More than 1,800 inmates have escaped after heavily armed men attacked a prison in southern Nigeria using explosives, prison authorities said Monday, in one of the country’s largest jailbreaks.
The attackers blasted their way into the Owerri prison in Imo state, engaging guards in a gun battle, the national corrections authority said in a statement.
“I can confirm that the Imo State command of the Nigerian Correctional Service was attacked by unknown gunmen in Owerri,” Imo state corrections service spokesman James Madugba said adding that the number of escaped inmates was yet to be confirmed.
The assailants arrived in pickup trucks and buses before storming the facility, the correction authority said, adding that the situation is under control.
President Muhammadu Buhari in a statement called the attack an “act of terrorism” and urged security forces to capture the assailants and the escaped detainees.
The governor of neighbouring Abia state, Okezie Ikpazu imposed a night curfew on two towns there after the prison escape, a statement said, to protect local residents.
Imo state is part of a region that has long been a hotbed for separatist groups and where tensions between federal authorities and the indigenous Igbo population are often high.
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) separatist movement has recently been posting videos on social media of dozens of its militiamen in training.
Authorities imposed a curfew on parts of Imo State earlier this year after clashes between the army and the local militia.
But IPOB spokesman Emmanuel Powerful rejected any involvement in the Imo prison attack in a statement he released dismissing any accusations as “lies”.
The Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Mohammed Adamu has revealed that the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Eastern Security Network (ESN) is behind the attack that was carried out on the Imo prison facility.
The IGP’s statement comes few hours after gunmen on Monday in the early hours attacked the Nigerian Correctional Services and the Police Headquarters in the state freeing an unspecified number of prison 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.
.The IGP in a series of tweets 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), 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”.
Following the attack, the IGP 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.
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.
The IGP 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 doorsteps of the attackers and prevent any further attack anywhere within the State and its environs”, he added.
The IGP, who described the deliberate and criminal attack on security operatives as an attack on the soul of “our nation”, called 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.
He also enjoined leaders in Imo State, the South-East and other parts of the country to speak out against the unfolding violence and criminality.