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Residents Live In Fear After Soldiers’ Clash With IPOB In Southeast Nigeria

Many residents in Orlu LGA of Imo State, Southeast Nigeria are yet to recover from the clash that occurred between some soldiers of the Nigerian Army and IPOB members on Sunday, April 17.

Since ‘IPOB militants’ killed Aloysious Okolie on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, his wife, Ngozi, 50, has struggled to take care of their six children. 

Like many Christian homes, Easter Sunday came with her children feeling elated. Though they had nothing to eat, they were optimistic when they saw their neighbours preparing different meals. They looked forward to eating whatever was brought to their doorstep, but that never happened. 

The day was marred with bloodshed as a result of the clash between some soldiers and members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

A yet to be ascertained number of people were killed on Sunday, April 17, as soldiers from the 34 Artillery Brigade opened fire at Orlu Local Government Area (LGA) of Imo State, Southeast Nigeria.

How it happened

Multiple witnesses told HumAngle that soldiers encountered separatist agitators during a routine patrol at Banana Junction of Orlu while “enforcing the illegal sit-at-home order on law-abiding citizens going about their legitimate businesses.”

Upon sighting the IPOB members, soldiers began a firefight with the armed separatists, shooting indiscriminately at residents. Confirming the incident, the army, in a statement by its spokesperson, Onyema Nwachukwu, said the soldiers who opened fire did so to combat members of IPOB at Ihioma community in Orlu. 

While he was silent on the number of citizens killed and injured during the firefight, Nwachukwu said, “one of the criminals (IPOB member) was taken out, while others fled in disarray.”

Residents who spoke with HumAngle, however, said no fewer than four people were killed in what appears to be a gross violation of fundamental rights during the soldiers’ raid. The development led to the hashtag #OrluIsBleeding which trended on Twitter on Monday, April 18 and early Tuesday, April 19. 

In one of the video clips shared online, some residents were seen scampering for safety while sounds of gunshots rend the air. Others were also seen weeping and lifting the corpses of their loved ones killed in the attack.

“This is the popular Okwu Aki or Inland Guest house [which] has been razed down by the military forces. They have been shooting since morning. Shooting and killing innocent people, burning peoples’ shops and properties. That’s what we witnessed today. So, we are not happy,”  a voice was heard speaking in the clip.

Meanwhile, the military denied, saying:, “having suffered casualty and effectively denied freedom of action by the troops, the irredentist group have resorted to cheap propaganda to whip up public sentiments by circulating a doctored video on the social media alleging troops complicity in their mindless atrocities.”

Residents live in fear

Orlu local government is believed to be the epicentre of IPOB attacks in Imo and soldiers have repeatedly launched deadly attacks on residents during their search for militants. Ngozi told HumAngle that members of affected areas have remained indoors since the incident occurred last Sunday. 

“Government deployed its security agencies to destroy people celebrating their Easter. We are sad. I can’t even allow my children to go out since Sunday because we don’t know when the next attack will be. The IPOB militants are also embarking on ‘point and kill’ of security operatives. Orlu is not at arrest,” she said. 

Another resident who does not want his name mentioned for fear of being attacked said that business activities are yet to resume as many residents are scared of the next move by IPOB members in different communities of the local government.

“Fear has enveloped different communities since the return of the clash between security operatives and IPOB militants. People are scared to go out, let alone send their children on errands.”

Our reporter also had telephone interviews with police officers who claimed working in Umuna, Okporo, Awo-Omama, Owerre Ebeiri, and Ihioma in Orlu has become increasingly difficult for security operatives who are scared of attacks.

The police spokesperson in Imo State, Michael Abattam, did not respond to HumAngle’s enquiries seeking comments from him on the current situation of things in troubled Orlu.

IPOB’s evolution

IPOB, an outlawed group, has been linked to deadly attacks in the Southeast, but the group has repeatedly denied its involvement.

The aim of the separatist organisation is to create an independent state of Biafra in the Old Eastern Region of Nigeria, comprising the current Southeast and South-South regions. It was founded in 2012 by Nnamdi Kanu, who had spoken at gatherings where he threatened Nigerian authorities and called for Biafra’s independence.

At various times, he referred to Nigeria as a zoo, urging his loyalists to take up arms against the state. “We need guns and we need bullets. It’s either Biafra or death,” he said in a 2017 interview. Kanu was arrested and charged with treasonable felony, unlawful possession of arms, and illegal importation of broadcast equipment at a Federal High Court in Abuja in 2015.

He was granted bail on medical grounds in 2017 after spending 18 months in incarceration. He later jumped bail and fled the country, claiming that he feared for his life after security operatives raided his home in a standoff that left some people dead. 

Almost four years later, Kanu was recaptured and he has since June 29, 2021 remained in detention. The violent activities of his followers are eclipsing communities and cities in the Southeast, a situation that is fast looking like  the early stages of a full-blown insurgency.

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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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