Community lynches fleeing inmate as 85 return

By Damian Duruiheoma, Owerri; Precious Igbonwelundu, Lagos; Sanni Onogu, Tony Akowe, Blessing Olaifa, Abuja and Ogochukwu Anioke, Abakaliki

A man who escaped from the Correctional Centre in Imo State on Monday was set ablaze in his community on Wednesday.

Angry residents of Umuawom village in Ikeduru Local Government Area caught him while allegedly threatening to kill a family member.

The inmate, whose identity could not be ascertained as of press time, hailed from the nearby Ogwa community in Mbaitoli but grew up in Umuawom, his maternal home.

He was said to have been involved in the kidnap of an Umuawom indigene. He was remanded for over a year.

On escaping, he was said to have gone straight to one of the families that testified against him and threatened to deal with the members.

It was gathered that he attempted to carry out his threat by attacking a member of the family with a gun.

Sources said a resident raised the alarm, prompting the villagers to pounce on him, setting him ablaze.

The spokesman of the Imo police command, Orlando Ikeokwu, said he had heard about the incident but was yet to confirm it.

Residents are worried about the likely increase in criminal activities in Imo.

On Tuesday, hoodlums attacked bank customers and snatched their money and valuables at gunpoint on Bank Road and Douglas Road, close to the Government House. One of the victims was robbed of N340,000.

The police seemed to have abandoned patrols, especially around Port Harcourt Road.

Residents of Uratta, Nekede, Naze, Egbu, Egbeada and Orji fear the freed inmates could seek hideouts in the communities.

At Nekede, a young man who runs a phone charging shop was reportedly attacked by one of the escaped inmates.

In Nekede, residents said die-hard criminals were celebrating their escape from jail.

At Uratta in Owerri North council area, it was gathered that one of the traditional rulers whose wife died in kidnappers’ den hurriedly left his palace and relocated to Abuja after learning that the key suspect was in town.

At Akabo in Ikeduru Local Government Area, it was learnt that a returnee prisoner caused a stir as residents became jittery.

It was gathered that three suspected kidnappers of the wife of the owner of ABC Transport were to appear before the court yesterday, but were among those who escaped. It could not be confirmed whether they were among those who returned.

In the Egbu community in Owerri North, the mother of a three-year-old girl, who was serially raped by one of the inmates, went broke down on learn that the suspect was back.

Uzodimma: 85 have returned, attacks sponsored

Imo State Governor Hope Uzodimma said nearly 85 of the inmates had returned.

He said some were reaching out through their lawyers on their intention to return to custody.

The governor said those who attacked the police headquarters and the correctional centre came from outside the state.

The governor, who spoke on Channels, claimed the attacks may have been sponsored by political detractors, and that he was preparing a report.

He said: “Hoodlums were hired from outside Imo State and they pretended to be IPOB (the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra) to commit this crime and go away.

“So, it is not about IPOB. Yes, there are aggrieved IPOB members, but most of those carrying out these attacks were brought from outside Imo State.”

The governor said though the attacks created fear among the people, normal business activities had resumed.

“These wicked people intend to distract and destroy our government. But to the glory of God, they were not successful.

“People were already preparing to address press conferences in Abuja as to what they thought would have happened in Imo,” Uzodimma said.

The Nigerian Correctional Service said 48 of the 1,844 escapees returned yesterday.

The spokesman, Francis Enobore, said in a statement: “As at 1550hrs on Wednesday, the Centre has recovered a total of 48 inmates, thus increasing the number of inmates presently in custody to 84, including those who resisted the temptation to escape during the attack.

“Among the escapees, 11 were recaptured by men of the 211 Nigerian Airforce Base, Owerri; others either came back on their own volition or were returned by their relations, traditional rulers and religious leaders.”

Reps, Abaribe condemn attacks

Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, condemned the surge of violence in the Southeast.

In a statement by his spokesman, Uchenna Awom, he called for a thorough investigation of the Imo attacks.

He expressed worry that the country was fast sliding into anarchy and urged the Federal Government to take drastic steps to address the issue.

“Time has come for sincerity and nationalistic approach by the government to address the myriad of problems besetting the country, especially insecurity and poor management of the country’s diversity,” he said.

The House of Representatives asked security agencies to do everything possible to fish out perpetrators of the attacks.

House Committee on Reformatory Institutions Chairman, Anayo Edwin, said in a statement that those behind the attacks must face the full weight of the law.

“The security agencies must strive to avoid a situation where criminals attack custodial centres at will and set the inmates free,” he said.

He urged security agencies to ensure that those who escaped are re-arrest and that such attacks do not reoccur.

Lagos at alert

Police operatives in Lagos have been placed on alert following the Imo attacks, according to command spokesman, Olumuyiwa Adejobi.

He said the command would ensure robust intelligence gathering, surveillance, sectorising the state for easy policing, constant patrol and deployment of personnel to strategic places and multi-agency collaboration to forestall any attacks.

Ebonyi warns stations

Ebonyi State government warned that any police station that is destroyed by gunmen would be shut.

It urged security agencies to defend themselves and their facilities from further attacks.

Secretary to the State Government, Dr Kenneth Ugbala, who briefed reporters after an enlarged security council meeting, said: “The concerned security agents would also face disciplinary measures as it is their primary responsibility to protect themselves, facilities and the citizens.

”We are worried that men who are commissioned to defend the people are being attacked and we are living as if we have been conquered.

“What would be the fate of the citizens who are not trained to bear arms if security agencies are attacked?

”The situation would make the society appear lawless where people would wake and do whatever they liked,” he said.

In addition to bearing machetes, he said the vigilance outfits to be constituted would bear Dane guns.

“Every community in Ebonyi is to have a five-man vigilante group and that will give us a total of 700 vigilantes in the 13 local government areas of Ebonyi State,” he said.

Igbo think tank seeks holistic probe

A pan-Igbo socio-cultural think tank, Nzuko Umunna, called for a holistic and dispassionate forensic investigation of the attacks, especially with the police disclosure that hoodlums used sophisticated weapons such as general-purpose machine guns (GPMGS), sub-machine guns (SMGS), AK-49 rifles, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGS), and improvised explosive devices (IEDS).

“Nzuko Umunna considers as hasty the police statement that the attackers are members of IPOB)/Eastern Security Network (ESN).

“The level of sophistication of these arms and ammunition call for a more in line with global best practice and devoid of name-calling or scapegoating.

“Accordingly, we call on the Acting Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Usman Alkali Baba, to adopt an entirely different, inclusive and sustainable approach in tackling the security challenges.

“This is to ensure that the government unearths the real masterminds of these wanton attacks and meets its primary duty of securing lives and property in the Southeast and Nigeria generally,” the think tank said in a statement by its Secretary-General Dr Paschal Mbanefo and Co-ordinator, Mr Ngozi Odumuko.

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