A low intensity war between security forces and Indigenous People of Biafra’s (IPOB) Eastern Security Network (ESN), is currently shattering the peace of the Imo State axis of Eastern Nigeria leading to massive displacement and dozens of deaths.
In a seeming desperate bid to prevent the crisis from spilling into other areas, Governor Hope Uzodimma has imposed a dusk to dusk curfew in nine local government areas of the troubled state.
Residents are fleeing their homes as the battle is expected to continue escalating towards riverine towns in Orlu zone and possibly, the neighbouring Anambra State.
IPOB floated the security outfit to check rising insecurity in Igboland. But, some pro-establishment Igbo politicians and the security agencies are misconstruing ESN to be a militia of Biafra agitators in Nigeria.
To rout the group, the Nigerian state on Monday began its usual security approach with the military killing civilians and destroying homes in some parts of the state.Over 10 residents were allegedly killed by soldiers while more than 17 residential homes, 20 shops and other business centres were razed.The attack on civilians came just as President Muhammadu Buhari finally fired his service chiefs after years of displeasure over their handling of insecurity in the country. He immediately announced the appointment of their replacement.
Presidential Spokesman, Femi Adesina, in a statement said the new service chiefs are: Major-General LEO Irabor, Chief of Defence Staff; Major-General Ibrahim Attahiru, Chief of Army Staff; Rear Admiral A.ZGambo, Chief of Naval Staff; and Air-Vice Marshal I.O Amao, Chief of Air Staff.
Adesina said President Buhari congratulated the sacked service chiefs for their efforts in bringing enduring peace to Nigeria.
But, sources say the new Chief of Army Staff appointed by Buhari was in 2017 by the just removedChief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, for incompetence.
Attahiru was commander leading the fight against militant Islamist group Boko Haram. His sack in 2017, was following a string of attacks by the insurgents, including the killing of at least 50 people in a mosque.
No official reason was given for Attahiru’s removal in 2017 but military sources are saying that the military hierarchy was unsatisfied with his performance. Buratai allegedly gave him a deadline in July to deliver Boko Haram Leader, Abubakar Shekau, dead or alive within 40 days.
Attahiru was appointed to lead the offensive against Boko Haram in the North-East in May 2017. He was replaced with another General, Nicholas Rogers, who led a special military and police force to tackle ethnic clashes in the volatile central region.
Guarded whispers have it that the rightful person for the appointment of Chief of Army Staff, is General Irabor from Ika, in Delta State. But Buhari does not seem to see a Southerner suitable for the position as he prefers the position be retained by a Northerner.
Irabor, is one-time Theatre Commander of the Operation Lafiya Dole.
However, General Attahiru was born on August 10, 1966, and hails from Kaduna North Local Government Area of Kaduna State. Before his appointment as the new Chief of Army Staff, he oversaw the 82 Division, Nigerian Army.
In the mean time, the death toll in the Imo bloodletting is suspected to be much higher as soldiers are allegedly turning their anger on civilians after what appeared to be another lost battle with IPOB elements .The battle between the two groups has been on since last week and the security forces were said to be given a fight of their lives by ESN in the forests around Orlu leading to some speedy retreat since Saturday.Security operatives who were deployed to confront ESN in Okporo, Umuaka, Ihioma and other neighbouring towns in Orlu were seriously resisted by the IPOB security outfit which allegedly led to the death of a soldier in the process.In a reprisal attack after bidding a retreat, the security forces were allegedly shooting sporadically and killing some of the residents doing their businesses in Orlu metropolis. Rattled, residents started scampering for safety.An eye-witness says, “they (security forces) turned everybody into their enemies after a heavy gun back with ESN. I don’t know if they felt the story would not be good without them killing innocent people to make it look bad. They were actually not fighting in the city centre but the army suddenly appeared in the city centre. The ESN later came after them, may be when they heard the mayhem going on.“One question Nigerians should ask the army is this, the woman they shot and killed and some other innocent civilians they gunned down just to create a war scenario, how does what happened in the bushes concerned those people?“The governor has quickly declared curfew, but nobody will ask the army why they openly laid down on our major roads in Orlu shooting sporadically as if they were battling Boko Haram when actually they were hurting and hunting down citizens.”A resident, Ekene Agu, is claiming that soldiers vehemently escalated the whole issue to create a more violent atmosphere to enable Uzodinma declare curfew.“The fight around Ama-Awusa area led to burning of many shops close to the stadium.If actually they were looking for the ESN whom they had gun battle with and lost a colleague as we’ve all heard, why didn’t they enter the bushes to look for them?“Why take their pound of flesh on innocent citizens just to push Governor Hope Uzodinma to declare curfew and hand over Orlu to them? You can see how funny our Governor has danced to that and from tomorrow (Tuesday), soldiers will start molesting our people for no reason.“Well, one thing is clear, they want to repeat Obigbo in Orlu, but God knows it’ll not work. Uzodinma can declare curfew for all he cares, but he must call these soldiers to order because this is our home and they have done enough damage.“This strategy of always hunting down civilians just to create unnecessary casualties all over the South East has been their method for many years now.”Kenneth Osondu said that what’s playing now is the grandmaster plan of the South-East governors whom he alleged believed that for them to create whatever security unit they planned, the army must help them clear out the ESN.“So, we all know what happened. It’s not just today’s issue. They’ve been pushing for this. You remember when leader of South-East Governors Forum, Dave Umahi boasted that they’ll soon launch a security network for the East.“I learnt that after their meeting, they concluded that ESN must go before they’ll use their own outfit to fit in. The ESN is what is delaying their own security outfit not money or time.“The soldiers have been dispatched all over to look for ESN, but unfortunately they never knew how prepared the guys were. The reality is that this gun battle has been going on since the past five days.“It was when the battle became too hot that the army came out on the streets of major roads in Orlu. The ESN were sighted as well, heavily armed and after a little time they disappeared back to the bushes.“I don’t know if a soldier was killed as alleged by many, but I knew something must have provoked the soldiers to be shooting recklessly as they did around Orlu Metropolis today.“I’m from Amiri, and I’m an Orlu man as well. Today, they’ve declared curfew in my LGA Oru East, now if Governor Uzodinma and his appointees are sensible, they should know that the majority of our people may not understand this curfew issue.“They have to sensitize people on what they’re talking about so that our mothers, our wives, and sisters who are going to farms and village markets will not be harassed unnecessarily by angry soldiers whose pride have allegedly been trampled on the ground by ESN.”
Governor Uzodinma is debunking the information that the innocent civilians were killed by the army, as he openly said that some militants killed Orlu residents and not military men or ESN.“This afternoon I received 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 actions.“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 has been imposed, anybody found violating it will be dealt with.“The areas the curfew is imposed are: Orlu, Orsu, Oru East, Ideato north, Ideato south, Nkwere, Isu, Njaba and Nwangele Local Government Areas.“Security has 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”, the governor said.Reacting, IPOB Leader, Nnamdi Kanu, is questioning why the army targeted shop owners and business people in the battle with ESN. “Hope Uzodinma tell those cowards in Zoo military uniform you moved out of Obinze to leave people’s shops and properties alone.“An army that specialises in arson is that one an army? Wretched cowards! What has somebody’s shop got to do with your humiliation today? Come inside the bush if you are looking for ESN not killing innocent civilians in their homes. Orlu is not Obigbo. Useless fools that cannot fight in the bush, only doing gra-gra in the town. Come inside the bush ESN is waiting to greet you.”IPOB’s Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, on his part says, “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.”Igbo National Council (INC) said it is apprehensive that if the crisis is not quickly resolved, it may escalate to other parts of Imo State. Its National President, Godsent Chilos, in a statement is urging the Inspector General of Police to deploy their men to the crisis prone areas while he advised that the military should be withdrawn to avoid further damages.“It may not be to 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 terrorising, 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.”