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Ohafia monarchs cry out: We’ve become IDPs in our land

Residents groan, as soldiers in search of ‘unknown gunmen’ invade Abia community

There is no better way of describing war in its naked form than what has been happening in Ohafia, the political capital of Abia North Senatorial Zone in the past week.

From Elu- Ohafia to Ebem, Amaekpu, down to Amangwu, soldiers from the 14 Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Ohafia, have been pounding the area with military grim and precision.

And the traumatized people, out of the sheer desire to live, now take refuge inside the bush and other neighbouring communities.

And the monarchs and residents of the community are lamenting that they have become internally displaced persons (IDPs) in their own land.

 

Genesis        

The brouhaha began on Thursday, June 10, when a number of gunmen were reported to have stormed the popular Ebem Motor Park, shot sporadically in the air and fled to the Amangwu area of the town.

Reports say when soldiers in the nearby 14 Brigade of the Nigeria Army got wind of the incident, they went after the hoodlums and having meant with little success in their first outing, they retreated, reinforced and went back to Amangwu community in the early hours of Monday.

Saturday Sun learnt that in their second visit, the gunmen engaged the soldiers in a gun battle that lasted several hours. In the crossfire, unconfirmed account had it that six soldiers were killed, while one of the gunmen equally lost his life.

 

People turn refugees

The people of Amangwu fled their homes in their droves to take refuge inside the bush and neighbouring communities, as soldiers descended on them, allegedly harassing and intimidating the natives. Houses and vehicles were set reportedly ablaze by the rampaging soldiers.

A native of Amangwu Ohafia, Udo, who resides in Umuahia, in confirming the incident, told the writer that one of his relatives called him on phone about 4.30am on the day and told him he was calling from inside the bush where they had gone to take refuge.

People residing in Elu, Ebem and the adjoining villages of Ohafia, distant from Amangwu equally had tales to tell. Iheanyi, a retired civil servant and a resident of Ebem has this to say: “This is 8.30am on Monday. People are still indoors, no vehicles on the streets and we have no hope of going out to look for what to eat.

“Over 300 soldiers were drafted to Ohafia in the past three days and everywhere is militarized and people are afraid to move about freely. What we are seeing in Ohafia today is reminiscent of the sit-at-home order by the IPOB when all the streets were deserted as people stayed at home”.

Another man, Kalu said soldiers used bayonet to puncture the tyre of a man’s SUV in Ebem over sn alleged infraction of their rule.

Army’s position

In spite of the fact that natives of Amangwu who fled the community in the wake of the military onslaught were yet to return home, and the remains of burnt houses and cars in the area, the army said its troops were not on vengeance mission in Ohafia, insisting that no soldier was killed.

On Monday, June 14, Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Mohammed Yerima in a statement said: “The attention of the Nigerian Army has been drawn to a story making the rounds in the social media that troops are on a vengeance mission in some communities in Abia State following the death of six soldiers in a clash with ESN/IPOB terrorists. The story further alleged that as a result, residents of Elu, Amangwu and Amaekpu in Ohafia LGA have embarked on mass exodus out of fear.”
Going further, Yerima wrote: “The Nigerian Army wishes to debunk the allegation as baseless fabrication aimed at not only tarnishing the good image of the NA but to create distrust between the public and security agents in the state.
“The true position is that troops carried out routine clearance operations in line with the rules of engagement and respect for fundamental human rights of the citizens aimed at restoring socio-economic activities which were hitherto disrupted by criminal activities of IPOB/ESN elements who attack security agents and government infrastructure.
“Troops of the Nigerian Army working in conjunction with personnel of Nigeria Police and other security agencies leveraging on timely and accurate intelligence provided by patriotic citizens, are working tirelessly to restore normalcy to troubled areas and to rid the state of criminal elements.” 

Monarchs cry out

But even as Brigadier General Yerima was dishing out the statement, the monarchs met in Ohafia and cried out over the military onslaught. In a communiqué after a meeting attended by the Council of Ohafia Monarchs, leading members of Ohafia Improvement Union (OIU) and Ohafia leaders of thought and signed by Professor. E. U. L Imaga, Udumeze Ohafia / (Ezieogo Elu); Ezieogo Emmanuel Kalu Kalu Onugu (Ezieogo Asaga); Ezieogo Mba Odo Okereke (Ezieogo Akanu); Ezieogo AWA Nwankwo (Ezieogo Amaekpu) and Ezieogo Mmecha Ugbu Mmecha (Ezieogo Amangwu), on behalf of Council of Ohafia Monarchs, they stated that they viewed with utmost concern the insecurity situation in Ohafia, resulting in series of harassment and intimidation of law abiding residents of Ohafia by security agencies.

The communiqué 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 intimidations and harassments.

“We do not know any ‘unknown gunmen’ 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 stigmatizing all youths and residents of Ohafia.

“The Council of Ohafia Monarchs have used various traditional instruments of authority (Imomo, Ogele, Akpan, etc) to advice and counsel Ohafia youths and persons to be law-abiding and responsible citizens.

“The continuous lockdown 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 appreciate the presence, services and comradeship of the Nigerian Army and other security agencies in Ohafia, and hope it will so remain cordial to all concerned.

“We however, condemn the continuous harassments 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”.

Monarchs’ meeting with Brigade commander

To ensure that those who fled their homes, particularly in Amangwu and the lockdown in other communities was eased, the Council of Ohafia Monarchs on June 15, held a meeting with the Brigade Commander 14 BDE, Brig. Gen. M.B  Wabili and other senior officers.

Speaking on behalf of the monarchs, Elder Emmanuel Kalu Kalu Onugu, the Ezieogo of Asaga Ohafia noted that the meeting became necessary as a result of the military siege in Amangwu and some other communities of Ohafia.

He was of the opinion that as a result of the militarization, economic and social activities of the people suffering huge loss and impacted negatively on the people.

Ezieogo Kalu Ikenga urged the 14 BDE Commander to reconsider easing the lock-down in some parts of Ohafia.

Excited at the monarchs’ approach, Brig. Gen. Wabili appreciated them for taking proactive step as custodians of their communities and people.

While he made a promise that the military authorities would review the lockdown as requested, Brigadier General Wabili however urged the monarchs to ask law abiding residents that have fled Amangwu to return to their community.

  • The Sun

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