ANOLU VINCENT;INNOCENT OWEH;JOSEPH UNDU
Following accusation by the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has distanced itself from Monday’s attacks on police and correctional service headquarters in Imo State where 1,844 inmates were freed.
Emma Powerful, Media and Publicity Secretary, IPOB, said in a statement issued in Owerri on Monday that the group was formed on the principle of peace and would not compromise its principles.
It would also not attack government’s facilities, he stated.
“The attention of IPOB has been drawn to the fallacious and fabricated reports that it is involved in the attack of prison and police headquarters in Imo.
“IPOB and Eastern Security Network (ESN) are known groups, not unknown gunmen. ESN is in the bush chasing terrorists and have no business with the said attacks.
“We 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,” he stated.
The headquarters of the police in Imo as well as that of the correctional service were attacked about 2a.m. on Monday by unknown gunmen.
According to Francis Enobore, Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Correctional Service, 1,844 inmates in custody at the Owerri Custodial Centre were forcefully released by the gunmen.
He said the attackers, who stormed the facility about 0215hrs on Monday, 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”, he said.
The PRO said 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 operations to recapture the fleeing inmates.
He said 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 equally directed all officers attached to custodial facilities to remain vigilant at this trying moment in our history.
“As at the last count, six inmates have so far voluntarily returned to the facility while 35 inmates refused to escape from custody during the attack”, he noted.
Similarly, unknown gunmen attacked Ukworji army checkpoint along Owerri-Onitsha Road in Imo State, rained bullets on the personnel, forcing them to flee and burnt down their operational vehicles.
It was not clear if any of the army personnel was shot dead.
“Soldiers in Ukworji checkpoint, along Owerri-Onitsha road escaped death as they ran away on sighting the unknown gunmen who invaded the checkpoint and set all the operational vans on fire,” a witness said on Twitter.
IGP Deploys Security Reinforcement Squads, Begins Investigation
In the meantime, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has ordered the immediate deployment of additional units of Police Mobile Force (PMF) and other Police Tactical Squads to Imo State to strengthen security in the state and prevent further attacks on security formations or any other critical national infrastructure in the state.
The IGP gave the directives following the attack on security operatives and formations, including the Imo State Police Command Headquarters and the headquarters of the Nigerian Correctional Services (NCS) in Owerri in the early hours of Monday.
According to CP Frank Mba, Force Public Relations Officer, 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) were 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,” Mba said.
He disclosed that one of the operational vehicles of the attackers had been recovered by the police and was currently being subjected to forensic scrutiny and investigations.
He added: “The IGP, who condemned the attack on the security outfits, has further directed the Commissioner of Police, Imo State Command, and a new Special Investigation Team (specifically set up to deal with cases of incessant attacks on security formation/operatives in the region), to carry out holistic investigations into the incident with a view to fishing out the perpetrators and bringing them to justice.
“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 environs.
“The IGP, who described the deliberate and criminal attack on security operatives as an attack on the soul of our nation, has enjoined leaders in Imo State, the South-East and other parts of the country 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.”
Buhari Orders Security Personnel To Go After Fleeing Prisoners
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has condemned the attack on the Police Command Headquarters and the Correctional facility in Owerri, Imo State, on Monday, calling it an act of terrorism.
In his reaction to the incident early on Monday, President Buhari praised the initial response by security guards and security forces in preventing greater loss of life and destruction of public property.
The president 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 according to the law.
He also called for the best efforts to be made to re-arrest fleeing detainees and convicts, many of whom are believed to be deadly criminals.
The president, who spoke through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, was said to have appealed 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 the despicable act.
“Members of the public have to be vigilant as all of us have 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,” Buhari noted.
Similarly, Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State has condemned the attacks and called for a thorough investigation into the incident.
In a statement on Monday by Oguwike Nwachuku, Chief Press Secretary and Media Adviser to the governor, Uzodimma noted that criminal elements claiming to be members of IPOB had attacked the Imo State Police headquarters and Owerri Correctional Services Centre with dynamites, destroying buildings, vehicles and other sensitive official materials and unlawfully setting free inmates which the authorities said were more than 1800.
Speaking to newsmen after a tour of the two institutions in the company of chiefs of other security agencies like the Army, DSS, Civil Defence, the Police, and the Correctional Services Centre, Governor Uzodimma said the attacks were both cowardly and politically motivated.
He said the primary intendment of the 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.
However, Governor Uzodimma noted that the government was on top of the situation, knowing full well that the primary reason government exists was the protection of lives and property of the citizenry.
He said he had met with the heads of security agencies in the state to evaluate the incident and was confident the situation had been brought under control.
“We are on top of the situation and there is no need for undue anxiety,” the governor said.
He said given the magnitude of the attacks, the damage done and sophisticated weapons deployed in the attack, he had directed that a comprehensive investigation into the situation be carried out with a view to establishing the faces behind the heinous crime.
The governor reiterated that the plan of the perpetrators of the despicable atrocity, which was to cause panic and fear in the state, had already collapsed.
Governor Uzodimma urged Imo citizens and visitors alike to go about their normal businesses without fear of molestation, noting that government was abreast of the situation and would do all within her behest to protect the lives and property of residents.
He also used the opportunity to advise parents to rein in their wards and resist the temptation of being used as cannon fodder in a war of attrition being orchestrated by desperate politicians hiding behind criminal elements.
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