Oyigbo’s residents in Rivers state, where the Nigerian Army and the police have laid siege for 12 days now, ostensibly in search of members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, alleged to have killed some army officers and policemen and burnt down several police stations and court in the local government.
Some residents of the area, now gradually recovering from the initial shock of the terror associated with the military action on the area, are beginning to speak. And they are saying that the violent incidents that engulfed Oyigbo, in the aftermath of the EndSARS protests, were not the handiwork of IPOB as alleged at state government and security quarters.
Some of them who spoke to our correspondent on the telephone said that IPOB never carried out any protest at Oyibo, explaining that the violence was the handiwork of hoodlums who hijacked the peaceful EndSARS protest there, just as was the situation in many other cities where the protests were held across the country.
The state police commissioner had publicly accused IPOB members as being behind the October 21, 2020 violence at Oyigbo. During the riots, some army and policemen were killed, just as police stations and court premises in the town were burnt.
With the report, the state governor, Nyesom Wike, went very hard on the group, reinforcing the proscription of its activities and even declaring one Stanley Mgbere, a native of Onne, labelled their leader as wanted and a bounty of N50 million put on his head to facilitate his arrest.
The governor went further to order local government chairman in the 23 local government areas of the state and youth groups to hunt and fish out all the IPOB members among them.
All these have heightened fear and tension in the state drawing reactions from different segments of the state.
One of the residents who gave his name as Onyeka told Orient Daily that the acts of violence that greeted Oyigbo following the EndSARS protests were perpetrated by hoodlums and not IPOB members saying that it was a known fact that hoodlums are made up different types of people, from different parts of the country, especially youths.
He said: “My brother what we saw in Oyigbo is very unfortunate because, just like other protests in Lekki, Abuja, Enugu and other places, the protest in Oyigbo was very peaceful until hoodlums were sponsored to hijack it and unleash mayhem on the public.”
“I make bold to tell you what I witnessed. Hundreds of thousands of youths in Oyigbo, without any tribal or ethic divide had been part of the peaceful protests across the country without any form of violence. Specifically on the 20th of October, a day before violence erupted these youths gathered at the popular Oyigbo express roundabout and marched up to Eleme junction and returned to Oyigbo without any form of violence and there was no mention of IPOB because the crowed was a mixed crowd, there could have been some IPOB members among them but the protest was not organised by them and nobody mentioned anything like that.”
When asked what point the whole thing turned violent and who was responsible he said: “on Wednesday, October 21, 2020, following the awareness of the youths of the release of those held at the police cell at other places, the youths at Oyigbo called on the DPO of the Oyigbo police division to demand the release of all those in their custody”.
According to him, the DPO agreed to their demand but, after waiting for several hours for him to release the inmates without any action, they decided to march down to the police station to secure the release of the inmates.
Onyeka added: “Unfortunately, as they were approaching the police station, some of the officers on guard duty opened fire on them during which some of the youths were hit by bullets. But because the huge number of youths involved, they outnumbered the policemen at the station, killed the one who shot the victims and set the station on fire.
Some of the youths rushed the wounded to a hospital, Divine Love, but the medical director insisted on police report before he could attend to them in the process of which one of the victims died. This annoyed them and they also set the hospital on fire.
That was how the whole thing degenerated to an orgy of violence, leaving in its trail, death, maiming, arson, all kinds of violence and, now, a curfew that is on its 12th day, with attendant hunger and health challenges with military action accompanied another round of killings, arrests, torture, intimidation and social and economic disruptions as is being witnessed at Oyigbo in the past 12 days now.
Onyeka’s story was corroborated by another resident, Jonny Okoronkwo, who did not hide his anger against Rivers state governor for declaring that the violence in Oyigbo was carried out by IPOB members.
He fumed; “Wike does not have any evidence to support his claim. IPOB did not organise any protests in Oyigbo. What happened at Oyigbo was in relation to the EndSARS protests that happened across the country and that of Oyigbo was peaceful until the police shot and wounded some of the protesters”.
He added that before violence broke, the protesters were gathered somewhere at the Oyigbo express junction, opposite the police doing their things until an overzealous mobile police officer fired and wounded some of the protesters.
He explained that it was unfortunate that the governor is taking out the violence at Oyigbo on IPOB when he knew that IPOB membership goes beyond the Igbo to include Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Bayelsa and many other states beyond the south east zone.
“Wike’s action is only an attempt to give the dog a bad name in order to hang it. This is very bad politics he is playing and it’s very unfortunate”, he stated.
He advised that the governor should not play politics with the lives of the people, stressing that the long curfew on the whole of Oyibo has made the lives of the natives and residents of Oyigbo very difficult, not to talk of the military action which has left, in its wake, death, maiming and agony.
Okonkwo who resides at Oyigbo north lamented the huge collateral damage associated with military siege by the army who are on revenge mission over their slain colleagues and the arms seized from them.
Hear him; “since that night the military moved in with all their men and arsenal, public power supply was cut off from the whole of Oyigbo and all up till now (Tuesday), November 3, power is yet to be restored to the area.
“The whole of that night and several days after people could not sleep because of the booming sound of gunfire with many innocent people who don’t know about IPOB or their activities caught in the crossfire.
There is this young lady, Queen, on Ehi Road, part of the town who operated a POS shop where she also sold lady’s wigs and accessories who was hit on the neck right in her shop and she died instantly”.
Onyeka who also confirmed the story in a separate interview with our correspondent said that he knew the brother-in-law of the lady and actually joined him to take her remains to a mortuary.
According to her, “When we got to the mortuary, what my eyes saw was very horrible. At the entrance of the mortuary were two other dead bodies, a male and a female but when we entered inside, I personally, counted another 30 corpses all killed by the bullets of the soldiers”.
“There’s this other guy that escaped only by a miracle. He lives on Timber Market Road and is a high blood pressure patient. Because of the siege and nights of sporadic shootings his blood pressure rose and he was short of drugs and was forced to venture out and buy some. According to him, the guy was picked up on his street by a team of military men in a Hilux van. Inside the van were about 10 other persons arrested before him and they were all taken to Bori Camp.”
He explained that the guy had a business that made him close to some army personnel at the 6 Division, Bori Camp and that was the situation God used to save him.
“He said that, while they were there after having been thoroughly manhandled on the way, an officer he knew met him and, learning what brought him there, told him he was not supposed to be there.
“The soldier later took him to see a superior officer who interrogated him and told him that they were going to kill all of them saying that while that was going on, he was over hearing gunshots and wailing from the place. He was taken away from the other 10 arrested persons.
“He said that when he was permitted out to go, he didn’t see any person from that group anymore saying he suspected they might have all been shot the time he was hearing the gun shots.
He said that the young man was yet to fully recover from the shock of his experience and same for so many of the other families and relations of the many who died or sustained all kinds of injuries in this avoidable bloodletting that has trailed the EndSARS protests in Oyibo, Rivers state.