- 1 A brutal reprisal mission to Oyigbo
- 2 The Terrible Things of Oyigbo
- 3 Oyigbo Massacre Victim — 14-year-old Victor Eme
- 4 Another Oyigbo Massacre Victim — Francis Ejiogu
- 5 Yet another Oyigbo Massacre Victim — Emeka Onyeama
- 6 “Six persons confirmed dead at Glorious Hospital, Oyigbo”
- 7 “Ambulance burnt with dead bodies inside”
- 8 Oyigbo suffered for “harbouring” IPOB
- 9 IPOB
- 10 Oyigbo killings triggered by Lekki Shooting, but more tragic
- 11 Wike, army lied
Premiumtimes Nigeria gives a view of the horrific bloodshed and massive extrajudicial killings in Nigeria’s Oyigbo community
This is a moving story of how the Nigerian Army inflicted war-grade assault on Oyigbo community in Rivers, killing many residents, and injuring many others. It is another case of gross human rights violations.
Like most brides-to-be, Queen Nwazuo, 30, was beside herself with anticipation. Her wedding to her fiancé, Monday Bakor, was scheduled for next February and the preparation for the event had long begun. But the rosy future the student of Abia State Polytechnic looked forward to with her lover was truncated by bullets from rampaging troops of the Nigerian Army, who were on a reprisal mission in Oyigbo, Rivers State.
Ms Nwazuo, an orphan, was shot dead on Thursday, October 22, as she and Mr Bakor were trying to lock the latter’s shop at 12B Ehi Street as residents scurried to safety from soldiers who were shooting indiscriminately at unarmed civilians in Oyigbo town. Oyigbo lies west of the Imo River, the location of the oil wells that straddle Abia State and Rivers State in Nigeria’s Niger Delta.
“They did not care,” a distraught Mr Bakor told PREMIUM TIMES as he sobbed intermittently. “They were directly shooting at people. It was not stray bullets. They were directly shooting people. They killed people and they were using grammar to explain it.
“They came to the street where people were and I saw everybody as they were locking their shops. I was rushing to lock mine when a bullet pierced through the iron door of my shop. I saw particles all over me but the bullet hit my fiancée and she fell.
“I did not even care if they would kill me. I carried her to the hospital with the help of a person who brought a bike. It was at the hospital, Divine Light, that she was confirmed dead. Nobody was confronting anybody in that area. I am not IPOB. I don’t meet with anybody. You can only see me at my house and church and that shop.
“I am angry. They killed innocent people and they are still denying. They killed a woman I am about to marry next February. I opened this shop for us to make some money to use for her return to school.”
Mr Bakor said he and his late lover had fled Oyigbo to Etche on Wednesday, before they returned on Thursday, believing calm had returned. He said he took the woman’s remains to a mortuary around Timber Road in Oyigbo, a claim verified by PREMIUM TIMES. Informants at another mortuary at Imo River, which a resident, Emmanuel Maduabuchi helped locate, said families were bringing dead bodies to deposit amid the siege.
“It was divine grace that I was not also killed when I took her to hospital and later to the mortuary. Everywhere was dry and there were shootings everywhere,” he said.
Another victim, just like several others who were killed by the troops, Excellent Moses was, on the evening that the fatal cockktail opened in Oyigbo, standing hundred metres from the Mbano Camp Junction where an armoured combat vehicle of Nigerian soldiers was stationed, powering gunfires to different directions . He was hit by a bullet. Fallen and soaked in blood, Mr. Moses, a young Christian minister, let out a loud painful screech, before some low dying moans.
His friend by whose house he was standing, Willy Callistus (surname not included over safety concern), hurtled towards him. Given a fireman’s carry, Mr Moses was taken to a nearby hospital, Glorious Medical Centre.
“By the time I got to the hospital after his friends called me, my son was already dead,” Mr Moses’ mum, a civil servant, visited by PREMIUM TIMES, began, struggling to hold back tears. “I saw two holes, one on his chest and the other by his side, meaning the bullet pierced through the front and blew open his side. His shirt was also perforated.”
Mr Moses, a pastor serving at the Living Faith Church, Igwuruta, a Port Harcourt suburb, had travelled to his Oyigbo family home on Tuesday, October 20, to get a carpenter and interior decorator for some work at his Igwuruta apartment. It was a journey of no-return. He was shot dead by soldiers, his family and two friends, who witnessed the fatal incident, said.
“They said soldiers did not kill anybody in Oyigbo but my own first son was killed and those who witnessed the incident and carried him, like these boys (pointing to Willy Callistus, and Emmanuel Maduabuchi, another of Mr Moses’ friend) said the bullet was from the APC (armoured personnel carrier) at the (Mbano Camp) Junction,” his mother, a civil servant, told PREMIUM TIMES at her Ohita Street family home.
This reporter saw bullet holes on the houses close to the spot where Mr Moses stood before he was killed.
The video in this tweet has been verified to that of a young man called Justice, who was shot by Nigerian forces in Oyigbo. We showed the video to a set of young men at a football field off the road that leads to the Glorious Medical Centre. They identified him, as did Willy Callistus separately.
A brutal reprisal mission to Oyigbo
The killer soldiers launched out on a vengeful mission after mobs, whom the authorities alleged were members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), an Igbo separatist group, killed some security personnel. As fully-loaded military trucks rolled into the town, soldiers, armed to the teeth, jumped down in combat fashion, then took strategic positions on the streets of Oyigbo, also called Obigbo. The carnage soon began in earnest.
The official narrative provided by authorities was that the troops were deployed to the town to fish out separatists who murdered soldiers and police officers. Authorities also said the soldiers were there to recover stolen arms.
But under what seemed a deliberate blackout, with a 24-hour curfew in force, the Nigerian Army inflicted a cocktail of devastation and bloodshed on the town, a PREMIUM TIMES investigation found, based on on-the-ground reporting, interviews with multiple sources, including families of victims, witnesses, military, mortuary attendants and hospital sources, and a review of verified citizen-generated videos and photos.
The soldiers took vengeance on defenceless people in what ranks among the cruellest use of excessive force against unarmed civilians in the country’s history. The carnage at Oyigbo is comparable, in its execution, to the massacres in Odi (1999) and Zaki Biam (2001), under former President Olusegun Obasanjo; and Zaria(2015), under incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. Both leaders were military dictators before becoming democratically elected presidents.
For several days between the last week of October and November 3, soldiers, day and night, fired bullets around Oyigbo, indiscriminately targeting unarmed civilians, several of whom were either killed or injured, multiple witnesses, among them rescuers of victims, said. They planted fears in the community and triggered forced displacements, with residents fleeing westwards to Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, or eastwards to neighbouring Imo and Abia States.
“My family was able to escape to Port Harcourt,” Christian John told PREMIUM, adding that a friend, with whom he attended preparatory lessons for the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations in the past was killed during the shootings. He only identified the friend by his first name, Olisa.
At Mbano Camp Junction, on the old road to Aba, the economic nerve centre of Abia State, an armoured combat vehicle was stationed, ferociously powering gunfires in different directions, according to multiple witnesses, including residents and tricycle operators, who operate in the vicinity. It was some hundred metres away from that spot that, Mr Moses, the young Christian minister, was hit by a bullet.
Amid the siege on Oyigbo, gory pictures depicting man’s inhumanity to man emerged on social media at the end of October and Rivers State, once the main theatre of Niger Delta militancy, became Nigeria’s latest epicentre of gross human rights abuses, competing with Lagos where soldiers descended on peaceful protesters, killing yet an unknown number of them and injuring several others.
As public concerns rose, #Oyigbo #Obigbo #Oyigbomassacre trended on Twitter days after Mr Moses and several others, including at least one child, whose case was verified by our reporter, were killed by the soldiers. Many of the soldiers who executed the massacre were deployed from the Operation Delta Safe camp protecting Imo River oil and gas installations, sources familiar with the matter said.
The Terrible Things of Oyigbo
“Terrible things happened in Oyigbo,” a worried Ifeanyi Egesi said, as he drove this reporter towards the subdued community. On this day, Mr Egesi was the only Port Harcourt airport cabman who agreed to take an Oyigbo-bound passenger. Others were fear-stricken, aware of the grisly crimes that had happened there and the possibility of being killed by soldiers.
Henry Shield, who told PREMIUM TIMES he had spoken with people on the ground, including one person, Monday Bakor, whose fiancée, Queen Nwazuo, was shot dead, said, “what happened in Oyigbo was total suspension of people’s rights, like a declaration of martial law.”
Residents unable to flee the town complained that they were left starving in their homes as they were unable to go to work or buy food to eat for days because of the indiscriminate shootings by soldiers. They said they only began to enjoy some reprieve after the 24-hour curfew was reviewed to 7 PM – 6 AM on November 3.
With a 24-hour curfew in force and with the Rivers State Government and the army denying extra-judicial killings of innocent and defenceless people and human rights abuses, a clear and factual picture of the situation was slow to emerge.
During our week-long investigation in Oyigbo, we observed that fears rang clear among the people and many of them had to clear their telephones of pictures of victims or military in action over fear soldiers could forcibly take their devices and punish them for having recorded abuses.
By interviewing several residents, many of them still terrified, our reporting showed nearly every individual in Oyigbo is aware of the abuses, having witnessed them happen, seen mourning families, or seen fleeing residents and dead human beings abandoned by the roadside like the two at Trailer Park.
We obtained disturbing pieces of evidence suggesting war-grade violence by the military on unarmed people and challenged the claim by the government and the army that the Oyigbo operation was only in search of stolen arms and members of the separatist group, IPOB, accused of carnage.
Oyigbo Massacre Victim — 14-year-old Victor Eme
Among multiple witnesses interviewed by PREMIUM TIMES, a motorcyclist, who did not want his name mentioned, said he saw seven persons die from gunshots fired by soldiers at three different locations.
He took our reporter, accompanied by Willy Callistus, to the three locations. At one place, a right turn after the roundabout on Old Aba Road, facing Imo River eastwards, three persons were said to have been killed there. But the families refused to comment on the record, firmly rejecting requests for details after confirming the fatalities only.
One family member said they were scared as soldiers were stationed just across the Imo River bridge and that they remained suspicious that the soldiers had planted informants among the civilian population.
Next was to Bernard Eme, who operates a restaurant on the Old Aba Road, and had two of his brothers helping him. One of them, Victor, a 14-year old schoolboy, was hit by bullets during the siege of Oyigbo, Mr Eme confirmed.
“We thought he (Victor) was in the shop during the shootings but I was called that he was shot and lying on the ground. I said ‘no’ that he was in the shop with my other brother but he left the shop when the other boy had slept off,” Bernard said. He said neither he nor his brothers had any link with IPOB.
He said Victor was taken to Heritage Hospital where he was confirmed dead.
The third place the motorcyclist took PREMIUM TIMES to was the market “by St. Paul Catholic Church” where three men were said to have been shot dead. One person at Mr Eme’s restaurant corroborated this claim, apart from traders, who also said their wares were destroyed.
Another Oyigbo Massacre Victim — Francis Ejiogu
Francis Ejiogu, 28, described as a forklift operator and phone businessman by his parents John and Stella Ejiogu, was hit by a flying bullet on Thursday, October 22.
“He was not protesting, he was hit by stray bullets,” the deceased’s friend, Victor Chidiebere, told PREMIUM TIMES. The late Francis, also commonly called ‘Paapaa’, was described by his friends as a kind fellow.
He was with his grandmother on Location Road – which links the Palace Road of the Oyigbo monarch, Mike Nwaji and Shell Road from Mbano Camp Junction – when gunfire caught him, the father Mr Ejiogu, said. He was the only son of his parents, who now have two surviving daughters.
“He was rushed to hospital by my in-laws at her maternal grandmother’s place,” Mr Ejiogu said. But Francis died the following day, Friday, October 23, at the Divine Light Hospital in Oyigbo.
Yet another Oyigbo Massacre Victim — Emeka Onyeama
Emeka Onyeama lived with his younger sister in one of the houses right of Mbano Camp Junction when one looks eastwards. Their house, visited by PREMIUM TIMES, has a shop, which the sister uses for petty trade, and through which their sleeping space is accessed.
He was a transport worker, helping the Junction’s tricycle drivers solicit passengers, two of the drivers, Chidi (who wanted only his first name published, concerned about his safety) and Emeka Chinemeram, said.
The two drivers took PREMIUM TIMES to the house Mr Onyeama shared with her sister before his death. But the sister had left for their village in Enugu State to report the killing of her brother to their parent, neighbours said. The remains of Mr Onyeama were taken to the mortuary by his sister, assisted by men using a motorcycle, neighbours and Mr Chidi said.
Mr Chinemeram said he had cleared his phone of photos of Mr Onyeama’s remains and those of the two dead bodies at Trailer Park because he was scared soldiers could seize his phone and find he had documented evidence of their excesses.
“Six persons confirmed dead at Glorious Hospital, Oyigbo”
For the days the soldiers besieged Oyigbo, six persons hit by bullets were taken dead to Glorious Medical Centre, authoritative sources at the private facility told PREMIUM TIMES. One of the six persons was Excellent Moses whose grieving family PREMIUM TIMES visited.
“We confirmed six persons dead as they were brought severally,” one person at the hospital said. “14 persons were admitted and we referred some to the University of Port Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, UPTH.” The hospital sources did not disclose the identities of those admitted and transferred to the teaching hospital.
At the teaching hospital, Choba, in Port Harcourt, a front desk nurse, identified as Mercy, confirmed victims from Oyigbo were referred to the public facility. She declined to disclose details of patients, citing hospital rules as reason.
But our reporter told another nurse that he was in search of a friend who went missing in Oyigbo and believed to have been brought to the teaching hospital.
The nurse checked the register for the fictitious name our reporter provided. Of course, it was not found. However, the nurse disclosed that there were Oyigbo victims admitted but that access to the wards would not be granted since the fictitious name of the missing person our reporter provided did not match any entry in the register.
But she said, “one person among those brought during the incidents in Oyigbo is now dead, and was a Cameroonian, called Eriga. But there was no serious person with him and he was on the bed there (pointing to one of the beds in the hospital’s Accident and Emergency reception area) before he died the following day.”
“Ambulance burnt with dead bodies inside”
The commercial motorcyclist, who said he witnessed how seven persons were killed by soldiers, and led this reporter to the restaurant of Mr Eme, whose 14-year old brother, Victor, was also killed, again took us to the Market area to see and photograph a burnt ambulance in the middle of the road.
One person, at Mr Eme’s restaurant, – who also corroborated the motorcyclist’s claim of having witnessed fatal shootings of three persons at the Market “by St. Paul Catholic Church” – confirmed the account on the burnt ambulance with the dead bodies in it.
We saw and took photographs of buildings the motorcyclist and residents said were razed by soldiers. One of such buildings, on Timber Road, was used by IPOB members as a place of worship and they called it synagogue, we were told. Another was razed by soldiers on suspicion it has links with IPOB but residents said there was no link to the organisation.
Oyigbo suffered for “harbouring” IPOB
We described our findings to the spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Division based in Port Harcourt, Charles Ekeocha, who asked if we had been to Oyigbo, and then said “no comment”. Our letter of November 11 to the Division’s General Officer Commanding (GOC) also detailed our findings. We did not get a response by the time this story was published.
However, two senior officers and a barrack civilian worker with knowledge of how the army mobilised for the Oyigbo operation, volunteered some details, speaking anonymously.
They said the mood in the army high command after soldiers were killed by suspected IPOB members was that of anger and inclination to demonstrate strength and take vengeance.
That resonated with the soldiers whom our civilian source said were told by a commander that order had come from “above to decimate all IPOB elements.”
The army then decided to execute a brutal offensive against the entire Oyigbo community because they accused the people of providing a haven for IPOB, the sources said.
“All of them are accomplices,” one army source said, and queried: “What were the village people, the traditional council, the local government, the youth, the police, the SSS in Oyigbo doing when IPOB elements were hoisting flags, like Boko Haram, painting building IPOB colour? They were calling a place IPOB territory in our country and the people allowed that.
“Just the way Boko Haram declared territory, IPOB did that. All people there are accomplices. So, everybody has to pay. There must be consequences. They are now talking about human rights when action is being taken against them.”
But the secretary to the Oyigbo Traditional Council, Precious Enweruka, rejected the claim that the community harboured IPOB, saying the proscribed group exists in other places and that the civilian community has no security duty and capacity to block any association or people from operating.
The army has no strong voice discouraging them against rights abuses in Oyigbo, with the state governor, Mr Wike, saying the reprisal operation was not targeted at innocent and defenceless people.
However, appearing to be referring to Mr Wike, our army source said politicians should not be in a haste to call in the military for internal law and order duties because we “are not trained to dialogue or arrest. Soldiers are trained to kill.”
The spokesperson for the Rivers State Government, Paulinus Nsirim, and his colleague, who is Mr Wike’s media aide, Kelvin Ebiri, declined to comment for this report. We described our findings to Mr Nsirim and mentioned that his principal’s claim on Oyigbo was false and misleading. Mr Nsirim did not answer or return calls. He also did not respond to a text message. Mr Ebiri asked to be called back after we told him our findings contradict his principal’s claim. He did not answer repeated calls afterwards.
A lawyer and spokesperson for IPOB, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, did not comment for this report even after repeated promises to do so.
Led by fugitive, Nnamdi Kanu, IPOB is agitating for the secession of the Igbo from Nigeria, decades after late Odumegwu Ojukwu first mobilised the nationalist aspirations of the ethnic group to break away, resulting in a 30-month civil war (1967-1970) that cost millions of lives.
With years of bad governance and government’s failure to address the challenge of national integration, secessionist agitations were reawakened by IPOB, leveraging people’s anger against the state.
In 2017, Nigeria proscribed IPOB and declared it a terrorist organisation amid a major standoff with the army in Abia, the home state of Mr Kanu.
The Imo River separates Mr Kanu’s native Abia State and Oyigbo in Rivers State. This location, as well as being an indigenous Igbo community, may have made Oyigbo the hotbed of IPOB activities in Rivers State, which unlike Abia, is home to several other ethnic groups, including the Ogoni, the Kalabari, the Okrika, and the Ikwerre, among others.
Despite its proscription, IPOB is becoming increasingly radicalised, observers say, and its leader, Mr Kanu, continues to fire incendiary remarks, usually against Abuja and the Muslim Hausa-Fulani north. In Oyigbo, particularly, residents accuse the separatists of hoisting the Biafran flag and of exhibiting violent tendencies.
Governor Wike has repeatedly denounced the group, insisting the state subscribes to Nigeria’s corporate existence and indivisibility.
Oyigbo killings triggered by Lekki Shooting, but more tragic
The shooting of peaceful #EndSARS protesters at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos on the night of Tuesday, October 20, immediately triggered a wave of anarchic violence across parts of Nigeria, with mobs targeting police stations and private and public assets.
The protests turned violent in Oyigbo too and mobs broke into two police facilities, one on the expressway to Aba and the other at Afam, stole arms and ammunition and set inmates free in the early hours of Wednesday, October 21.
Residents said among the mobs were IPOB members, with whom the police had endured a prolonged period of hostility. “It is hard to show evidence that IPOB were the only ones that destroyed the stations and killed the policemen but we, who know them, could identify them among the hoodlums,” said one resident, Emmanuel Maduabuchi.
Four police officers were savagely hacked and burnt and police stations were razed, the police and residents said. The spokesperson for the police in Rivers State, Omoni Nnamdi, told PREMIUM TIMES that two of the slain cops – Ona Amaechi and Sunday Dubol – were Inspectors, and the other two – Swale Orlan and Umulla – were sergeants.
After it became clear the police had been overpowered, soldiers intervened that morning, and one senior army officer said it was on the invitation of Governor Wike. “As they saw soldiers arrive, they should have withdrawn but they continued and murdered seven soldiers,” the army officer said in Port Harcourt. “The soldiers were not killed. They were slaughtered by IPOB.”
Two burnt military vans at the market before the Imo River bridge in Oyigbo.
Wike, army lied
Beginning from the evening of Wednesday, soldiers re-mobilised and invaded Oyigbo. But with the media hardly gaining access, both Mr Wike and the army continued to make official claims that the military operation was aimed at arresting IPOB members and recovering stolen arms.
On Sunday, November 8, Igbo leaders and governors from the Southeast zone visited Mr Wike in Port Harcourt on what they called a fact-finding mission. During that visit, Mr Wike repeated the claim that the military was in pursuit of IPOB whom he suggested were criminals. The visitors accepted Mr Wike’s claim that defenceless residents, in the community majorly occupied by the Igbo, were not targeted.
Particularly, Governors Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia and David Umahi of Ebonyi said they had determined that what circulated on social media as killings of unarmed civilians was fake news. Similarly, the President of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Jim Nwodo, praised Mr Wike and rhetorically asked the audience if there was any threat to them in Rivers State.
The visiting Igbo leaders were never in Oyigbo. But, perhaps unknown to them, they were used to validate Mr Wike’s claim, a misleading narrative aimed at covering up the army’s excessive use of force.
Mr Nwodo was twice contacted by phone but he said he could not comment “for now” and he also did not reply a text message informing him our findings showed his delegation was misled by Mr Wike. We could not get through to the governors.
Our findings contradicted substantial parts of the claims by the army and Mr Wike. While the soldiers indeed went after Oyigbo residents suspected to be IPOB and suspected to have participated in the attacks on security operatives and destroyed their buildings, they indiscriminately shot at defenceless and innocent people, leaving many dead. They tortured residents and several persons are missing in Oyigbo.
Calls for independent probe
Henry Shield, who has been using the social media to call attention to the Oyigbo massacre, said he spoke with the governor, Mr Wike, whom he said sounded “like he was in full support of what the army was doing.”
He said, “If crime was committed, nobody will support killing anybody or security operatives but the normal, civilised response should not be shooting at people on the streets, extra-judicially killing people. You have to uphold the law as a government.
“But the pity is that there is no searchlight on what truly happened in Oyigbo. But these are children of some people, parents of some children killed. There has to be justice for these victims.”
Mr Shield then called for an independent probe, which he said, “has to be a judicial panel because the government is complicit and the panel has to consist of retired judges whose biases do not tilt towards any side. We have to know what truly happened and all those, whether IPOB or soldiers, that have murdered people, must be prosecuted.”
Similarly, the Oyigbo Traditional Council called for an independent probe.
“There should be an independent body for truth and reconciliation and determine what truly happened in Oyigbo,” the secretary to the traditional council, Mr Enweruka said. “We have heard from the people that the security agents were killing people. Our independent body is better placed to ascertain what happened. People are injured and trust has to be rebuilt between the people and the security operatives.”
Nigeria’s federal government has not acknowledged the killings and other rights abuses in Oyigbo.
SOURCE: PREMIUM TIMES