The Easter Monday jailbreak at the Owerri Correctional Centre and attacks on the Imo State Police Command headquarters in Owerri and a military base in Ukwuorji on the Owerri-Onitsha Expressway have remained the most vicious onslaught on the state and its citizens since its creation in 1976.
Gunmen had attacked the correctional centre around 1am and freed 1,884 inmates. Before attacking the facility, which shares boundaries with the Government House and the police command headquarters, the attackers had sung songs at the Government House roundabout for over 30 minutes.
The attackers reportedly told the inmates, “Go home. Jesus Christ has risen. You have no reason to be here again.”
Investigation revealed that the attackers, who were armed with sophisticated weapons, overpowered soldiers keeping guard on the route to the centre and seized their service rifles.
The Deputy Controller, Owerri Custodian Centre, Seye Olukoya told the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, when he visited, that the attackers had disarmed the military men and used dynamites to destroy the administrative department of the facility before gaining entry to free the inmates.
On gaining access into the facility, the gunmen vandalised the Closed Circuit Television and burnt the record profiling all the serving and ex-inmates before proceeding into the cells to free the inmates.
Done with their assignment, the gunmen torched and vandalised all the vehicles on the premises before proceeding to the police command headquarters, which is a stone’s throw from the correctional centre to set it ablaze.
Finding by our correspondent revealed that over 100 inmates followed the attackers to the police command headquarters to set it ablaze and released almost all the suspects in custody at the State Criminal Investigation Department.
The attackers also razed no fewer than 50 vehicles at the command headquarters before fleeing. But what baffled most Nigerians is how the gunmen operated without any form of resistance from security agents.
Investigation revealed that when the attackers got to the police command headquarters, they immediately took over the control/communications unit and disconnected all the gadgets. They did this in order to have a smooth operation.
After freeing over 600 suspects, they proceeded to a military base in Ukwuorji on the Owerri-Onitsha Expressway. On sighting the attackers, who operated in over 10 vehicles, the military men ran into the bush and occupied the villages of their host community of Eziama Obiator in the Mbaitoli Local Government Area of the state.
Unfortunately, one of the soldiers, identified simply as Zuki, who hailed from Umuopkara in the Nkwerre Local Government Area of the state, was apprehended by the gunmen, who locked him up in one of the military operational vehicles and torched it. They supervised the burning to death of the soldier before they fled after they had burnt four other operational vehicles.
In the attacks, which many have described as a huge embarrassment to the Nigerian security hierarchy, two persons lost their lives. One soldier was burnt by the gunmen and an inmate of the correctional centre died as a result of stampede.
Shortly after the attacks, the immediate past Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, alleged that operatives of the Eastern Security Network linked to the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra masterminded the attacks, but the Governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodimma, said aggrieved politicians in the state sponsored the attacks.
A retired Assistant Director of the Department of State Service, Dennis Amachree, said the Imo State Government and the Commissioner of Police in the state, Nasiru Muhammed, were informed three times before the attack.
Speaking on a television programme, the ex-DSS director said, “There was enough intelligence and enough actionable intelligence. Actionable in the sense that it allows for space for people to execute it; one week ahead of the event and of course 72 hours before the event and then 48 hours before the event.
“So, three times, the Nigeria Police Force was informed by the DSS that this is going to happen because some suspects that are being relocated around the area were found surveying the prisons and the police headquarters but you know in our lackadaisical way, when the intelligence came, they threw it by the side and when something happens, everybody runs around.”
Amachree stressed that the state governor was aware that the prison and the police headquarters were about to be attacked.
An Owerri resident, Ori Martins said, “The recent attacks are really heartbreaking. There are questions to ask, one: how did the hoodlums gain entry into a highly secure public facility like the police command, attack it and harmlessly escape without any of them being caught or brought down? This is an absurdity. It does not make sense to me! As far as I am concerned, the police authorities in Imo State should investigate their rank and file for complicity.
“Number two, the gunmen still stopped over at the correctional centre and freed inmates without any hindrance. This is magical. And I ask, what is the distance between Okigwe Road and the command from the 32 Field Artillery Brigade, Obinze? What were those at radio rooms or communications rooms doing? Let us take for granted that they ran for their lives. What of their private phones? You see, the security authorities in Imo State must tell Imolites and indeed all Nigerians what really went amiss.”
A former publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress in the state, Jones Onwuasoanya, challenged the police to tell Nigerians how many pieces of ammunition were taken away.
He said, “My sympathy is with those who think this is nothing. The police haven’t told us how many pieces of ammunition were carted away by these guys from the prisons, to the police headquarters, to the army checkpoint they set ablaze. One can only imagine what their armoury looks like after the operation.”
A public commentator based in the state, Izuchukwu Akwarandu, said, “The attacks are highly condemnable. It goes a long way to show how porous the state is. I sympathise with the security agencies over these recent attacks, which seem to have overwhelmed them.
“However it is important that they go back to the drawing board. Investigations must be thorough and detailed. Speculations must reduce to avoid unnecessary tensions.
“The government must stand out and restore confidence in the land. People are afraid. With the increasing attacks across the state, nobody knows the next place to hit. The government must be proactive.”
An Owerri based legal practitioner, Anthony Ibe, said Nigeria had turned into one of the hotbeds of crises in Africa.
He stated, “Violent clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers all over the country, especially in the South-East region and agitation for succession by IPOB all deserve urgent intervention and a multifaceted approach from all stakeholders.
“One fundamental cause of this dilemma is the absence of good governance in the polity.
“The government of the day has failed in its constitutional duty, which is to protect lives and ensure the welfare of the citizens.
“Ending violent conflicts and building sustainable peace require complex strategies, which include cooperation with other stakeholders, good governance, transparency, accountability and respect for the federal character principle.”
The National President of the Igbo National Conference, Chilos Godsent, said the attacks called for concern of the Igbo.
He stated, “The Igbo National Council Worldwide has noted with a heavy heart the unprovoked, wanton and coordinated attacks on the federal correctional centre and police force headquarters, Owerri, by yet-to-be identified gunmen on Monday, April 5, 2021.
“The most terrifying aspect of the devilish attacks was the release of over 1,844 prison inmates into the society.
“While we condemn the attacks in their totality, we also urge the Federal Government to detribalise the process of recruitment, training and promotion of Nigerian security operatives.”
The National President, Ohanaeze Youth Council, Igboayaka O. Igboayaka, blamed the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) for the insecurity in the country.
He said, “I use this opportunity to call on well-meaning individuals close to those in the corridors of power to advice Mr President, who has stretched the elastic limit of Nigeria’s unity much to its end where it will cut.
“Unfortunately, today the most senior and most qualified and experienced DIG, Moses Jitoboh, has been retired just to pave the way to qualify an unqualified person.
“It’s a pity that the new IGP has boasted that he will stop secession agitation in Nigeria, but he knows that his appointment against Mr Moses Jitoboh, who is more qualified than him, is part of the reasons why agitation for Nigeria’s disintegration has increased to a large proportion.
The Peoples Democratic Party’s Publicity Secretary in Imo State, Ogubundu Nwadike, condemned the attacks and said the state government had failed in protecting the people.
He said, “In all sincerity, the attacks are most condemnable. They are attacks on the collective interest of the country and Imo State. The damage was on the national commonwealth, while the illegal release of prisoners was a felony against the security tissues and the fibre of Nigeria and our territorial integrity. In many respects, it’s a strong testament and evidence of the severe threat to the unity, peace, and progress of the country.”
The Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Print Media, Modestus Nwamkpa, however, said the government was on top of the situation.
He said, “Well, the attacks were unfortunate as they were barbaric and ungodly. What happened should be condemned by all irrespective of political leaning. The matter should not be politicised or sensationalised by anybody, but rather, it calls for patriotic cooperation and support to the governor in his efforts at tackling the issue.