A preliminary investigation by the Nigeria Police Force has revealed that the attack on a correctional facility and police cells on Monday morning in Owerri, Imo State, Southeast Nigeria, were perpetrated by members of a proscribed secessionist group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Mohammed Adamu, Nigerian Police Inspector-General, said the coordinated attacks were carried out by members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the militant outfit of the IPOB.
“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),” Adamu was quoted as saying in a statement by Frank Mba, the police spokesperson.
HumAngle earlier reported how the assailants stormed the Owerri Correctional Centre around midnight on Monday.
According to Francis Enobore, the spokesperson of the correctional centre, the attackers arrived in several Hilux vans and Sienna buses, armed with sophisticated weapons.
They gained entrance into the yard by using explosives to blast the administrative block and engaged security personnel on duty in a “fierce gun battle.”
Enobore said a total of 1,844 inmates in custody were forcefully released.
According to him, “six inmates have so far voluntarily returned to the facility while 35 inmates refused to escape from custody during the attack.”
The assailants also attacked the State Police Headquarters and torched vehicles parked on the premises.
They also freed detainees in the cell of the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID).
No one died in the attack on the police headquarters but a police officer sustained bullet wounds, police said.
The IGP said the attackers’ attempt to gain access to the Police armoury at the headquarters was “totally and appropriately resisted by police officers 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,” he said.
He 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 in the state.
Similarly, John Mrabure, the Acting Controller-General of Nigerian Correctional Service, also directed a comprehensive investigation into the incident.
With collaboration with other security organisations, the agency had begun search and recovery operations to recapture the fleeing inmates.
IPOB Denies Responsibility For Attacks
However, the IPOB has distanced itself from Monday’s attacks.
Emma Powerful, the group’s spokesperson, said in a statement issued in Owerri, that the group was formed on the “principle of peace and would not compromise its principles.”
It would also not attack the government’s facilities, he said.
“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,” Powerful said.
“IPOB and Eastern Security Network (ESN) are known groups, not unknown gunmen. ESN is in the bush chasing terrorists and has 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 added.
The incident adds up to a growing number of attacks on security formations in the Southern part of the country.
In January, HumAngle noted the gradual build-up of tension and violent confrontation between separatists and security forces, and IPOB exploitation of deepening social grievances, perceived marginalisation and deterioration of economic opportunities in the Southeast.
From indications, the growing crisis requires intelligence-based security interventions and efforts to address the underlying stressors sustaining the agitation.
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