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Izombe: The Violence Turning Imo Community Into A Ghost Town

Running battles between police and separatist terrorists have left people living in fear in the oil-rich community of Izombe in Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State in Nigeria’s South East.

Residents of an oil bearing community in Oguta Local Government Area of Imo, South East Nigeria are living in fear after terrorists left a trail of death and destruction through their community.

Militants from the group Indigenous People Of Biafra have mounted several attacks on the community over the last few weeks. Young men have become the target of attacks in Izombe and some neighbouring communities of Oguta, residents told HumAngle.

People have also been caught in the crossfire between the terrorists and the security services.

HumAngle spoke to residents of Izombe with the aid of a local police officer. The officer spoke under anonymity from state capital Owerri with two men who witnessed the violence and had fled from the town.

“We continue to witness house-to-house raiding of homes and burning of properties amid indiscriminate killing of perceived innocents,” said Chinedu,* a resident.

The terrorist group often comes out of these encounters on top as they have a plentiful supply of weapons, people in Izombe say.

“Though police and soldiers try to confront them, the terrorists import arms from neighbouring states.  They call their friends from other states and smuggle arms in a sand tipper,” Chinedu said.

“The civilians know them but they are not willing to point fingers because they are scared that the terrorists may retaliate. The community has been deserted and we only have corpses and elderly people left.”

Uche,* can no longer visit Izombe since his family house was destroyed a month ago. His elderly parents survived the attack and fled to another relative’s house. Now Uche is scared that he may fall prey to the militants if he tries to check on them. 

“Despite being one of the main oil-bearing areas and food basket of the state, people can no longer feed. My parents now look for shelters and food in other communities,” he said. 

A 66-year-old woman named Mama Ngozi* said her house was burned down a month ago. She is now sheltering in a church with other affected persons.

“I have been depressed since my house was burnt,” she said. “My husband was buried in front of the house after he died of sickness last year. Now, I can’t even have access to the house or sweep the surroundings of my husband’s burial ground as I used to do. My husband built the house many years ago with our savings from the farming business we run.

“The church where I currently occupy has been good to the elderly people in the community, especially some of us with our children far away. My two children are in Lagos. One works as a bus conductor while the other is a generator mechanic. They know about my situation but I won’t even advise them to come home because they may be attacked.” 

She explained that she is traumatised and hopes that the government will help the elderly people displaced by insecurity with accommodation.

“The situation would have been better if I could relocate like others but I have nowhere to go. My children are far away and would not want to risk having them around. I would not want any of them to die before me and the best thing to do is to ensure that they do not come at the season of crossfire between IPOB and security operatives.

“I only hope that the government will help us out of the problem we face daily. For me, I don’t know where to start. It’s late for me to begin the foundation of any house. In all that happened, it hurts that I can no longer watch over the burial ground of my late husband which is his last home.”

Unending violence 

Imo is one of the states where an outlawed group of pro-Biafra protesters began a sit-at-home order in 2021. 

The curfew is to protest the incarceration of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement who repeatedly referred to Nigeria as “a zoo” and urged his loyalists to take up arms against the state.

On Mondays and other days that Kanu appears in court, residents are forced to stay off the streets under threat of violence. When violators are not killed, their businesses are destroyed by members of the IPOB’s Eastern Security Network (ESN).

HumAngle reported how IPOB terrorists bombed Izombe market and razed vehicles while enforcing a sit-at-home order on June 21, 2022. 

Several houses and shops were also set ablaze in August 2022 by terrorists who invaded the community. HumAngle obtained a video clip of residents struggling to put off the fire after the attack reportedly lasted for over two hours. 

Residents struggled to put out the fire after the terrorist attack in Izombe.
Residents struggled to put out the fire after the terrorist attack. Photo: Emeka Macdonald.

“It is not easy for us. They broke people’s shops and carried their goods before setting buildings on fire,” a voice in the background said during this interview

In April this year, the police command in Imo said many people were seriously injured when its tactical team engaged the militia arm of the IPOB in a bloody shootout in Izombe. 

Henry Okoye, spokesperson of the police said they gathered intelligence that members of the proscribed group were planning to unleash a surprise terror attack and formed a camp at Ubah Agwa/Izombe tropical rainforest in Oguta LGA.

On searching their hideout, which also served as their shrine, three Automatic Pump Action guns, 31 rounds of live cartridges, 59 rounds of AK 47 ammunition, one police hand grenade, IPOB/ESN insignia, and police uniforms were recovered. 

A month later, the terrorists killed Victor Ijioma, one of the traditional rulers of the town and set his corpse ablaze. 

Community deserted 

HumAngle also gathered that over 50 houses were set ablaze during different confrontations between security personnel and non-state actors, leading to the displacement of many in June. 

They accused the police of indiscriminate killings of innocent people and destruction of the houses in their operations.

The National President Ohanaeze Youth Council (OYC), Igboayaka Igboayaka said rather than help to bring peace and tranquillity, security operatives turned hostile to the residents of Izombe. 

While denying the allegations against security operatives, the public relations officer of police in the state, Okoye insisted that police actions are targeted at flushing out suspected members of IPOB/ESN in the oil producing community.

Disturbed officer 

Speaking with HumAngle, a police inspector who has served Nigeria for nearly 20 years said he “would have long resigned from the police force if I had another job but no one will take care of my family so I have to continue to endure.”

He added: “One of our officers died last Sunday during crossfire with the IPOB and this has become a norm.”

One of the houses burnt in the troubled community in Izombe
One of the houses burnt in the troubled community. Photo: BBC.

This police officer’s frustration was triggered by a rising wave of attacks on police in Izombe. 

“We have been able to restore normalcy to many flashpoints of IPOB but things are getting worse for us in Izombe. If the criminals observe that you are wealthy, they will kidnap you. They have made life difficult for many people,” he continued.

“There was a day we were just parading and they started shooting at us. Two security operatives were shot and nothing significant happened to encourage us because the relatives of the deceased have been left to suffer by even police authorities.” 

The officer who spoke with HumAngle under anonymity for fear of being sacked explained further. “The people here are passing through a lot. You can’t come to Izombe as a young man. It’s either you get attacked by terrorists or attacked by security operatives who may mistake you for one of the terrorists.”

Residents, however, appealed to the federal and state government to rescue the people of Izombe so that anarchy would not become normal.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

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Adejumo Kabir

Kabir works at HumAngle as the Editor of Southern Operations. He is interested in community development reporting, human rights, social justice, and press freedom. He was a finalist in the student category of the African Fact-checking Award in 2018, a 2019 recipient of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, and a 2020 recipient of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. He was also nominated in the journalism category of The Future Awards Africa in 2020. He has been selected for various fellowships, including the 2020 Civic Media Lab Criminal Justice Reporting Fellowship and 2022 International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) 'In The Name of Religion' Fellowship.

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