…Furious gov goes after Igbo proscribed group, local collaborators with bounty
…Inside story of the Oyigbo attack that killed security agents
…Residents allege police, soldiers siege amid manhunt for assailants
By Egufe Yafugborhi
Before Wednesday, October 21 wave of violence that left three police stations, an Area Command and a court burnt and three policemen killed in Oyigbo Local Government Area (LGA) of Rivers State, the LGA had enjoyed peaceful #ENDSARS protests while other states boiled with destructive rage.
However, if anyone had expected an implosion following Rivers enviably peaceful atmosphere, many would have thought the hotspot would be the state capital, Port Harcourt, where most of Rivers #ENDSARS protests had been staged.
This is why it took just preliminary checks for the state Police Command to dismiss the frontal attack against the police orchestrated from Oyigbo as an outcome of the protests.
Investigations pointed in the direction of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) which had become the usual suspect for heinous crimes in Oyigbo, Rivers boundary with some south-eastern states, the group’s stronghold.
In the timeline on alleged IPOB violent incursions into Oyigbo, the group had, on eve of the 2020 Nigeria Independence Anniversary, allegedly killed a Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, operative and burnt a patrol vehicle before the nationwide #ENDSARS protests started.
Community sources alleged that the secessionist group appeared to have been involved in cases of violence in Oyigbo, especially against the civil populace.
Determined to put an end to IPOB’s presence while mitigating the havoc the visitors allegedly wreaked on Rivers, Governor Nyesom Wike has made some critical pronouncements following the latest Oyigbo mayhem.
On October 28, he signed an Executive Order reinforcing the Federal Government’s proscription of IPOB, as it affects Rivers.
The governor, after signing the order, said, “Let it be understood that we (Rivers) have nothing against any specific tribe and will continue to live in peace with people of all tribal extractions residing or doing business in our state. “But we have everything against the presence and activities of anarchic IPOB and whatever that group stands for in Rivers.
“This is clearly a group which existence, creed, mission and activities are strongly denounced even by governments and people of south-eastern states.
“I therefore sign this Executive Order to reinforce total ban on IPOB and its activities in Rivers or any part thereof and nothing will stop us from enforcing this ban in its entirety”.
Two days earlier, the governor had sent a strong warning to indigene collaborators when he declared one “Stanley Mgbere wanted for leading members of the banned IPOB to cause recent violence and destruction of lives and property in Onne in Eleme LGA”.
Wike added, “A ransom of N50 million will be given to any person with useful information that would lead to arrest and prosecution of the said Mgbere.”
Not done with applying the stringent measures, the he warned that any LG chairman who condones IPOB presence in his domain faces sack, just as he urged the council bosses, community and youths leaders as well as vigilantes to partner security agencies in wiping out IPOB from all Rivers communities, activating the Executive Order and other legal instruments.
On the cost of the IPOB mayhem, police obviously have been hardest hit.
CP Mukan said three policemen were killed, three stations burnt, one court and one station vandalised.
Mukan declared four hoodlums killed and 21 suspects arrested in that situation report.
In gruesome manner, Inspector Sunday Dubon, Armoured Personnel Carrier Driver attached to state Anti-Kidnapping Unit, and Sgt. Swawale Ornan, on Special Duty at Oyigbo, were both killed and burnt to ashes.
Third police casualty, Umunna Uchechukwu, serving in Afam Police Station, first “had his legs and hands cut off before being burnt to ashes”, according to the CP.
Strangely, in spite of Wike’s repeated reference to soldiers equally killed and burnt in the Oyibgbo incident, authorities at the 6 Division of the Nigeria Army have kept sealed lips, declining confirmation or dismissal of the toll on its personnel.
A community source, corroborating Wike’s disclosure, said, “It is common knowledge that army personnel were killed in the Oyigbo violence.
“The attackers entrapped the soldiers, no one is sure how many they were, killed and burnt them in their two patrol vans. “The army has since been in vengeful occupation of Oyigbo breaking into houses, abducting and shooting at will.
“I know of my husband’s business neighbor who was caught by the army stray bullet and remains hospitalised. It’s a worry whether he will be discharged alive.
“Unfortunately, those who may have committed whatever havoc against the security operatives are predominantly strangers who hardly stay in the community.
“Now, innocent landlords and tenants who hardly have anywhere else to go are bearing the brunt.
“Soldiers are chasing people, police are chasing. I and my children have had to relocate to Port Harcourt, leaving only my husband at home.”
Just as the army has refused confirmation or the toll the alleged IPOB killing took on its personnel, they have equally refused official comment on the alleged vengeful army occupation of Obigbo.
A senior army official however said, “You know how these things work. We can’t jump to hasty conclusion. The General Officer Commanding 6 Division wasn’t around for a while.
“So no other person can just make statements.”
By Friday, a senior correspondent with a national newspaper resident in Oyigbo, while locked in his home with family members, alerted colleagues of “a military aircraft hovering over Oyigbo, saying: “All exit routes have been blocked by soldiers who have embarked on house-to-house search. Panic everywhere, people can’t go out.”
About same time, The Guardian Newspapers driver, Saifu Ahmadu, who dared stepped out of home in neighboring Iriebe, Obio Akpor LGA, to get commercial transport to his office, claimed to have been held at Trailer Park Junction by soldiers near a base of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps in the busy locality.
Ahmadu, following his release after properly identifying self with several calls by media colleagues to authorities at the 6 Div Nigeria Army, narrated, “Normally, they would only ask us to raise hands when passing that spot because of curfew, but this time they held everybody on sight, close to 500 of us. It was around 6am.
“They matched us to a flooded bush, ordered everyone to lie down on the cold filthy water.
“They further ordered that no one should make call, no phone rings or they will shoot the owner.
“They said Oyigbo people killed soldiers. As time went on, some companies with police and military guards came in to rescue their staff members.
“But some policemen who came for rescue in mufti were arrested and seriously beaten by the soldiers and also ordered to lie on the swampy field like common civilians like us.
“They accused the police victims of receiving gratification from some of the arrested persons to come and free them. I was able to draw attention of the team leader who eventually released me.”
With the police and army yet to publicly admit it, sources said at the heart of the frontal invasion of police stations and attacks on military patrol teams is the determination by the assailants to hijack the armories of these security agencies. “And some members of IPOB allegedly took guns from the stations they burnt and even from the soldiers they ambushed and killed”, one of the sources said.
With fear stricken Oyigbo residents confined to their homes due to the 24 hour curfew imposed on the neighbourhood and fear of the marauding army engaged in indiscriminate arrest and brutality in the guise of search for recovery of guns stolen from security agencies, no official confirmation has been established as to the number of civilians that may have lost lives.
Worse still for residents, as CP Mukan also launched his Command’s own war against IPOB members Thursday, unleashing DPOs and Heads of Tactical units on the hotspots, the expected army, police vengeful invasion of Oyigbo raises more fear for the residents who worry that the worst was yet to come.
“Even the state governor’s directive to LG chairmen and community leaders to fish out IPOB members might be abused. Anybody could be branded IPOB and whisked away. We are in serious trouble”, a resident lamented.