Our correspondents in the South East chronicle the killings and arrests in the region following the activities of the proscribed Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and its military arm, Eastern Security Network (ESN). Our finding show that the quest by security operatives to quell the activities of the proscribed group has also put residents in danger.
Fourteen-year-old Chigozie Nebo, a Junior Secondary School (JSS) student of Government Trade Centre (GTC), Enugu, has had his education disrupted. The asthmatic patient is also battling for his life in the confines of Enugu Prisons (Correctional Centre) where he and eight others are being detained for allegedly being members of the unknown gunmen terrorising the state.
Chigozie’s journey to prison, according to his father, Mr. Godfrey Nebo, started on May 31 when police officers led by the Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Mohammed Ndatsu Aliyu, stormed the old Artisan Market area and arrested “nine innocent persons” who were found around the scene where a policeman was killed by suspected members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN) during a clash with security operatives.
Battling tears, Mr. Nebo, a civil servant, expressed fear over the survival of his son, an asthmatic patient, in the Enugu prisons.
Nebo, 52, told our correspondent who visited the family at the Railway Quarters, old Artisan in Enugu metropolis that the police allegedly falsified the age of his son to arraign him.
He said to worsen the predicament of his son and others arrested with him, the police wrote that they were arrested at Mgbemene Roundabout.
He said, “My son, since he was born has never been to Mgbemene Roundabout which is near Coal Camp area. My son just goes to GTC that is located along the Enugu-Abakaliki road and returns to our residence here. The police are trying to implicate my 14-year-old child for nothing. Why? There was no movement that day so how could my son have trekked to Mgbemene?”
Narrating the event of the said day, Nebo said there was an exchange of gunfire by the police and some unidentified armed men during which a policeman was killed at the Artisan area on the Ogui Road.
Daily Trust also learnt from neighbours that the police also arrested one Mr Sunday Ubong, a petty trader, who went to buy pap (akamu) for his one-year-old baby. It was also alleged that the police shot a boy who refused to enter their vehicle during the operation.
Daily Trust couldn’t independently verify the claim.
Nebo said he has consulted a lawyer who has written a petition to the Inspector General of Police specifically concerning his teenage son. However, the police in Enugu said the suspects have the opportunity of proving their innocence in the court of law.
Imo ‘disturbed’ by ESN members
Since the ugly incident of April 5 when the headquarters of the Imo State Police Command and the nearby Nigerian Correctional Service Centre, where more than 1,844 inmates were released, residents of Owerri and its environs, said they have had to contend with extra-judicial killings – some perpetuated by suspected members of ESN and others by security agencies.
Residents said the pattern of killings was almost similar in most cases. The ESN members would launch an attack and withdraw. A few minutes later, security agents would arrive. Their arrival is followed by sporadic gunfire and arrests.
Three persons including two female traders and an artisan, and an officer of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Glory Nkwocha, were recently killed in that fashion.
Nkwocha was said to have been killed by a stray bullet during a gun battle between security operatives and hoodlums in Orlu.
In another instance, a second-year student of the Imo State University, Owerri, 23-year-old Divine Nwaneri, was killed by soldiers in front of the Imo State Government House. It was gathered that Nwaneri, in the company of a male acquaintance, driving in a Toyota car, was flagged down at a military checkpoint in front of the Owerri custodial centre but they were said to have ignored the order. The soldiers were said to have signalled their counterparts attached to the Imo State Government House who allegedly shot at the car.
Her case is similar to that of a businessman, Noel Chigbu, who operated a Sharwama shop before his untimely death.
It was reported that Chigbu, from Ngor Okpala LGA of the state, was flagged down by soldiers under the Akwakuma Bridge. He was shot on the excuse that he violated a military checkpoint rule.
His corpse, like that of Nwaneri, was left in the morgue of the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri.
Also, an unidentified farmer was killed at the same spot where Nwaneri met his untimely death.
Two separate incidents happened on May 30 and 31 that shook the state; the killing of a former presidential adviser, Ahmed Gulak and that of a Germany-based Nigerian, Oguchi Unachukwu. While Gulak, according to the police, was shot and killed by suspected ESN members, Unachukwu was gunned down by some Nigerian Air Force personnel at the tollgate of Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri.
Unachukwu was said to be on his way to Hamburg, Germany, when his life was cut short. The incident happened in the presence of his wife, two-year-old son and four-month-old daughter, who were seeing him off to the airport.
The 107 youths arrested in different parts of the state, were tried under a mango tree in front of the police headquarters, Owerri on the allegation that they were planning to overthrow the governments of President Muhammadu Buhari and the state governor, Hope Uzodimma. They were all remanded in prison.
The Catholic Archbishop of Owerri, Anthony Obinna, recently raised an alarm that he saw the bodies of 35 young men dumped at the mortuary of Federal Medical Centre, FMC, Owerri during a recent visit to the facility.
A non-governmental organisation, International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, otherwise known as Intersociety, said it has evidence showing that over 90 per cent of citizens killed by soldiers and police in Eastern Nigeria were innocent.
In a study it conducted from January to June 2021, Intersociety said it has evidence showing that in the first 160 days of 2021 or from January 1 to June 10, Nigerian security forces especially soldiers, police and officers of the Department of State Security arrested no fewer than 2,500 mostly innocent citizens of Igbo extraction.
The study showed that the arrests took place in the nine South East and South South states of Anambra, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Cross River, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers.
It claimed that not less than 500 others were traceably killed. It also claimed that a respected herbalist in Nguru, Mbaise, Chief Duru Azubuike, alongside his nephew, was attacked and killed on June 12. The police claimed that the herbalist was killed by bandits/hoodlums but his wife said he was killed by people in police uniform, saying they accused him of preparing charms for ESN/IPOB.
In some of these allegations, relatives of the victims were either too traumatised to talk or simply afraid. Divine’s father, Nwaneri, said he has left the killing of his daughter in the hands of God.
He was speaking at the burial of his daughter at Obollo community in the Isiala Mbano LGA.
Always stay away from crime scene — Military, police
Responding to the allegations, the Commander of 34 Artillery Brigade, Brig. Gen. Raymond Utsaha, said while all the complaints from members of the public were being investigated, many soldiers and policemen were victims of attacks.
According to him, the army lost 38 soldiers while 78 policemen were killed. He said in the same vein, the Nigerian Air force and Navy lost seven personnel each, 15 civil defence officers were killed and 100 innocent citizens mown down through senseless killings.
He urged members of the public to always report bad eggs in their society, because by not doing so they might be unwittingly encouraging criminality.
The Commissioner of Police, Abutu Yaro, said his command has set up a human rights desk where all the reports of extrajudicial killings were channelled to. He, however, urged members of the public to always stay away from scenes of crime.
Drivers and commuters who ply the several roads in the South East zone also complained of harassment at the various checkpoints in the zone.
60 suspected criminals paraded in Ebonyi
The Ebonyi Police Command recently paraded 60 suspected criminals who were apprehended for alleged killings, burning of police stations and offices of the National Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) in the state.
The parade of the suspects by the police, our reporter gathered, erased the doubts from some quarters that the security agencies have indiscriminately killed those arrested in the bid to maintain peace and order in the state and the region.
It was gathered that three suspects alleged to be members of ESN/IPOB were killed in the state.
Stop harassing our youths – Religious, traditional rulers
The Co-chair Interfaith Dialogue Forum for Peace, Bishop Dr. Sunday Onuoha, advised security agents in the South East to stop harassing innocent youth. He urged them to tackle the menace of the unknown gunmen.
The bishop, who was reacting to alleged harassment and intimidation of the youth by security agents in the zone, said it was an infringement on their fundamental rights.
Also, the Council of Ohafia Monarchs wants soldiers at the 14 Brigade, Army Headquarters, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan Barracks, Ohafia to stop alleged harassment of law-abiding youths in their domains.
The monarchs, who made the call at the end of an emergency security meeting held at the Udumze Palace, advised the commander in charge of the brigade to device means of arresting criminals and leave innocent youths alone.
From Abiodun Alade, Yvonne Ugwuezuoha (Lagos), Tony Adibe (Enugu), Linus Effiong (Umuahia), Nabob Ogbonna (Abakaliki), Jude Aguguo Owuamanam (Owerri) & John Chuks Azu (Abuja)