Assa community in Ohaji/Egbema council area of Imo State went up in tenison as soldiers reportedly escorting suspected stolen crude oil popularly known in the area as ‘asari’ in a tanker allegedly shot and killed a 45-year-petty trader simply identified as Chinedu.
The incident, which happened at Afor Assa market square on Wednesday night, has since caused serious tension in the area.
AUTHENTIC learnt that villagers ran helter skelter for fear of being hit by stray bullets during the incident.
According to village sources, the youths intercepted a tanker loaded with locally refined crude oil believed allegedly being accompanied to an unknown location by soldiers in the community on a special duty.
According to one of the villagers, the youths demanded ‘a passing fee’ from the owners of the illegally refined consignment to allow them continue the journey.
“The army men prevented the owners of the truck bearing the locally refined crude oil from acceding to the demand of the youths. The resulting disagreement went out of control,” the source said.
In their bid to scare the youths that gathered around the truck, the source said the military men started shooting sporadically.
One of the shots was said to have hit the victim who died on the spot.
Our correspondent gathered another youth was hit by the bullet and was rushed to a hospital for emergency attention.
Another eyewitness account said: “On seeing the dead body of the man, the soldiers ran away with the truck driver leaving the ‘asari’ truck behind.
“However, the youth had set the truck with its content ablaze. The dead body is yet to be deposited at the mortuary. The victim was said to be an indigene of Amafor who is resident in Umuopara Obosa to be precise.
“At present, the night is calm, road deserted and dry. People were forced to confine themselves in their houses for fear of the unknown”.
The traditional ruler of Assa autonomous community, Eze Emmanuel Assor, told news men that the community was talking with military hierarchy to ensure lasting peace in the area.
The traditional ruler said: “We are in talks with the military. We want to make sure that such a thing does not happen again and there is a lasting peace. We are also working to ensure that there is a lasting peace between both parties.”
When contacted, the Army Public Relations Officer of 34 Artillery Brigade Command, Obinze, Owerri, Babatunde Zubairu, said: “I am not aware. I am not on duty. I am out of the state.”
But the police spokesperson in Imo State, Orlando Ikeokwu, who confirmed the killing of the 45-year-old said the soldiers were not accompanying the persons carrying the locally refined crude oil.
Rather, he said the soldiers arrested them and were taking them to the military base in the community before the youths intercepted them.
Ikeokwu said it was in a bid to ward off the youths, who became violent the soldiers allegedly shot sporadically in the air before a bullet unfortunately hit the victim.
He said that a police detachment was drafted to the scene to restore normalcy.