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Ohafia military siege: Indigenes count losses

  By Steve Oko It has been a tale of woes by indigenes and residents of Ohafia communities following the military invasion of the   semi-u...


By Steve Oko

It has been a tale of woes by indigenes and residents of Ohafia communities following the military invasion of the  semi-urban town in the aftermath of last week’s alleged confrontation between the Army and unknown gunmen.


A soldier was reportedly shot by unknown gunmen at Ebem Ohafia and the Army invaded Amangwu forest where the unknown gunmen had reportedly fled to.


Then ensued exchange of fire between the unknown gunmen and  troops resulting the alleged death of six soldiers in a cross fire according to reports.


But the Army has since debunked the report that it lost six soldiers in any battle with unknown gunmen at Ohafia, dismissing it as fake and fabricated propaganda.


 The Army also denied media reports that troops were on revenge mission in Ohafia, saying it was a misrepresentation of facts.


Director Army Public Relations, Brig. Gen Mohammed Yerima, had in a release said the Army was only on a clearance operation in the area, assuring residents of their security.


Despite  claims by the Army absolving soldiers on ground of violating any rules of engagement, testimonies by the locals and pictorial evidence speak to the contrary.


In fact, the locals who are still counting their losses since the siege accused soldiers of harassment and torture of innocent residents and dehumanization.


There are also allegations of willful destruction of property and extra-judicial killings all leveled against the security agents.


Mr. Uduma Orieke Agwu, 45, a builder from Ebem Ohafia, told Vanguard that his son, Chukwuemeka, 20, was shot by soldiers.


The victim is currently hospitalized in Umuahia as doctors battle to save his life following life-threatening injuries he received from bullet wounds.


According to the father, Chukwuemeka was shot in the stomach and hand by soldiers who were shooting sporadically at Ebem while the boy was assisting his mother inside their provision store.


“My son was with the mother when soldiers came and started shooting everywhere. As everybody was running they shot him in the stomach and hand.


“Some of the bullets entered through the hand and affected his liver. Doctors have removed the bullets after surgery but his condition is still critical.


“My son is innocent and I want Government to help us in his treatment. I can no longer afford the cost of his treatment because the drugs recommended for him costs N5000 per one. I have spent over N260,000 on drugs alone in the past two weeks. I don’t want my son to die”.


When Saturday Vanguard visited the victim at the hospital, the boy who could barely talk as a result of his condition mumbled that his ultimate need was to stay alive, sobbing that he committed no offense to be put into such danger by soldiers.


The father further explained that another surgery was conducted on the boy following complications from the earlier surgery as blood reportedly blocked part of his heart.


Meanwhile, he said that both the Ohafia Council boss, and the member representing Ohafia at the Abia State House of Assembly had visited to register their sympathy.


Another eyewitness, Chief Johnson Kalu Ibe, told Saturday Vanguard that he had a real war experience during the military invasion.


The retired University of Lagos lecturer and Abuja- based foreign language Consultant said his visit to his Amangwu Ohafia community for a burial coincided with the invasion.


According to him, the Army came with sophisticated equipment “and troops were firing everywhere.”

“There was this Okada (motorcycle) operator that came from Okon-Aku to pick passenger, and the soldiers shot at him. He ran into a compound and they pursued him to the compound and dragged him out and finished him.


“They were throwing gas bombs into peoples shops and vehicles and setting them ablaze. It was a hellish experience. I left my house and hid somewhere praying to God to survive the encounter.


“Two cars belonging to Ebere Egwonwu, brother to late Professor Ume of the University of Calabar, parked in front of his house were destroyed by the gas bomb.


“Till now I have not heard from my elder sister and her son. People ran away from Amangwu community and took refuge in other parts of Ohafia.”


He said that besides human casualties, property worth over N16 million was destroyed in Amangwu community alone during the invasion according to a preliminary assessment by some elders in the community.


Meanwhile, Ohafia traditional rulers and Town Union Executives who earlier  raised the alarm that the ancient town was under military siege, had also accused soldiers of human rights violations.


The stakeholders who said business and economic activities in the town had been completely paralyzed since the siege began also said that their subjects had been turned to Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs.


They decried the dehumanization of the locals by security operatives and called on the Brigade Commander, 14 Brigade Ohafia to call his men to order.


The Ohafia monarchs and stakeholders in a  communiqué, called on the security agents to stop treating everybody in Ohafia as suspect.


They insisted that their youths are law-abiding and deserve protection and not intimidation by security agents.


The communique was signed by His Royal Paramountcy, Professor. E U L Imaga (Udumeze Ohafia/Ezieogo Elu); HRM Ezieogo Emmanuel Kalu Kalu Onugu (Ezieogo Asaga); HRM, Ezieogo Mba Odo Okereke (Ezieogo Akanu); HRM Ezieogo Awa Nwankwo (Ezieogo Amaekpu); and HRM Ezieogo Mmecha Ugbu Mmecha (Ezieogo Amangwu).


It read in part: “We wish to state unequivocally that Ndi Ohafia and residents of Ohafia are law abiding citizens of Nigeria who deserve protections from  Nigerian law enforcement agencies instead of intimidation and harassment.


“We do not know any “Un-known Gun men” in Ohafia. The security agencies know the characters and personality profiles of deviant elements in the community. They should device means of arresting such personalities rather than stigmatising all youths and residents of Ohafia.


“The continuous lock-down of commercial and social activities in Ohafia Community has completely paralyzed economic activities and well-being of Ndi Ohafia


“The Siege at Amangwu Ohafia has turned the people of Amangwu to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in their land. This situation has created fears and trepidation to other neighbouring Ohafia communities.


“We condemn the continuous harassment and intimidation of well-meaning and law abiding sons and daughters / residents of Ohafia.


“And we hereby request the Brigade Commander to reconsider their strategies and tactics of maintaining peace and harmony in Ohafia Communities without dehumanizing and intimidating of peace loving persons in Ohafia land. We ask for a return of economic and social activities in Ohafia”.


Meanwhile the Coalition of Igbo youths Leaders, COSEYL, has claimed that the military operation in Ohafia is the commencement of an agenda


COSEYL in a statement jointly signed by its President General, Goodluck Ibem; and Secretary, Kanice Igwe; accused the military of rights violations and extrajudicial killings.


But a source at the 14 Brigade Ohafia denied the allegations, absolving the military of any atrocities.


The source which pleaded not to be disclosed, insisted that the military did not kill anybody contrary to claims by the locals.


It challenged the people to produce the corpses of those they claimed were killed by the soldiers.


“ If they say the military abducted people, they should know that security agents don’t abduct but can only arrest. There was no single killing by soldiers. Where are the bodies of those killed?


Not withstanding the denials by the military, Igbo youth leaders are still calling for independent investigations by the United Nations, as well as prosecution of the perpetrators of the military invasion at the International Criminal Court, ICC.


“The attention of COSEYL, has been drawn to the killings of innocent Ohafia youths, insult and dehumanizing treatment meted out to Ohafia indigenes by the Nigerian army on a daily basis where the soldiers go to peoples homes, bring them out and kill them at will.


“On Monday 14 June, 2021 , after the town crier in Ebem, Elu and other villages had announced to the people urging them to come out for business, they opened their shops and business. To their surprise, the Nigerian soldiers came and destroyed goods, monies, vehicles and told the people not to dare come out for business.


“We want to put the international Community on notice to take note of the killings of innocent men, women and youths in Ohafia land, burning of all vehicles and houses in Amangwu Ohafia  and other South East States by the military. The military go to people’s houses, break their doors  and drag out whoever is inside.


“We learnt that they even tell the villagers that the President of America, Joe Biden cannot save them; That they will kill them all and there is nothing America or the United Nations can do.


“Innocent youths are being killed at night, day and anytime it pleases the soldiers. Is it a crime to give land to Nigerian Government to build a military barracks? What have Ohafia people done to deserve such wickedness, insult and killings of Ohafia people by soldiers.


“We want to Know if Ohafia has been marked as a grazing route that entails all the people living in Ohafia must be killed to make land available for herdsmen to graze their cattle? Are we now in a military junta where right to life is not guaranteed?


“The military authority in their official statement said, no soldier was killed by hoodlums who have been disturbing the peace of Ohafia people. Then why is the army killing innocent people and committing arson in Amangwu and other villages in Ohafia?


“We call on the military authority to withdraw the soldiers from the streets of Ohafia and allow the people to return back to their normal day to day business activities.


“We demand that those soldiers who are killing people extra judicially must be brought to justice. Human life is sacrosanct and anyone who takes another man’s life unlawfully must be made to face the music.”


Mr. Imo Ukwa, from Amekpu Ohafia told our Correspondent yesterday that normality “is gradually returning” to the town.


He said Amekpu community provided the highest habour for the locals who fled from Amangwu, the epicenter of the confrontation.


Mr. Ukwa said that when the refugees from Amangwu flooded the community, some locals in show of patriotism, provided their houses as IDP camps to quarter the displaced people.


“ The moment they started arriving here our people showed them love. Our Eze Ogo, HRM Awa Nwankwo Mba, mobilised the people to support their kinsmen. Mbem Political Assembly, Apostle of Good Will, and a philanthropist, Nze Uche Uche all keyed in.


“ Women were levied cups of garri and people donated food and other items to assist the victims. The last batch of IDPs just left Amekpu for their own community as calm is graduating returning to Ohafia”.


There has been condemnation of attacks on security formations perpetrated by ‘unknown gunmen” in parts of South East and South South geopolitical zones.


But despite the wave of attacks on security agents many strongly believe that there were no justifications for the inhuman treatments that some fierce-looking security agents deployed to the zones as innocent people were affected.


There have been allegations of rights abuse and extortion at some security checkpoints even within Umuahia metropolis.


It is therefore, proper for the authorities to as a matter of urgent public importance, investigate these allegations and call the earring personnel to order as residents now live in fear of both the “unknown gunmen” and security agents.


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