The people of South East are certainly living in a palpable fear following what the inhabitants of the area see as an obvious military occupation by the Nigerian army. The Orsumogbu and Lilu communities in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State as well as Orsu – Iheteukwu in Imo State have been suffering from incessant and severe military activities, according to them, witnessed last, during the tragic Nigeria, Biafra civil war between 1967 and 1970. The Nigerian military commenced operations as it intensified actions in search of the camps alleged to have been occupied by the newly launched Eastern Security Network said to be sponsored by Indigenous People of Biafra.
Although the army, through its information unit via the spokesperson of the 34 Artillery Brigade, Obinze, near Owerri, Babatunde Zubairu, has given credence to the operations in Orlu, Imo State, he, however, noted that the villagers were not in any way intimidated or harassed. Zubairu revealed that the army deployed helicopters and other military equipment in the area for intelligence.
Meanwhile, indigenes of the area said, for now, no person had been hit by any bullet even as no incident of bombardment has been recorded; the panic alone is quite intimidating. ‘I am quite sure that the army has yet to kill anybody with their guns. Also, we have not seen anywhere bombed. But there is heavy presence of the military on the road and the flying helicopters are good enough to cause panic. We are living in fear here. You know the army, at the slightest provocation, it stars shooting and killing. We saw it in the last EndSARS Protest at Lekki Gate, it happened at Odi in Bayelsa State, it repeated in Zakibiam, etc. So, this why we are afraid, and justifiably, too”, Emeka Akanna, an indigene of the area enthused.
Not just Imo, there is also military presence in Ihiala, Anambra State. The government, through its information and public enlightenment commissioner, Don Aduba, confirmed that the military operation was aimed in the ”affected communities” said to be IPOB hide out. It said that the military had stormed the area to flush out the IPOB. Aduba said “Security forces got intelligence that the volunteer fighters of IPOB were hiding in some gullies in the boundary areas between Anambra and Imo States so they went there to flush them out. On the Anambra side, the IPOB forces were hiding in the gullies in Orsumoghu and Lilu communities while on the Imo side, they were hiding in the gullies in Orsu-Ihiteukwu. Nobody was killed.”
A concerned Igbo who does not want his name in print asked how possible it is for the army to ”flush out” IPOB members without ”killing”. According to him, ”Let us not deceive one another. First, has it been established that IPOB carry arms? In other words, is IPOB armed? To the best of my knowledge, it does not. If it is so, why using the army? Why not police? The army already has its hand full concerning the activities of Boko Haram, bandits and herders in the North East. Let the military concentrate in the North East, not in the South East.
List of previous Soldiers’ operations in South East
On January 24, it was reported that about 10 persons were killed in Ogboro, Orlu, Imo State when the Eastern Security Network (ESN) linked to IPOB and the as 10 residents were allegedly killed by the Nigeria soldiers drafted to dismantle the ESN got their operations underway.
According to the report; “This was what happened, the soldiers came back to search for the vigilante people that killed their colleague, but in the process started shooting everybody they see, I can’t actually say how many have died, they are many but I think I counted over ten.” Meanwhile, the media and publicity secretary of IPOB, Emma Powerful responding to the incident said, “I have said it time without number, did we go to their barracks to look for their trouble or they came into our forest to attack us. We shall not condone this any longer, we would not allow them to kill us again, we wouldn’t allow what happened in Obigbo to happen again in Biafra land. They can’t kill us because we have not done anything to them other than to protect our land and forest; they are just killing innocent civilians.”
The Igbo National Council (INC), though its national president, Comrade Chilos Godsent, noted that what is happening in Orlu never deserved the presence of the army. He said, “It may not be in the best interest of the Imo State and Federal Government of Nigeria to militarize any part of the Igbo Nation in disguise of fighting pro-Biafra agitators. We note that the Nigerian police has the capacity to tackle criminalities in any part of Nigeria well mobilized and given free hand to operate. We urge the Federal Government of Nigeria to immediately
redeploy these soldiers ravaging Orlu communities and send them to the various highways where the Fulani Herdsmen are presently terrorizing, raping and killing Nigerians. We fear that if the ongoing violent conflict is not quickly resolved, it might escalate to other communities in Imo State.”
The Imo State governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma, later declared a dusk to dusk curfew in the nine affected Local Government Areas. Uzodimma said “This afternoon I received a disturbing news that some militants were killing and maiming the people of Orlu, this is a breakdown of law and order, it’s unacceptable to the government, those who are responsible will regret their action. I have directed security agents to fish them out , in the interim to calm the place, security agents have been deployed to patrol the place, a dusk to dusk curfew beginning from 6 pm to 6 am have been imposed , anybody found violating it will be dealt with.
The areas the curfew is imposed are Ideato North , Ideato South, Nkwere, Orlu, Orsu, Isu, Oru West and Oru East. Security have been deployed to enforce the curfew, however I want to assure you that the security agencies will be there for them to go about their lawful business, I assure you those behind it will not go unpunished”.
Again, on September 12, 2017, the Nigerian soldiers reportedly defended heavily on members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) at the home of the IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu. The soldiers were also said to have dealt with IPOB same time around the border communities between Abia and Rivers State. That compelled the Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikeazu, to impose a dusk to dawn curfew on Aba, the commercial capital of the state.
Following the attack, Kanu’s lawyer, Mr. Ifeanyi Ejiofor, claimed that soldiers laid siege to the IPOB leader’s residence in Afaraukwu, Umuahia in Abia State, and placed him under house arrest. According to the lawyer, the latest invasion on Kanu’s residence led to the deaths of four persons with several others injured.
However, the Nigerian Army has denied that Kanu’s residence was invaded, insisting that no soldiers were deployed to his residence and that its operation in the South-East, known as Operation Python Dance II, was not targeted at him. The army also denied the killing in Oyigbo.
In spite of the army’s denial, Kanu’s lawyer insisted that his client’s house was invaded. He said
”Just to notify the world that my client’s house is currently under siege by the trigger-happy soldiers acting under the direct instruction of Chief of Army Staff.
He has been placed under house arrest at the moment while shooting sporadically into the air. Casualties are being counted as the unprovoked assault progresses. Some IPOB members have just been killed, at least four people. They drove in, in their thousands to arrest and maim him. I just got a distress call from him now. Further efforts to establish contact with him have remained unsuccessful. As it stands now, I cannot confirm whether he is dead or alive”.
Abia NUJ Secretariat Invaded
According to a published report, ”over 20 soldiers of the Nigerian Army Tuesday morning (September, 2017) invaded the press centre of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Abia State Council.
The angry and well-armed soldiers, who were taking part in Operation Python Dance II, beat up journalists and destroyed their phones and tablets. They alleged that the journalists took pictures of a convoy of troops marching through the city of Umuahia. As the operation lasted, journalists holed up at the press centre on Aba road were horrified as soldiers ordered them at gun point to surrender their phones and tablets.
There was panic and apprehension as passersby scampered for safety around the Abia Tower roundabout where the press centre is located. Some of the soldiers had taken position around the centre while their colleagues were manhandling journalists and destroying their tools inside the storey building.
”Chairman of Abia NUJ, John Emejor, described the army invasion as a desecration of the NUJ press centre, adding that it was an affront on democracy. But just as the NUJ condemned the attack on the Abia secretariat, the army high command in the South-East zone quickly tendered an unreserved apology to its members over the invasion by soldiers, saying that it was worried by what happened. The General Officer Commanding (GOC) 82 Division Enugu, Maj.- Gen. Adamu Abubakar, tendered the apology Tuesday evening at the NUJ press centre.
His apology was conveyed by the Deputy Director of the Army Public Relations Unit, Col Sagir Musa, who rushed down to Umuahia at the instance of his boss on behalf of the GOC 82 Division Enugu, Maj.-Gen. Adamu Musa Abubakar to show concern about what happened”, he said.