Rights group, Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC) has urged restraint over military siege on Oyigbo Local Government Area (LGA) of Rivers state following destruction of lives and property by suspected Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB).
The said IPOB gang had on 21 October killed four policemen, burnt three police stations and courts while the Army lost six soldiers in that area, all weapons (guns) of the security operatives carted away by the assailants.
The call for restraint on Monday by YEAC Executive Director, Fineface Dumnamene, comes as residents in Oyigbo raised alarm over mass hunger as a result of Rivers Government imposed 24hour curfew in the locality, just as others alleged vengeful military intimidation, torture and killings in Oyigbo communities.
Among the claims against the military, a civil society group leader narrated on anonymity that, “Soldiers came to a church near my house yesterday (Saturday) in neighboring Igboh Etche, Etche LGA, around 4 pm and burnt a church down with two vehicles.
“The church known as El Shabah is a known base for IPOB members. The area is so tensed. This burnt car belongs to the owner of the El Shabah Church in Ikwerre Ngwo. The church also had its back burnt while the front suffered structural damage.”
Another resident claimed, “Soldiers are on offensive in all the criminal hideouts in Oyigbo. Terrible discoveries have been made in hideouts such Waji down below, kom kom, Mbano camp, Obeama. Some of the looted items were recovered there. A number of arrest were made.
“But you cannot not rule out intimidation and harrassement of innocent residents when there is military engagement. Residents have not seen such massive deployment of soldiers in Oyigbo that is why there is panic everywhere. The military airial survey yesterday in Oyigbo sent jitters down their spines.
“I think they will be more scared tommorow because I learnt from military sources that there is going to be military show of force tomorrow in Oyigbo. But hunger is more deadly now especially those that have exhausted their stock”
Dumnamene in his appeal to the military said, “We strongly condemned the violence, killings and other atrocities by suspected IPOB which resulted in the killing of security personnel, including military and carting away of their arms.
“While we are not against efforts by both Rivers and Federal Governments through the security operatives to smoke out those who have allegedly killed security personnels, leaving their families in pains, it is important that the ongoing military operations are carried out within acceptable rules of engagement with human face.
“ADVOCACY CENTRE is worried that with residents of urban Oyigbo including the elderly, the sick, pregnant women, children and other vulnerable members of that locality are locked down indoors for over 10days now and some may already be dieing silently in their houses.
“Two wrongs cannot make a right. Rivers Government should kindly lift the Curfew imposed on Oyigbo area and Ikoku in Port Harcourt without further delays to enable affected persons who are yet to fully recover from the impacts of COVID-19 Pandemic lock downs to breathe!”
Responding to the allegations, Spokesperson for 6 Division, Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, Col Charles Ekeocha, “We lost six soldiers in that area, their weapons were carted away, it was planned and executed.
“The weapons taken away are in the wrong hands and if we don’t retrieve those weapons now, subsequently those weapons will be used; if not against us, it will be used against innocent citizens in that area or any other part of the country.
“The exercise going on there now is searching and identifying houses used by the so-called IPOB members. We are searching those houses to see whether we can get all those rifles they took away from our soldiers, that is what we are doing, we are professional about it, I don’t know about the issue of the firing of weapons.”