In what appeared to be a well-planned attack, about a dozen men armed with AK 47 and grenades on Saturday killed about eight people, including three security personnel, and set the country home of Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State at Omuma, Oru East Local Government Area of the state ablaze.
Several vehicles parked within the premises were also burnt in the latest orgy of violence in the state.
Several other people were wounded and subsequently hospitalised.
The state government said “vigilant security operatives attached to the governor’s house successfully repelled the attack and consequently minimised damage.”
But it claimed the attack was politically motivated.
Moments before the attack, a special security squad had swooped on the alleged operational headquarters of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Eastern Security Network (ESN) in nearby Awoomama, killing a man said to be the coordinator of the recent deadly attacks on the headquarters of the State Police Command and the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) facility both in Owerri.
His name was given as Ikonso.
Killed with him during the sting operation were six members of his gang.
Leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, vowed Saturday night to avenge the death of his aide.
Residents of Omuma said the attack on Uzodinma’s house was launched at about 9am soon after information spread about the overnight attack on Ikonso and his gang.
Some youths allegedly angered by the security raid on Awoomama were said to have marched to Mgidi in Oru West and later to Omuma where the governor’s private residence is located.
The youths were soon joined at the building by the gunmen who came through the Oguta axis of the state.
On their arrival in the town, the gunmen first shot two yet to be identified security men at Oguta Junction dead.
A source said that the hooded gunmen forced their way into Uzodinma’s compound after breaking down the iron gates with the aid of grenade and proceeded to set it and vehicles parked therein ablaze.
Six security men on guard duty at the governor’s residence were said to have been killed by the gunmen, but the police confirmed three dead.
The sound of their gunshots sent some residents scampering for their lives.
Many fled to neighbouring communities including Atta in Njaba and Amiri and Akatta communities in Oru East.
Hundreds of villagers from Ozuh and Etiti villages, Omuma community in Oru East LGA, were also seen fleeing.
A 55-year old Sebastian Nwaiwu, who took his three young children to the nearby Umuoke Village in Atta community in Njaba LGA, told one of our correspondents that he had to run away from the village with his family for fear of more attacks.
“Our coming here was for safety. I believe the attack was not meant for us. But experience has shown that when this kind of thing happens, innocent people are always hit. So, I decided that there is need to take my children and wife out of the village for now,” he said.
On his account of what happened, Nwaiwu said: “My wife had just returned from church around 9 am, and as she entered the kitchen to prepare food for us, we heard gunshots with shouts of commands going on.
“After about two minutes, we heard a deafening sound like bomb. Immediately, we started seeing smoke and it became obvious that Onwa’s (Uzodimma’s) house was under attack.”
Another witness, who identified himself as Chidi Nwaire, said: “We had to run away for now. Already, security people, especially soldiers, are not allowing people cross that area for now, and I understand what this means.
“Later today, I will go back to confirm that the place is calm. For now, there is tension everywhere.
“I had to come here because almost everyone from our place was running towards Amiri. My elder brother and wife ran towards that end, so I decided that I should come here so that if anything happens, we won’t have to be affected together.”
A video recording purportedly of the attack surfaced last night, showing hooded men during the raid. Some of the attackers were dressed in black.
One was seen rushing inside with used tyre ostensibly to start the fire.
The authenticity of the video could not be immediately ascertained.
It’s handiwork of political opponents, says government
The State government said through Information and Strategy Commissioner Declan Emelumba that gallant security operatives repelled the attack on the governor’s country home.
But he said the attack was politically motivated.
His words: “At about 9am today, Saturday, April 24, a group of hoodlums numbering about 15, driving in a motorcade of three vehicles accompanied by a tipper loaded with used tyres, stormed the country home of the governor in Omuma, Oru East LGA and attempted to burn down the house.
“However, vigilant security operatives attached to the governor’s house successfully repelled the attack and consequently minimised the damage they had planned to unleash.
“In the crossfire that ensued, a few casualties were recorded. Preliminary investigation suggests that the foiled attack may have been politically sponsored.
“The government has directed the relevant security agencies to expedite investigation on the incident and promptly apprehend the sponsors and their agents and bring them to justice.
Also reacting, the state’s police command PPRO, Orlando Ikeokwu, said in a statement that the hoodlums threw a petrol bomb at the governor’s house.
He said: “Yes, I can confirm the story. The hoodlums attacked the governor’s house by throwing in petrol bomb as a result of which two cars were burnt. But they were successfully repelled and none of the buildings was set ablaze.
“One unarmed personnel of the NSCDC was killed in the process. The hoodlums, while escaping, also killed a Police Sergeant and another NSCDC personnel who were both in their private vehicles at Mgbidi Junction.”
The Army spokesman, 34 Artillery Brigand Obinze, Imo State, Lt. Babatunde Zubairu told The Nation that soldiers never shot at any youth.
“I am not aware that youths were killed or a woman was shot by the soldiers, but I know that the governor’s house was attacked by unknown gunmen. The police personnel and our men at the compound repelled them,” he said.
Meanwhile, it was learnt that Army Command drafted soldiers from 34 Artillery Brigade Obinze to take over Oru East and West Council Areas of the state to secure the areas against further attacks.
The IPOB Media and Publicity Secretary Emma Powerful declined to talk on the development.
He merely said: “We are not granting interview now, but Uzodimma wants to try us.”
The Coalition of South East Youth Leaders, (COSEYL), in a statement by its President General, Goodluck Ibem, condemned the invasion by hoodlums and the untimely death of security operatives guarding the governor’s house in his country home at Omuma.
“The burning of the governor’s house and killing of security men on duty is wicked and barbaric,” he said.
“The attack on the governor’s residence is purely the handiwork of aggrieved politicians who are not happy with the governor’s stance against corruption and the conversion of state government properties to personal properties.
“No man is above the law, and we wouldn’t want to pre-empt the investigation of our security agents whose job it is to conduct investigation on the attack. But we insist that those involved in this attack must be brought to justice.
“We therefore warn those who have vowed to make the South East that is very peaceful a war zone to park their things and leave immediately.”
Security beefed up in Owerri
Security in and around Owerri was beefed up yesterday soon after the attack on Uzodinma’s country home.
Entry points at the Government House and the National Correctional Centre were blocked by security men.
One lane of Okigwe Road and Bank Road were similarly blocked, leaving one lane of the road for commuters.
The development caused severe traffic jam within the city.
Some Hilux vans loaded with battle ready soldiers and policemen were seen patrolling the major streets.
Detachments of regular and mobile policemen were also seen patrolling, some stationed in strategic positions in the city.
Normal business activities, however, went on.
Soldiers were also on guard duty in Omuma and Awoomama in a bid to restore calm to the communities.
The attack came 48 hours after Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State alleged that IPOB had placed some Southeast governors under death sentence for yet to be disclosed reasons.
Ikpeazu said he was one of those under the IPOB fatwa.
Ikpeazu, speaking during an interactive session with youths and women under the auspices of the “TOS Foundation Youth and Women for Good Governance” initiative, organised by The Osasu Show (TOS) Television Network, in Abuja on Thursday night, did not say why IPOB wanted him and other Southeast governors dead.
But he said he did not subscribe to the style or strategy of the leader of the group, Nnamdi Kanu.
Police kill militia commander, six others in sting operation
Earlier on Saturday, a special security squad swooped on alleged operational headquarters of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Eastern Security Network (ESN) in Imo State, killing a man said to be the coordinator of the recent deadly attacks on the headquarters of the State Police Command and the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) facility both in Owerri.
His name was given as Ikonso.
Killed with him during the sting operation at Ikonso’s country home at Awomama village, Oru East Council Area of the state were six members of his gang.
The security team comprising soldiers, policemen and Department of State Services (DSS) personnel, also recovered from the alleged gangsters assorted guns, ammunition and charms.
The Nation gathered that the security team had trailed Ikonso and his men to the building following painstaking investigation of the Owerri attacks.
A gun battle ensued between the two sides as soon as the suspects sighted the team, which lasted till early yesterday with the bandits losing out.
By the time the exchange of gunfire subsided, Ikonso and six of his men lay dead.
Some reportedly managed to escape while some others were arrested.
Sources privy to the operation said the security team stood their ground and exchanged fire for fire.
A source said: “The armed militias were many and wore their ‘bullet proof’ vests, which made them to think that they were immune to bullets.
“Despite that, our men took down seven of them, including the commander who happened to be the owner of the house. He owned a big compound there and used a part as his residence while the other part was for IPOB operations.
“The operation lasted several hours. When they saw that the security personnel were not retreating, the others escaped through the back.”
He said the security team later searched the compound and recovered assorted weapons and charms.
“We recovered many weapons and charms. We did not lose any of our rifles in the operation. We also evacuated those that were neutralised during the confrontation and have surrounded the property to prevent regrouping of the criminals.
“It was not an easy operation but we are thankful to the team for living up to their training and professional skills.”
Ikonso is said to be a native of Awo-Omamma, about 20 minutes drive from Owerri.
Sources said he coordinated all foreign donations to IPOB and usually disbursed same to IPOB sub units.
It was gathered that he had been promised the position of vice president in the ‘Republic of Biafra’ hence his dedication to the IPOB cause.
Confirming the operation via a statement, the Director Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Mohammed Yerima, said the operation was launched following “a detailed intelligence report on the location of the terrorists’ Operational Headquarters and the movement of the overall Commander popularly known as Ikonson Commander.”
He said four security operatives, including an Army officer and three Policemen were killed in the operation.
Yerima said: “The IRT (Intelligence Response Team) and DSS teams along with troops of 82 Division of the Nigerian Army have been on the trail of the terror group since the unfortunate attacks on the Imo State Police Command and the Owerri Correctional Centre on 5 April, 2021.
“The said Ikonson Commander, who was the mastermind of those attacks in addition to multiple attacks in the South East and South South regions, was neutralised along with six of his top Commanders.
“The joint intelligence team had earlier interviewed several arrested IPOB/ESN terrorists in connection with the April 5 attacks, and they all confessed that Ikonson Commander who was named as Vice President by their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, was the one that mobilised men and resources as well as ordered and orchestrated the attacks on Owerri.
“They equally revealed that Ikonson was responsible for many other attacks on police stations across the two geo-political zones.
“The intelligence team later tracked the IPOB/ESN top leader to his exact location in Awomama village where he (Ikonson) and his commanders were hibernating and plotting dastardly acts against the Nigerian state.
“On noticing the presence of the joint operations team, IPOB/ESN terrorists brought heavy volume of fire on the raiding team who swiftly responded and overwhelmed them with superior fire power that neutralised Ikonson and six of his top commanders.
“Sadly however, a Second Lieutenant and three IRT operatives paid the supreme price in the fire fight that ensued. The four officers who fought gallantly have already been evacuated to a military facility in Owerri.
“So far, three AK 47 riffles, a Toyota Sienna van belonging to the terrorists and several other items of value including drugs suspected to be psychotropic substances were recovered and are being processed by the intelligence team to assist in further investigations and operations in the area.
The joint security team is already dominating the general area while preparations for further operations are in top gear.
“The neutralised Ikonson Commander had on several occasions posed for photographs with the fugitive leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu.
“The Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Ibrahim Attahiru has commended the troops, the Police IRT and DSS operatives for their determination in ensuring that the operation was a success.
“He prayed for the repose of the souls of the gallant officers who lost their lives in the operation, stressing that their sacrifice will never be in vain.
“The Nigerian Army along with other security agencies will sustain intelligence-based kinetic operations in the South East and South South until the regions are free of terrorist activities.”
One thousand eight hundred inmates of the Owerri Correctional Centre were let loose during the attack allegedly masterminded by Ikonso.
IPOB vows to avenge death of commander
Reacting last night to the killing of Ikonso, IPOB’s exiled leader, Nnamdi Kanu, vowed to avenge his death.
“All those who had a hand in this wickedness will pay dearly. For murdering Ikonso, the ESN unit commander, in cold blood, Hope Uzodimma has stirred the hornet nest! He should get ready for a sting.”
Kanu claimed that Uzodinma was angry with Ikonso because “he refused his offer to head Ebubeagu ghost security outfit formed by South East governors.”
He added: “Uzodinma has tried but without success to lure ESN operatives into EBUBEAGU. He had made irresistible offers to them which were turned down, hence his resorting to elimination of these patriotic heroes who vowed never to betray Biafra.”
He said that contrary to claims by the security forces, “they were not able to penetrate into the camp of Eastern Security Network, ESN. They only ambushed Ikonso. But we promise them hell for this cowardly act!”