Obinna Odogwu, Awka
Fear. Tension. Anxiety. These are the words that currently describe the sentiments pervading Oraifite in Anambra State, days after clashes between the police and suspected members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) left about four people dead in the community.
It was gathered that most of the residents have deserted the town, to escape the wrath of the gun-toting security operatives that have stormed the town.
There was pandemonium in Umunakwa Umuonanie village, Oraifite community in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State last Friday. The community was literally set on fire when some policemen and some youths clashed at the residence of Ifeanyi Ejiofor, the lawyer to the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.
Although it was not clear if the clash was between the police and the youths of the community or the police and some members of IPOB, what is very lucid is that the community is now gripped by fear.
Right now, many residents of the affected village have fled their homes to evade police arrests. Visitors, particularly journalists who travel to the community, are being advised not to venture near the affected village where armed personnel of the army, police and other security agents are reportedly laying ambush for anyone that might have anything to do with last week’s incident.
When the reporter arrived at St. Mary’s, Nnewi from where he was to pick a commercial motorcycle to the area, commercial motorbike operators refused to convey passengers to the village. They vowed that no amount of money would make them ride into the waiting arms of the stern-looking security agents that have reportedly laid siege to the village.
Trouble, Daily Sun gathered, started last Wednesday during the burial rites held at the residence of the Ifeanyi Ejiofor when a police orderly attached to an unnamed notable personality allegedly opened fire on the mourners.
His boss, according to eyewitnesses in the community, had attended the funeral to condole with the bereaved family when the overzealous policeman allegedly shot directly at the youths who were also at the scene. The police orderly was said to have inflicted varying degrees of injuries on his victims.
That day, what could have become a major crisis was averted as according to the villagers, Mr Ejiofor reportedly intervened and calmed the situation. The injured persons, according to those who spoke to Daily Sun were taken to different hospitals for treatment.
Efforts to unmask the identity of the notable personality, whose orderly allegedly started the problem, did not yield the desired fruits, as those who spoke to the reporter could not recall the name of the fellow.
“We don’t know him by name but if you ask well you will definitely get the name of the man. He did not tell the policeman to shoot at people. We don’t know what came over the officer,” they claimed.
The villagers said that they were shocked to see the turn of events on Friday when some police officers stormed the village and allegedly attacked some youths in the area. That, they claimed, was what led to the reported killings of two policemen and two civilians said to be members of IPOB.
The chaotic resulted in some residents fleeing the village so that they would not be arrested or shot by the police. When the pandemonium settled, many houses had been torched. The home of the lawyer, Ejiofor, was allegedly razed by security officers.
One of the villagers whose house was attacked, Mr Basil Egwuatu, lamented that his louvers were shattered with bullets by security agents. He said that since the incident happened, he had fled to Nnewi with his family and would not dare go home until the matter settles.
Egwuatu narrated thus: “I was notified of the incident on phone last Friday. I was told that policemen riddled my house with bullets. They shattered all the glass windows. I called my children who live abroad and told them the incident as I heard it.
“I have not set my foot on my house till this moment. The 11 stores in front of my house were set ablaze allegedly by the police. They shot sporadically at my house and shattered all the glass windows in my house.
“Our village has been deserted. The lawyer’s house was set ablaze. Everybody has deserted the community. Had it been people can access the village now, I would have taken you there so that you see things for yourself.
“So, the police will need to tell us what happened. They will need to tell us what we did to them that warranted the invasion and destruction of our property.
“People’s motorcycles were also set ablaze. They set them ablaze with gunshots. They just shoot at the fuel tank and the thing went up in flames. I am an old man and I am not afraid to tell the truth.
“Government will need to investigate the matter and publish the truth. People can only challenge policemen if the security agents first attack the people. I have never seen a situation whereby people begin to challenge policemen for nothing. Whatever that happened must have been started by the police,” he narrated.
Giving further insight into what led to the imbroglio, Egwuatu said: “It was around 6pm last Wednesday that police officers started shooting at the people while the burial ceremony was still going on at the residence of Mr Ifeanyi Ejiofor. They pointed the gun straight at the people. Some persons were injured.
“But despite that, the lawyer appealed to the people to remain calm. He told his security men not to revenge; that they should remain calm. But instead of ending the matter there, they came back on Friday and set our community on fire.
“It was a police orderly that came with a prominent man that started this whole thing on Wednesday. Instead of minding his business, he started shooting at the people for no reason. There was no fracas or fight that warranted that.
“So, it was the police that took the war to Ifeanyi Ejiofor’s house. They know the truth. Let government give you an escort so that you go there and see things for yourself,” he narrated.
Another member of Umunakwa Umuonanie village, Mr Ejike Egwuatu, also stated: “I was at Nkwo Oraifite that day when it started. I just dropped a passenger and suddenly I started hearing gunshots. Initially, I thought those things were fireworks until I got closer. I had to take another route out of the community for safety reasons.
“Because of these gunshots, traders at Nkwo market closed their shops and scampered to safety. This happed around 1pm that afternoon. There was tension everywhere.
“So, around 2pm, we saw a thick smoke in the air. We gathered that policemen moved from the lawyer’s house and started going from house to house around that area and destroying things.
“They shot at women that were peeping to know what was going on. The first place that they shot at women was at Jerome Anene’s residence. From Jerome Anene’s house, they moved to Onyeka Anene’s house.
“They shattered the louvers of his house and the man ran away. People at the stores all ran away. The policemen shot open, the people’s stores, brought out those who hid inside saying that they were looking for youths in the village.
“They destroyed a lot of property in the village. They also set ablaze some motorcycles parked by their owners in their homes. I was called on phone and told not to come home, that there was danger,” he narrated.
But contrary to the claims by the leadership of IPOB that three of its members were killed in the community by the combined forces of the police and soldiers, the Anambra State Police Command has said that it was suspected IPOB members that killed two policemen and injured others.
Reacting to the allegation in a statement issued by the Police Public Relations Officer, Haruna Mohammed, a Superintendent of Police, the command gave its own side of what led to the incident.
“On the 2nd December, at about 11:30 am, there was a formal complaint against one Barrister Ifeanyi Ejiofor (a member of the proscribed IPOB) in Oraifite on alleged case of abduction, assault occasioning harm and malicious damage to property.
“Following the report, police patrol teams led by the Area Commander, Oraifite, ACP Oliver Abbey mobilised and rushed to the scene in order to arrest the suspect who declined police invitation.
“However, as soon as police arrived the house, armed men suspected to be IPOB members descended on the police, set ablaze one patrol vehicle and attacked them with rifles and machetes.
“As a result of the attack, two police officers whose identities are being withheld were killed by the suspected IPOB members while others were inflicted with machete cuts. The injured personnel were rushed to the hospital for medical attention and are presently receiving treatment.
“Consequently, the command deployed reinforcements from the State Headquarters comprising PMF, SARS and Special Anti Cult Units in conjunction with the Army/other sister agencies who cordoned off the area in order to fish out the culprits, while joint patrols are still ongoing in the town to prevent further breakdown of law and order.
“Meanwhile, some arrests were made and the Commissioner of Police, CP John Abang, who is on his way to the scene, has vowed to bring perpetrators of this dastardly act to justice”, the statement added.
The police command has since declare Ejiofor wanted.