At least nine pastors and 24 church elders have been arrested by soldiers in search of the camps of the personnel of Eastern Security Network (ESN) owned by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in some parts of Orlu Senatorial District.
The church leaders, The Nation learnt, were arrested following the raids that started in January in Orlu communities, especially Njaba, Orsu and Oru East council areas.
While peace seemed to have been restored early February, the military in conjunction with the Intelligence Response Team of the police, stormed the areas last weekend.
Some of those arrested were Presiding Priest of Our Lord’s Sabbath in Umunam Atta Community, Njaba LGA, Rev. Chigozie Nwaka as well as a number of other clerics and church elders in Ubokoro Atta, Okporo, Okwudor.
It was gathered before the latest raid, soldiers invaded some churches, including House of Prayer International Covenant Church Okporo Orlu and arrested over 20 members of the church, including clerics.
However, spokesman of the Imo Police Command, Orlando Ikeokwu, told The Nation he was not aware of the arrest and detention of any church member in connection with the Orlu crisis.
But the ongoing military operation in search of the camps of the personnel of the ESN has created panic in Orlu, Njaba and Orsu Local Government Areas.
Our correspondent learnt there has been heavy presence of the military in the communities since last Friday.
Army spokesperson of the 34 artillery Brigade, Obinze, Owerri, Babatunde Zubairu, who confirmed the operation, said the locals were not being harassed.
He confirmed the deployment of helicopters and other military gadgets in the operations, adding the operation was an offshoot of military intelligence.
An indigene of Umunam Atta Community in Njaba council area, Andrew Ibe, said: “The truth of the matter is that the soldiers are not beating anyone.
“But our concern here is that there may be shooting any moment since their helicopter is hovering over our houses.
“Again, they arrested one of our respected indigenes, who is a priest in the Sabbath Church here. Since Saturday, when he was arrested, nobody has told us why that is so”.
An indigene of Uda Orsuihiteukwa in the Orsu LGA told our correspondent that though no indigene was shot by the military the operation was causing serious panic in the area.
He said “Situation now calm in Udah, Orsuihiteukwa. Military helicopters have left my area a while ago after the surveilance mission. All security Hilux vans have left Udah community for their respective bases.
“Civilians were not in any way harassed in the exercise. No casualties. The invasion may have been warranted by intelligence reports.
“The leaders and office bearers from Orlu zone should address this security instability in our zone now. This is not healthy for the progress and advancement of the biggest Senatorial Zone in Nigeria.”