By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Dennis Agbo, Ugochukwu Alaribe, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Chinedu Adonu, Peter Okuku, Chinonso Alozie & Ikechukwu Odu
ENUGU — OBIGBO, a major Igbo settlement in Oyigbo Local Government Area of Rivers State was in the news for negative reasons during the recent #EndSARS protests that was hijacked by hoodlums.
The case of Obigbo was pathetic because there were alleged claims that Igbo youths said to be IPOB members allegedly clashed with youths from the north, including Hausas and Fulanis, a situation that degenerated to a worrisome level that the Governor of River State, Mr Nyesom Wike made a broadcast outlawing IPOB in the state. He also imposed curfew on the entire Oyigbo council area.
He went ahead to place a N50 million Naira bounty on the head of the leader of IPOB in the area. And in a not-well calculated move, the leader of the IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu also placed double that amount on Governor Wike’s head. Wike’s broadcast raised tension in the Obigbo and the entire Oyigbo council area.
The broadcast prompted soldiers to move into the community to allegedly kill; torture and maim. They were alleged to have gone from house to house in search of Igbo youths who were branded IPOB members.
International and local civil societies raised alarm over the gory pictures being seen on the social media. Attention shifted to Rivers State, especially to the much neglected Obigbo area.
Governor Wike, who was being fingered as inviting the solders said to be wreaking havoc denied it, saying he never invited any soldier to kill any Igbo man or any person for that matter.
Whatever happened, Obigbo took a centre stage both in Nigeria and the Diaspora. Igbo leaders became worried over the ugly news coming out from Rivers State over Obigbo issue.
This prompted the governors of the South East State alongside some select Igbo leaders to take a trip to Port Harcourt to see Governor Wike.
Before then, Wike again denied any allegation of ordering the killing of Igbo youths even though he vehemently condemned the activities of the IPOB members among them. Was the outcome of the journey something to rejoice over?
Position of civil rights groups
A reputable rights groups, International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, Intersociety, highly alarmed over what happened in Oyigbo and Obigbo in particular, alleged that at least 50 persons were killed at Obigbo and 80 others sustained various degrees of gunshot injuries during the operation allegedly by soldiers that invaded the council area following the #EndSARS protesters in the state.
The human rights group alleged that many of the protesters were also blindfolded and taken to unknown destinations, claiming that those arrested and taken away allegedly by the officers of Nigerian Army were not handed to the Rivers State Police Command.
In a statement signed by its board chairman, Comrade Emeka Umeagbalasi, which was made available to South East Voice, the group alleged that: “We also wish to state clearly that the 50 death figures and 80 gunshot injuries in Obigbo and environs were most likely to be very conservative.
“This is going by the fact that pieces of credible information were still filtering in and what we have given here is the general evaluation of what happened.
“The projected 50 deaths and 80 injuries were temporarily arrived at based on credible information gathered from some of the survivors, who also told us that they (allegedly) saw soldiers driving away dozens of blindfolded residents of their area (Obigbo and environs) with their hands tied behind their backs and taken away half-naked in batches of military vehicles.
“Intersociety is presently carrying out extensive investigation into the massacre especially with regard to ascertaining the final figure of the dead, the tortured, the sexually harassed including the raped; the burnt, the destroyed, the looted, the arrested and incarcerated and the permanently disappeared persons.
“The number of those blindfolded and made half-naked who were independently seen being taken away is estimated at over 200. Our contacts who independently verified from police authorities said police told them that none of them arrested and taken away by soldiers since 21st October has been handed over to the Rivers State Police Command as at 4thNov 2020.
“This raises serious suspicion of secret killing of scores of them by soldiers and possible decimation of their bodies with acid substances for purpose of erasing traces. We also seriously suspect that those arrested since two weeks and possibly held illegally in secret alleged Army custodies are most likely to be undergoing outlawed and agonizing detention practices.”
Another civil right group, Convener of Voice from the East, VEAST described “Obigbo killing as one action too many” and did not exonerate Governor Wike of blames in the whole crisis. According to the leader of the group, Convener of Voice from the East, VEAST, each of the identified victims should be paid N10million as compensation from Governor Wike’s administration. He maintained his accusation that Rivers government deployed military to Obigbo, insisting the government could not exonerate itself from the bloodshed in Obigbo.
“Obigbo killngs is one action too many and it is squarely resting on the shoulders of the government. Obigbo in Igbo language means, Heart land of Igbo. So, Obigbo is Igbo heartland. The governor (allegedly) called in the military who went berserk, killing anybody they saw, especially males, on the guise of being members of Buhari-banned IPOB.
“He went extra mile by (allegedly) announcing that Ikwere is not Igboland. The later grandstanding is not an issue because if Ikwere people like, they can be from Benin or anywhere they claim they come from. I am a proud Igbo person and there is nothing Igbos are deriving from Ikweres specially that is not found in Igboland. Oil which is their main ego, is found everywhere in Ngwaland, Ukwaland, Etcheland, Anambra and Imo. So, oil is not the prerogative of Ikwere people. Let them be a separate tribe like Igbo, the better for Igbo even.
“On the issue of Obigbo killing, he cannot exonerate himself from the bloodshed. He (allegedly) called in the military, personally and he cannot succeed in denying it no matter how he tries.
“As for the visit of South East Governors to Rivers, there can never be more preposterous visit than that. The Eastern governors acted on their unhistorical minds in that visit. Unhistorical in the sense that they never resorted to history of the war to find out how Ikweres treated the Igbos as well as the abandoned property saga.
“They could have known that an average Ikwere person does not and cannot believe in Igbo cause throughout his life time. They visited Wike nonetheless, but he gave them the backlash by shouting to their hearing that he would not allow annexation of any part of Rivers State.
“Now, I ask who is annexing Ikwere land. What has annexation got to do with the killing of Igbos in Obigbo? That tells you their unchangeable mindset of in relation to Igbos. That visit is one most unreasonable visit too many to be undertaken by Igbo governors,” he lamented.
He suggested that a committee to determine the level of killing which would include the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, government of River State and family members of those that were killed should be formed and that a compensation of at least N10 million has to be paid to each family of the deceased to relieve the pains of losing their love ones.
“It is necessary to form a committee to look into the killing. It is veritable to do so as it involves life. But the committee to be formed has to include three parties: the families of people who lost their members in the killing, Ohanaeze Ndigbo as well as the government of Rivers State. The people that lost their loved ones must be present for relief to be completed.
“On the side of compensation, no amount can equal life. But to address the issue on the balanced wheel of compensation, it is only being veritable for the family of each person killed to receive not less than ten million naira (N10,000, 000) from Rivers State Government.”
We are satisfied with Wike’s explanation — S’East Govs, Ohanaeze
While the South East governors and Ohanaeze leaders that visited Rivers State said thaty were satisfied with Governor Wike’s explanations and assurances, some other Igbo leaders dismissed the the trip as jamboree, mere political visit.
Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, said they were satisfied with Wike’s assurances that Igbo people and their investments are safe in Rivers State and urged Igbo people to remain law abiding and go about their businesses without fear and stick to the values of handwork and industry which Ndigbo are known for.
“This, therefore, becomes an auspicious moment to remind our people of our socio-cultural and economic affiliations with our brothers from Rivers State. Ndigbo must stick to our age long traditions of hardwork, industry, penchant for contributing meaningfully to the development of our host communities.
“It is not in our character to malign and disrupt the peace around the place we strive for our livelihood. Respect the laws of the land and constituted authority.”
Like the governor said:”Our visit opened doors for sustainable dialogue with Rivers Government. Ohanaeze Ndigbo also said that the recent visit to Rivers State has opened the door for sustainable dialogue with the government of Rivers State on the recent Oyigbo killings that took place in the state.
“The issue under discourse is very crucial to existence and progress of Ndigbo in Rivers State. The Oyigbo people are peace-loving and as well industrious. What the meeting intended to achieve was to establish and consolidate a synergy with the Rivers Government.
“The government of Rivers State is willing to ensure oneness, peace and economic stability in that affected community. In fact, from what happened, the Oyigbo people are now fully assured that the leadership of the South East will never neglect them.
“What Ohanaeze Ndigbo will do is to maintain a synergy between it and the Rivers Government. Ohanaeze Ndigbo intervened alongside the South East Governors and by that initiative, the people of Oyigbo were given a sense of belonging.
“That singular visit will not heal the wounds of our people and so, we will ensure, by way of follow up that the decisions reached during the meeting are implemented to the benefit of all and sundry.
“The South East governors are not resting on their oasis in this matter. They have advocated for peace, togetherness and oneness.
“We will sustain the tempo of our relationship with the Rivers Government. What we are clamouring for is peaceful coexistence. Nobody gains anything meaningful in an atmosphere of rancour and acrimony. Our people have businesses everywhere including Rivers and so, living in peace remains the ultimate”, Prince Uche Achi-Ogbaga, the Acting Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo said.
S’East Govs visit to Wike exercise in futility
But an Onitsha based industrialist Chief Johnson Okolo dismissed the governors of the South East and select Igbo leaders visit to Governor Nysom Wike of Rivers State as exercise in futility and a political jamboree.
While condemning any kind of violence, destruction of lives and property as unacceptable, Chief Okolo also said South East Governors should stop being the first to condemn their own people, adding that their pronouncement in the meeting was capable of causing more crises.
Referring to the claim at the visit to Rivers State that the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, wants to cause another civil war, Chief
Okolo urge the governors and Igbo leaders in that meeting and in subsequent critical issues to watch their words and stop condemning anything IPOB, and emulate their counterparts in other parts of the country who have refused to condemn or call their violent youths doing more dangerous and terrorist activities.
He said that everything about the Obigbo killing whether of the Army and Police, the action of the Rivers State Governor, Army killing by the Army days after the alleged killing of soldiers and IPOB alleged complicity according to Governor Nyesom Wike, were wrong and unacceptable.
“I am against shedding of innocent blood under any guise, the killing of whether the Army, Police or Obigbo youths were wrong. I am particularly angry about killing of the Obigbo youths days after the alleged killing of soldiers in Obigbo because the youths that were killed may be innocent.
“The visit of the South East Governors and some Igbo to Rivers State to make peace was unnecessary after the killings. What peace are you talking about? Will it raise the innocent youths that have been killed?
“I am not in Obigbo to know exactly what happened but one problem with Nigerian security men is that they are never sincere in whatever they are doing.
“Thieves or armed robbers may be robbing in this place and they will operate for two to three hours without challenge and shortly after they have left, you will see the security men coming to arrest whoever they see around the scene, it may even be people passing through that place that did not even know what happened there.
“If Wike and the Army had arrested the people that killed, destroyed properties and snatched the so called 50 guns while they were committing the crime, I will not pity them and whatever that was done to them, irrespective of who they are and the name they took to commit the crime.
“But I am against going to arrest and kill innocent people that did not know anything about the killing of the Army and the alleged snatching of 50 guns.
“I am totally against killing of innocent souls. I know the Nigerian military style when such killings happens. They will say this is the place they killed our colleagues and they will open fire and kill innocent people who did not even know what happened there.
“Some people may even go from Onitsha to Obigbo and may not even know that there was problem in Obigbo and may be killed for an offense they did not know anything about.
“That is what I am totally against. It is not the first time; it has happen in Odi Bayelsa State.
“It is unfortunate that government has not done anything to stop that kind of killing of innocent people. Instead, they have justified it by their actions and utterances, without even investigating if the people killed are actually those that committed the offense.
“That is jungle justice. There is no way any civilian will kill a soldier or an Army officer or any Police man, snatched their guns and still remain in that community unless they are not human beings.
“They know that they have committed an offense and they will leave the community immediately they killed soldiers and snatched guns and for anybody to come after two to three days to claim they were there to search and arrest the killers of the soldiers were just not serious because they will not see any single person involved in such crime and anybody they arrested and killed in connection with that crime was an innocent person.
“The governors who made that visit were on a political mission and jamboree and not to address the crisis because their comments at that meeting was not in any way that which can bring peace, but more trouble and to embolden the mind of the people who killed the Obigbo youths.
“While I’m not a supporter if IPOB, I must say the people on that visit to Rivers State governor were just haters of IPOB and that was why their comment was that IPOB wanted to cause another civil war as if the killing of Obigbo youths was proper thing that should be done in revenge for the soldiers allegedly killed in Obigbo”, Okoro said.
For the Igbo National Council, INC, those who made the trip to Port Harcourt belittled Ndigbo politically. INC, President Chilos Godsent said the visitors did not realize the implication of the visit.
He said implication of the visit of the Igbo leaders had made the South South region politically superior to the Southeast region.
“We are not comfortable. It was Wike who (allegedly) committed a genocide against the Igbo race. The leaders ought to be at their own home to receive Wike, coming to beg them. It was a colossal mistake by the Igbo leaders going to visit Wike.
“They should apologize to the Igbo race for taking that action. It will have political implication because what it intends to portend politically is that Wike and the entire South South are politically superior. It has dwarfed the political integrity of the Southeast”, Godsent said.
We will not keep quiet over things that happened in Obigbo
On his own, the President World Igbo Assembly, Dr. Nwachukwu Anikweze who expressed worry over the killings and time warned that Igbos in Diaspora would not keep quiet while their people were slaughtered like cows in the home front.
Anikweze, who is the traditional prime minister of Abagana in Njikoka local government area of Anambra State where he spoke said: “In the past we had peace and tranquility in Nigeria, but things have changed with stories of killing people, something we cannot tolerate. We are very concerned about that because the well- being of our people is involved.
“We will no longer accept this condition and we are going to talk to our people on what to do. Everybody needs to prepare to defend himself and his family.
“Whatever efforts we are making to ensure peace has nothing to do with what IPOB is doing. IPOB is fighting for freedom from a different way. We are supporting what Ohaneze Ndigbo is doing.
“We are using diplomacy to solve the problem. We are happy the way Ohaneze is speaking out about what is happening in Nigeria.
“All we want is for Nigeria to be restructured so that every part of the country can develop at its own pace. We are not looking for the breakup of Nigeria. If Nigerians can live together, that will be better. But if it can’t work, we cannot sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Nigeria. If Nigeria can work and everybody benefits from it, I am for that. If it wouldn’t work, there is nothing wrong with that either. So our approach is diplomacy; talking to other people to try to solve the problem peacefully.”
He was, however, not happy with the way government has been handling the issue of killing in the country. “Government has handled security issues poorly. Things are worse in the country now than in the past. Our leadership stinks and it is all corruption from head to toe. The security system is corrupt and these are the reasons our youths don’t have hope.
“The rest of the world is moving forward while we are retrogressing. Here we are striving to eat once or two times a day. Our leadership is a disgrace and it is because of it that our youths don’t have a future.”
Also, the World Igbo Congress has demanded a thorough probe, sanctions over Oyibo killing. They called for an immediate investigation by Amnesty International and other international agencies concerned with human rights violations on the killing of unarmed civilians, mostly Igbo youths in Oyibo, Rivers State.
The Congress also demanded for imposition of sanctions, including travel-bans, on Nigerian officials found to be complicit in the killings.
WIC said it was disturbed by the alleged Executive Order issued by Governor Nyesom Wike which allegedly led to the widespread killings of the Igbo Youths in Oyigbo and Port Harcourt areas of Rivers State by the military.
World Igbo Congress said recognizes the fact that no branch of the Nigerian military is under the command of the governor, but that the governor’s acquiescence to the military’s high-handedness in the prosecution of their search and destruction of IPOB members and their properties leaves no pretense about the close collaborations of the governor with the military establishment in the gruesome killings, tortures, and maltreatments of Igbos of Southeast region extractions residing in Oyibo and the Port Harcourt areas of the State.
WIC spokesman, Basil Onwukwe in the group’s reaction to the Obigbo killings said that: “Such dictatorial practices will not change the youths’ demand for their right to live as full Nigerian citizens and be governed well in a country they call their own. The use of Nigerian military as fire-brigade to crisis with its poor record in managing tense and fluid political situations is ill-informed.
“The use of an ethnic-biased expatriate order against a political pressure group, IPOB, whose memberships span across the nation as a terrorist group to demand arrest and killing of the unarmed youths is unjustified.
“Governor Wike who may have fallen out of favour with IPOB principal officers must not settle scores with every Igbo youth in Oyibo.”
“The federal government has not brought the killers of our youths at Lekki tollgate in Lagos to justice but continue reprisals killing and freezing of #ENDSARS individual accounts.
“World Igbo Congress calls on the federal authorities to immediately embark on a de-escalation process to ease the resulting tensions and restore normalcy and engage in meaningful reforms as demanded by the protesting youths.
“#ENDSARS movement involved youths of all ethnic nationalities and government’s refusal to pay the populace back with this most oppressive and hapless approach is sad, to say the least. To single Igbo youths out for government’s reprisal counter-offensives is not auguring well for our national politics,” Onwukwe stated.