to have arrived the centre in their large number in several Hilux pick-up vans and Sienna buses armed with sophisticated weapons and 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 and in collaboration with other security organisations, commenced a search and recover operation to recapture the fleeing inmates. He appealed to citizens of the state to volunteer useful intelligence that will facilitate the recovery effort.”

This is the third attack in less than a month on police facilities in Imo. Some officers have also been killed and police facilities destroyed by gunmen who cart away rifles in recent attacks around the South-east and South-south regions.

Some hours after the attack on the correctional facility, a military checkpoint along the Owerri-Onitsha highway also came under attack. The military checkpoint is located at Ukworji village, a few kilometres away from Owerri, the state capital.

It was gathered that the soldiers at the checkpoint quickly withdrew as the attack intensified after the attackers set ablaze a military logistics and a shelter facility serving the checkpoint. Security operatives in Enugu State last week had their encounter with the gunmen.

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has directed all security and intelligence agencies to ensure the arrest and prosecution of all the perpetrators of the deadly attacks on both the Imo Police Command headquarters and the Correctional Facility in Owerri. The president, while reacting to the attack via a release by his media assistant, Garba Shehu, condemned the deadly insurgent attack, and also described it as an act of terrorism.

He praised the initial response by security guards and security forces for preventing greater loss of life and the destruction of public property. The President has, therefore, directed security and intelligence agencies in the state and the Southeast geo-political zone to fully mobilize and go after the terrorists, apprehend them and get them punished under the full weight of the law.

Buhari also called for the best efforts to be made to re-arrest fleeing prison detainees, many of whom are believed to be deadly criminals.

The President also urged members of the public to be vigilant as everyone had a stake in preserving “our way of life from disruption by terrorists and anarchists” while the Federal Government will use every available tool at its disposal to confront and terminate this bare-faced anarchy.

Following the attacks, an emergency security council meeting between Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma, and heads of security agencies in the state was held. The governor’s Senior Special Adviser on Print Media, Modestus Nwamkpa, said Uzodinma condemned the incident, which he described as barbaric and most unfortunate incident.

He said: “What happened is unfortunate, it is barbaric and the government is not happy about it. The governor is determined to ensure that the lives and properties of Imo citizens are protected. Government is on top of the situation.”

HOWEVER, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) denied involvement in the attack. Reacting to the development, IPOB in a statement by its Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, said: “IPOB and Eastern Security Network (ESN) are known group not unknown gunmen. ESN is in the bush chasing Fulani terrorists. Why linking IPOB and ESN to this attack? It is not our mandate to attack security personnel or prison facilities.”

This is coming after Nnamdi Kanu, the director of Radio Biafra London, said since herdsmen, bandits and other murderous groups, including Boko Haram insurgents, can be arrested and rehabilitated by the current administration, “no single soul deserves to be in any prison in Nigeria.”

But in a swift reaction, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, has said that IPOB/ESN was behind the attack carried out on the Imo prison facility. The IGP, while condemning the attack, disclosed that “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), AK-49 rifles, Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), are members of the proscribed IPOB/ESN.

“The attempt by the attackers to gain access to the police armoury at the headquarters was resisted by operatives on duty who repelled the attackers and prevented them from looting the armoury. Similarly, the police suffered no human casualty, apart from a Police Constable who sustained a minor bullet wound on his shoulder.”

Following the attack, the IGP has ordered the immediate deployment of additional units of Police Mobile Force (PMF) and other Police Tactical Squads to the state to strengthen security and prevent further attacks on security formations or any other critical national infrastructure.

He noted that one of the operational vehicles of the attackers has been recovered by the police and is currently being subjected to forensic scrutiny and investigations.

RATTLED by the Imo attacks, the Governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu, has imposed a curfew on Aba and Umuahia communities.The curfew becomes effective immediately between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. daily “till further notice”, Abia State Commissioner for Information, John Kalu, said in a statement.

Abia is bordered by Imo to the west. Kalu said: “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 in the state to monitor 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.”
MEANWHILE, civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), has urged the Federal Government and governors of the Southeast region to investigate the coordinated attacks on strategic national security assets and killing of security agents in the zone.

Specifically, it canvassed the setting up of a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the attack, insisting that saboteurs orchestrated the incident. The group lamented that the gunmen freed the suspects in almost all the cells at the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID) of the command, adding: “The attackers had a free run for a long time without interference or counter attacks from security agents.”

In a statement issued by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko and National Media Affairs Director, Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA said it was clear that the attacks on the Correctional Centre in Owerri took three hours but soldiers at Obinze, the police and the Department of State Services (DSS) could not stop the attacks.
“There is more to it than meets the eyes. This is an unusual occurrence that must be confronted by all means necessary. The gunmen must never be allowed to blossom and take root in the Southeast or anywhere in the South, which have remained relatively peaceful even amid terrorism and armed banditry in much of Northern Nigeria.”