Kanu’s townsmen speak on military onslaught

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My sister was shot dead by soldiers — Traditional ruler

Following the detachment of soldiers from the Nigerian Army to Afaraukwu, the country home of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, traditional ruler and residents shared their ordeals with Ogbonaya Ikokwu

Can you briefly introduce yourself?

My name is Chimechefulam Odoemelam. I am the traditional prime minister of Egwu Afara Ukwu in Umuahia North Local Government Area of Abia State.

What happened on Thursday?

What took place on Thursday, when the soldiers invaded our village, is better imagined than experienced. At about 4:30pm, we were in our house when we started hearing gunshots. We heard bullets landing on our roofs. When the shooting stopped – and having learnt that the soldiers had left – we ran for our dear lives. The whole village was deserted.

What did you do?

On Friday morning, I came back to assess the situation. Because we thought that they might come again in the night, we decided not to sleep in our houses. So, when we returned this morning, I saw my sister lying in a pool of blood.

Is she a member of the Indigenous People of Biafra?

She was not a member of IPOB. She was an innocent citizen of Nigeria. It is unfortunate that she lost her life in this crisis. I think we are in a democracy where every citizen has the right of expression, association and movement. So, I don’t know why ours should be different. IPOB members here do not carry arms; they go about their activities peacefully. I wonder why the military would open fire on innocent civilians going about their normal activities. I don’t know whether the government wants to wipe us out. How can we be treated this way when we don’t have militants and Boko Haram members in our area?

What do you plan to do?

It is appalling. I’m a victim of what I don’t know. I won’t fight the government. I have reported the killing to the police and we have buried my sister on Friday. Our minds are no longer at rest. Soldiers have been intimidating and harassing my people since last week. Those who are brave enough to stay in their houses are living in fear. They cannot even go out. We are peace-loving people because of our village’s closeness to the Abia Government House.

The Army said the deployment of the soldiers in the village was done to maintain law and order. Do you think their reason is justified?

This is the hometown of Kanu and we have never had any issue that led to a breakdown of law and order. Kanu can’t run away from his father’s house. He is neither a criminal nor a militant. I don’t see any reason why he should not be allowed to stay in his community. The only thing the government has against him is that he is the mouthpiece of our people. That is the only crime he has committed. He has a matter in the court with the Federal Government and he is on bail. If he has violated his bail conditions, why can’t the Federal Government wait for court to make a pronouncement?

He is in his fathers’ house. They should allow him and his community to be. We are living in fear and constantly wondering why the military should invade our community with armoured personnel carriers. Many of my people, including children, are currently taking shelter inside the bush. Our pupils can’t go to schools, while shops around here have all been closed. We are pleading with the Federal Government to tell the army to leave our land immediately. The official residence of an assistant inspector general of police is close to our town, while the commissioner of police also resides few metres away from us. So, if there is any problem, the police can handle it. Let the ‘python’ go into the bush and dance; we don’t want to see them (soldiers) where people are living. What business do human beings have with pythons? How can pythons be dancing for us?

How have the residents of this community been surviving since the incident?

We now open our doors only to the people we know. We buy household items by knocking on the doors of people that can recognise our voices – that is how we have been surviving since last Sunday.

The government should listen to the people calling for restructuring. Many people have been calling for the 1963 constitution and the implementation of the 2014 National Conference’s recommendations. The government should negotiate with people. They should gather groups from all the geo-political zones to decide the way forward. What we are experiencing today is happening in other countries. The Federal Government should handle the Biafran agitation diplomatically and not with force. The government should wait for the court to decide Kanu’s case. Re-arresting Kanu will not solve the problem. It will worsen the situation. It is the court that has the jurisdiction to say Kanu breached his bail conditions and not the Federal Government telling the court what to do – that is an aberration. The government should let sleeping dogs lie. Re-arresting him will worsen the problem on the ground.

‘Buhari treating us as if we’re not Nigerians’

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Chief Mike Eze, a resident of the community.

Where were you when the soldiers invaded the community?

We were relaxing in our various homes after a church service last Sunday in the evening when we started hearing sporadic gunshots at about 5 pm. Then we heard the blaring sound of sirens in the community. We were all embarrassed because this is a community where aged people live and such an act could raise their blood pressure.

How many people were shot?

On that Sunday evening, they shot one boy in the leg. He was rushed to the Federal Medical Centre in Umuahia. The invasion of the community by soldiers has caused tension as people are running away to the bush, while others are relocating to safer communities. The soldiers should stop tormenting us. This community is the heart of Umuahia and also the heart of Biafra. During the Nigerian civil war, the late Odumegwu Ojukwu, Michel Okpara, and Joe Effiong stayed here – it is a peaceful community.

What do you want the government to do?

We respect President Muhammadu Buhari. He has supporters here. But we don’t like the way he is treating us. He is treating us as if we are not Nigerians. He is using soldiers to intimidate us. This is wrong. Kanu is not violent. Why should soldiers embarrass him for saying the truth? In the North, there are people killing others and causing confusion, but here we are going about our normal activities. Kanu didn’t disturb anybody in the community. Our youths have not tried to block the army at any time. Instead, they are now running away from their homes to avoid being shot.

We can’t sleep again —  Village head

Can you briefly introduce yourself?

I am Chief Iheanacho Ariwaodo, the village head of Umuobasi Afara.

How did the soldiers’ invasion of the community start?

It all started around 4pm on Sunday when we saw the soldiers jumping down from their vans and Armoured Personnel Carriers harassing everybody. Before long, we started hearing gun shots and there was panic all over the place. Some people started running away to save their lives.

What then happened?

After sometime, the soldiers left. When we got close to the place where they were shooting, we discovered that some people were injured and we took them to the hospital.

On Tuesday, the soldiers returned again and people started running away from their homes.

What is the current situation?

The crisis has affected us badly. Before the Sunday incident, our community has always been peaceful, but now we can’t sleep with both eyes closed any longer. Traders around here now operate in fear; there is tension everywhere in the village.

My advice to our youths is that they should not allow themselves to be provoked into taking up arms because the IPOB leaders have assured everybody that their agitation would be very peaceful.

People hungry, afraid to go out – Alozie Ndulaka, resident

How has the crisis affected you?

Ndulaka

The presence of soldiers in our community since Sunday is causing tension. Commercial activities have been paralysed and hunger is in the land because everybody is afraid to go out to look for what to eat. We hope the National Assembly will intervene and ask the soldiers to go back to the barracks.

Can you tell us what happened?

When soldiers stormed our community last Sunday evening, the people who called themselves the Biafra Security Service scampered to safety because they were not carrying arms.  Members of the Independent People of Biafrans are just creating awareness about what is happening in Nigeria.

So, if they were really trained as soldiers, they should have faced their Nigerian counterparts. The entire agitation will die a natural death if the Federal Government could ignore the activities of IPOB members.

We’re Biafrans, not Boko Haram – Chisom Edward, injured youth

 Tell us your experience?

We were going about our lawful activities when the soldiers invaded our town last Sunday evening. They shot sporadically and everybody ran for dear life.

Deploying soldiers to our community is not proper at all.

Were you injured during the shooting?

Many people, including me, sustained injuries while trying to avoid being hit by gunshots. Our lives are in danger because the government has declared IPOB as a terrorist group. We are not Boko Haram. We are Biafrans and we are fighting for our freedom. We don’t want to be in Nigeria again. Asking soldiers to invade Nnamdi Kanu’s house is unfair and shooting innocent people is against the law.

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