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Residents of Oyigbo Local Government Area of Rivers State have cried out over harassment, intimidation, arrest, and killing of citizens by soldiers claiming to be searching for killers of their colleagues in the area with the Nigerian Army has promptly denied the allegations report says.
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Persons described as hoodlums and also suspected to be members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), on Wednesday, October 21, during the #EndSARS protest reportedly invaded the area and killed six soldiers, burnt four police officers, and set four police commands ablaze. They were also said to have burned over 50 vehicles, a court complex, and a hospital. Many have attributed the killing and destruction to the use of force by the Military and Police who were using force to stop the #EndSARS protest.
Following the killings and destruction of properties that ensued during the @EndSARS protest, soldiers were deployed in the area to fish out perpetrators and recover rifles taken away from murdered security officers. Residents, however, said that rather than fish out the criminals, the soldiers went on a killing spree to avenge the killing of their colleagues. Findings discovered that military officers moved from house to house, harassing and arresting residents in a manner that suggested reprisal. They said that soldiers threatened to burn houses of persons who refused to open their gates for a search of their residences. Many houses have been burnt down by soldiers, report says.
Investigation has revealed that over 60 per cent Oyigbo and Iriebe residents fled the area for fear of military onslaught. Iriebe, a community in the Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of the state, shares a boundary with Oyigbo. A family was said to have drowned while trying to escape through a river in Umuebule in Oyigbo council.
The Guardian newspaper reported that when they visited a house at Captain Ejiofor Street in Iriebe community, that four soldiers were sighted knocking frantically at a gate to a building, which the frightened occupants refused to open. The soldiers screamed: “If you don’t come out and open the gate, we will burn the building and kill you and nothing will happen.”
When one of the residents finally opened the gate, the soldiers, brandishing guns, fired some shots into the air. They ordered her to call out everyone in the compound and while the residents gathered, one of the soldiers said: “The army is very angry with this community because your people killed our colleagues, we are here to search for certain persons and you should obey everything we say, anyone that argues or disobeys, we will kill the person.”
However, after a search of the compound, the officers left, saying: “Our target person is not here”. One of the residents, Mrs. Agnes Udeh, told The Guardian: “In this area, everybody is scared, especially our children whenever they see soldiers with guns.”
She said “a stray bullet hit a resident on their street, killing the person instantly and the officers carried the body away. “This is the few ones we saw; when they kill, they take away the bodies to avoid people seeing what they are doing,” Udeh alleged.
BUT reacting to the allegations, the spokesperson for Six Division of the Nigerian Army in Port Harcourt, Major Charles Ekeocha, claimed that the army only enters houses that were possible hideouts of hoodlums. Ekeocha said its operations in Oyigbo targeted only criminals who killed six army officers and other security men and went away with their weapons.
Continuing he said “We lost six soldiers in that area, their weapons were carted away, it was planned and executed. The weapons taken away are in the wrong hands and if we don’t retrieve those weapons now, subsequently those weapons will be used; if not against us, it will be used against innocent citizens in that area or any other part of the country.
“The exercise going on there now is searching and identifying houses used by the so-called IPOB members. We are searching those houses to see whether we can get all those rifles they took away from our soldiers; that is what we are doing, we are professional about it, I don’t know about the issue of the firing of weapons.”
MEANWHILE, investigation has revealed that residents of the area are faced with hunger and lack of access to medicals and other basic amenities because they have remained indoors for fear of being arrested. They are also grappling with food scarcity.
The situation is worsened by the imposition of a 24-hour curfew by Governor Nyesom Wike on Oyigbo Council and some other areas during the EndSARS protest in the state.
Residents were taken unawares by the declaration, there was no time to stockpile food items; markets, pharmacies, and banks in the area were shut down. Although the governor lifted the curfew in other areas, movement in Oyigbo and Ikowku remained restricted.
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