Esther Offem, 30, has been in a state of despair since the death of her 70-year-old father, Okoi Offem. Offem was killed by soldiers who invaded the Nko community in the Yakurr area of Cross River, South-south Nigeria, on Sunday, June 26.
HumAngle earlier reported that the soldiers were on a peacekeeping mission in response to a communal crisis between Nko and Onyadama, both in the Cross River Central Senatorial District, when one of their commanders was killed in Nko.
In retaliation, the soldiers killed at least 10 residents when they opened fire on the community. They also razed many homes, leading to the displacement of hundreds of persons.
Esther says her father, Okoi, was one of the residents killed by the soldiers as he was burnt alive during the incident.
The age-long communal crisis
HumAngle learnt that the warring communities have been in dispute over farmland on their border for over 10 years. The communities, located along the Calabar–Ikom highway, have had communal warfare that has claimed many lives, including women and children.
The crisis has also led to abductions on both sides as several houses, churches, and pieces of farmland also got destroyed.
On Friday, June 24, the two communities were engulfed in another fight, claiming four lives and leading many others to sustain injuries. The Nigerian Army deployed soldiers on a peacekeeping mission on Saturday, June 25, to curb the violence.
HumAngle learnt that during the peacekeeping operation, a military officer (a major) was shot and subsequently rushed to the hospital, where he was confirmed dead. Six other soldiers were also reportedly shot and sustained severe injuries.
Irene Ugbo, the spokesperson of Cross River State Police Command, confirmed the death of the high-ranking military officer. However, she did not give additional details on the incident or the abuse of human rights that followed.
Following the major’s death, soldiers invaded Nko community on Sunday, June 26, shooting at residents. While many people fled and went into hiding, some did not survive the invasion.
Esther told HumAngle that her aged father, Okoi, could not walk when the soldiers arrived, so he was burnt in his razed house.
“My father had arthritis, so he couldn’t walk well, which made it difficult for him to leave his house. The soldiers locked him inside and burnt the house. This was done to other villagers too,” the deceased’s tearful daughter said.
“My mother, Mary Offem, is in her 60s and currently hiding in the bush because the soldiers are still there. She was the one who called to inform us about the incident. She’s in the bush with some other villagers as we speak. The experience has been terrible for me, and we need the authorities to stop the soldiers from shooting.”
Another resident who asked to be anonymous because of fear of reprisal told HumAngle that many injured civilians were battling for survival in the bush.
“We have been displaced from our homes. The soldiers have no mercy on us. About 10 people have been killed and we are made to suffer and cater for those who sustained injury in the bush. They broke our houses and burned shops. Even the elderly ones are not spared from the inhumane act,” he lamented.
Efforts to reach the military authorities were unsuccessful as Onyema Nwachukwu, the Nigerian Army Spokesperson did not answer calls or respond to texts sent to his phone.
Gov’t dethrones monarchs
Meanwhile, the Cross River State Government has announced the dethronement and decertification of the Obol Lopon of Nko, Obol Etim Ayomobi, in Yakurr and the Clan Head of Onyadama, Ovarr Vincent Erena, in Obubra LGAs with immediate effect.
This was confirmed in a statement by Linus Obogo, the Deputy Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ben Ayade. According to him, “the ownership of the disputed land has been revoked and taken over by the state government for overriding public interest.”
While the government did not address the killings and displacement of innocent citizens, it directed that military operations should be maintained in Nko until perpetrators of the attack on security personnel are produced.
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