By Henry Umahi
Any strange face entering Orsuihiteukwa community in Orsu Local Government Area of Imo State is viewed with suspicion. And the sound of approaching vehicles sends shivers down the spines of locals. The residents are wearing the coat of caution and living in palpable fear, panic and anxiety.
Indeed, there is something wrong with the community today. To put it differently, there is meltdown there. The place is enveloped in an unusual vibe. They are yet to overcome what they call the “February 2021 tragedy.”
On February 17, military helicopters hit Orsuihiteukwa and spread pain and sorrow in large proportions.
Last week, Daily Sun was at Orsuihiteukwa and saw a community living on the edge, lying prostrate. The people are overwhelmed by shock and grief from the bombardment.
Farms were devastated and other property destroyed. It was gathered that what the security agents could not destroy, they stole. They attacked residents and robbed them of cash and phones, among other valuables. They plundered and pillaged fish ponds and carted away large quantities of fish. They also assaulted some young men, flogged them and forced them to do frog-jump. Take this: the security agents snatched some ladies from the community as spoils of war.
Why they did it
But why did the security agents attack Orsuihiteukwa and some neighbouring communities? According to government sources, security agents were drafted to Orsuihiteukwa to neutralize members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN)/Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) suspected to be camping in the community.
However, Orsuihiteukwa leaders maintain that to talk about members of any group hiding in the community is to talk gibberish because they don’t have any forest but farmlands where nobody can hide. In fact, for them, the bombing was a calculated attempt to intimidate them.
Tales from the community
The traditional ruler of the community, Eze David Ezejiaku, Ezeudo of Orsuihiteukwa, painted a pathetic picture when the reporter encountered him last week. His eyes depicted a man in pain. His pain may not be physical but he is shattered by the devastation visited on his community by security agents.
The distraught Ezejiaku told the reporter: “To be honest, Orsuihiteukwa is living in fear because we saw what we had not seen before. Even during the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, we did not have this type of experience. In fact, during the war, we had refugees from other places and they lived in peace with us until the war ended and they left for their respective homelands.
“We had not experienced bombing or shooting of any type in this community. We have also been known as a peaceful community, until February 17, when we saw a helicopter flying around and we began to wonder what was happening. The helicopter was flying so low, almost touching rooftops. In fact, it was touching some trees. We were still wondering what was happening when we started hearing the sound of bombs exploding. We also started hearing the booming sound of sophisticated guns. I was in the palace that day and there was confusion everywhere. People were running helter-skelter, men, women and children were all scampering for safety. They said they saw soldiers, policemen and other security agents everywhere.
“So, we started investigating what was happening but we couldn’t place our fingers on anything because we have been peaceful. We have local vigilantes providing security for the community. So, we sent them to go and find out what was happening and they said a part of the community was under bombardment by agents of government. The place bombed was our farmland. There is a river there and some young people created fish ponds there with which they take care of themselves and their family. We also farm there. Farmers were preparing their farms for the coming farming season. The security people went there and destroyed everything.
“Some people who were running away from the flying bullets fainted on the way. At the end of the day, many ended in hospital. Some people are still sick now because of the shock. One young man, Cletus Nnajiofor, died. He slumped and died instantly because of what he experienced.
“The following day, February 18, the security operatives returned there. Since that time, people no longer go to their farms there. That was how the fish ponds were abandoned there. Our people have been living in fear. Even last week, the planes came again, flying about.
“Our women don’t go to the farms again. Some of the people hospitalized don’t have money to settle their bills. We have been expecting government to tell us what is happening. It could be because we don’t have people in government; that is why we are being treated with disdain, that we are worthless.
“We are mourning. We are begging the whole world to intervene because everybody saw what happened. It was posted on the Internet. The federal and state governments should come to our rescue because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We don’t know if they will come again tomorrow to attack us. We are worried. Some of our people have lost weight because they are not feeding properly. Some of our people who travelled have refused to come home because of fear.”
When reminded that there were allegations that ESN/IPOB members were hiding in his community, the traditional ruler, said: “There was nothing like that. I just cannot understand why they came.”
President-general (PG), Orsuihiteukwa Development Union (OIDU), Engr. Larsbrey Okeke, spoke in the same manner. He said: “All the things that the traditional ruler said are correct. My forefathers told me that there had never been war in this community but we saw bombs in our own time, in peacetime. We don’t understand what they are saying. You can tell a blind man that there is no oil in the soup but you cannot tell him that there is no salt in the soup.
“As a building contractor, I reside at home. I only leave the community when I have a job outside the community. As PG, I’m down to earth and I know everything happening in my area. We didn’t see ESN or IPOB members camping anywhere in our area.
“Even when herdsmen were moving everywhere, we fortified our security and the vigilantes entered every nook and cranny to know if anybody was hiding in the bush. We know everywhere and we did not see anything. I am also a farmer, I know the terrain. We are confused and confounded. The traditional ruler was not informed. The town union government was not in the know. Even our top men in government were not notified. We don’t know if there is political undertone to the bombardment; only those who did it know why they did it.
“Sometime ago, President Muhammadu Buhari said the nation’s youths were lazy, but our people are not lazy. We are hardworking people. Unfortunately, our source of livelihood has been devastated. As a contractor, the youths used to go there and cut bamboos for us for decking but, today, it cost more than N500 for a stick because young men are afraid of venturing there. The cost of food has skyrocketed because nobody is going to the farm anymore.
“Government should know what to do about the situation. We had been neglected by the Imo State government over the years. While we were still complaining about the neglect, they came and started bombing us. Maybe our dream and aspiration of joining Anambra State have begun to mature.
“We were still lamenting such problems as erosion ravaging our place and ezeship tussle before the bombs landed. We are certainly not happy. We are in mourning mood.”
Chief Fidelis Akusinanwa (Nwatakwocha), president, Udah Welfare Association, lamented that his mother nearly died because of the attack. He said: “I’m thanking God that my mother did not die that day. On February 17, I was in Okija when my mother called me, saying war had erupted. She was shouting and crying. I asked her what she meant by war has come. I told her it could be people shooting cannon at a funeral. But she told me that she saw a plane almost touching the ground.
“So, I made calls and was informed that our place was being bombed. I rushed back home at about 8pm and saw a deserted community. People had run away. Before I got home, my mother had been rushed to the hospital because she is hypertensive and her blood pressure had gone up. As I’m talking to you, some of the indigenes who ran away have refused to come back because they are afraid of the unknown.
“I have been wondering why the bombing took place. If government suspected the presence of unwanted persons, they should have contacted stakeholders, party chieftains and community leaders but they just came and started bombing. The worst part is that they used kinetic. They should use such in Sambisa Forest, where something is happening already. I don’t know why they used it in this type of village. We don’t have a forest; it’s just ordinary farmland. They just destroyed the livelihood of people.
“To be honest, my people are still in panic mode. Government should come and help us. Many people are still in the hospital. They treated us like people who migrated from somewhere, not Imo indigenes. We are planning to join Anambra State.
“In short, our people regard this thing that happened as intimidation. The people in government feel there is nothing our people do, that’s why they came to kill us.
“I know how much I spent in hospital to take care of my mother. She nearly died. She just survived by the grace of God. We are not happy. If you treat foreigners the way we were treated, their government will come for war.”
According to another community leader, Mr. Patrick Iheagwunelu, his younger brother was brutalized by the soldiers while his wife was harassed. He narrated the ordeal: “I was not at home when it started but my younger brother, Celestine, called to inform me about 5pm. The second day, the soldiers forced my wife out of her room and asked about me. She told them I was not at home.
“But my brother was thoroughly humiliated. They forced him to do frog-jump and he was severely beaten. I was also informed that the soldiers were seen leaving with fish taken from the fish ponds.”
The women leader of the community, Hon. (Mrs.) Rebecca Irogementi, was full of lamentation when the reporter spoke with her. Betraying emotion, she said: “I have never seen such a thing since I was born. I went to one of the women leaders in our community to discuss what we were going to do. That day over 11 Hilux vans, Sienna and SUVs passed, all of them filled with soldiers. That was between 4pm and 5pm. They entered Udah village. I asked myself, where are these people going? They drove towards our boundary with Orsumohu and Lilu. I thought that they were going to Anambra State.
“Shortly after, a helicopter passed and bombing started. I was so frightened that I abandoned the motorcycle I was riding and ran to nowhere in particular. People started shouting and running up and own. There was confusion everywhere.
“The soldiers caught one Emeka, who was returning from Lilu where he had gone to deliver pigs to somebody. The soldiers searched Emeka and took over N150,000 he had on him. He tried to explain to the soldiers that the money belonged to the owner of the pigs he delivered at Lilu and they started beating him for having the temerity to talk.
“Some of the women running home from their farms broke their legs. Some started looking for their children because no one knew where their children had run to. The farms and fish ponds were destroyed. All the money invested in the farms and ponds became wasted. Our women no longer go to their farms; our irrigation farming is gone.
“Another painful aspect of the invasion was that the soldiers descended on young men they caught. They hit them with their boots and gun butts. That day, nobody slept in our village. There was apprehension everywhere, nobody knew what would happen next. They returned the next day and the apprehension heightened.
“One week after, the soldiers returned and we felt they had come to finish us. They came like people who were sent to finish us. Now, the women are hungry; they have nothing to eat. And it will be difficult for them to return to their farms because of the uncertainty.
“Many of those wounded are still in hospital and those who do not have money to pay hospital bills are at their homes waiting for death to come and take them. Some have developed high blood pressure and those who already had it are in worse condition and they are not receiving any treatment because they don’t have money.
“In this place, we don’t hide evil. The visit was unexpected and the damage is irreparable. Assuming that there were unwanted people in the area, they would have given the soldiers a fight but nothing of such happened. They stole cash, phones and other valuables from innocent passersby. The fire they ignited is still raging. So, government should come and fix what they damaged.”
According to Hon. Donatus Onyekwere, “It’s important to note that the location where the soldiers bombed is the border between Imo and Anambra states. What it means is that victims of that bombardment also come from Lilu and Orsumohu, which are in Anambra State. What is important is that our own government that is supposed to protect us brought soldiers to come and bombard us. It’s worrisome.”
Another community leader, Ichie Felix Obodoechi (Enyioha), spoke in the same vein. He complained bitterly about the violation of the rights of the people.
It was further gathered that one lady was taken away by the soldiers. She was, however, released some days later after she was allegedly thoroughly violated.
Cosmos Ezenwanmmadu’s house at Lilu was also affected.
Who will save Orsuihiteukwa?