Owerri prison attack: Over 1,800 inmates escaped, police fingers IPOB


The Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) says 1,844 inmates escaped on Monday after gunmen attacked its facility in Owerri, Imo state. 

The federal prison and the police command headquarters in Owerri were attacked in the early hours of Monday.

According to a statement issued on Monday, Francis Enobore, public relations officer (PRO) of the NCS, said six inmates have voluntarily returned to the facility, while 35 refused to escape from custody during the attack.

“The Owerri Custodial Centre in Imo State has been attacked by unknown gunmen and forcefully released a total of 1,844 inmates in custody,” Enobore said.

“The attackers who stormed the facility at about 0215hrs on Monday 5th April, 2021, gained entrance into the yard by using explosives to blast the administrative block.

“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.”

Enobore added that John Mrabure, the acting controller-general of corrections, has ordered a comprehensive investigation into the incident.

“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,” the spokesman said.

“He equally directed all officers attached to custodial facilities to remain vigilant at this trying moment in our history.”

The inspector-general of police, Mohammed Adamu, has alleged that the invasion was carried out by the Eastern Security Network, an outfit of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

Police spokesperson, Frank Mba, in a statement on Monday, 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 is thus intact! Similarly, the police suffered no human casualty, apart from a police constable who sustained a minor bullet wound on his shoulder.”

The IGP, who described the incident as an attack on “the soul of the nation”, called on members of the public to cooperate with the police on providing useful information that will lead to the arrest of the gunmen.

He also enjoined south-east leaders “to speak out against the unfolding violence and criminality”.

The police spokesman, however, added that the IGP has ordered the deployment of additional squads “to strengthen security in the state and prevent further attacks on security formations or any other critical national infrastructure in the state”.

He noted that a vehicle said to have conveyed the gunmen has been recovered, while the Imo commissioner of police has been directed to set up a special investigation team dedicated to addressing attacks on security formations in the state.

“The CP is to harness the security reinforcement squads and other operational assets at his disposal to take the battle to the door-steps of the attackers and prevent any further attack anywhere within the state and its environs,” Mba added.

Meanwhile, Imo governor, Hope Uzodimma says the gunmen attempted to invade the state government house on Monday but were not successful.

Uzodimma said this after holding a state security council meeting at the government house, Owerri.

The governor said some of the 1844 inmates freed by the gunmen had started returning voluntarily while others had been rearrested.

“It has been an eventful day today being Easter Monday in Imo as yet to be ascertained gunmen attacked the correctional service centre, setting some facilities ablaze and releasing some inmates,” 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.”

The governor said an enquiry panel had been set up to look into the incident with a view to finding out the circumstances surrounding the attack.

He said government and security agencies will get to the root of the matter to fish out the perpetrators.

Uzodimma assured residents of the state of their safety, assuring that security agencies will be more proactive to forestall a reoccurrence.

IPOB had earlier denied carrying out the attacks.

In a statement, IPOB spokesman, Emma Powerful, said it is not in the group’s “mandate” to perpetrate such crimes.

Powerful said the information linking the group or its security outfit, ESN, is fallacious.

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