Governor Nyesom Wike has maintained a dangerous snub as Nigerian soldiers continued a deadly campaign against a densely-populated community in Rivers.
Since last week, Nigerian soldiers have been laying a deadly siege to Oyigbo, a border community of Rivers and Abia just 30 kilometres east of Port Harcourt. The community with its over 300,000 people has seen dozens killed by soldiers over the past week, witnesses told Peoples Gazette on Sunday.
Mr. Wike, who last week directed security forces to be ruthless in their chase of perceived IPOB elements, has yet to comment on the unfolding devastation in his state. Telephone numbers for the governor’s media aides, including information commissioner Paulinus Nsirim, repeatedly rang through on Sunday. They also did not return messages seeking comments.
The unfolding crisis in Oyigbo has been aggravated by Mr. Wike’s week-long imposition of a curfew on the community, with widespread starvation looming as residents run out of food and water supply.
The military operation appeared targeted at young men of the community, and witnesses said death toll so far indicated most of those killed were between 19 and 35.
The Gazette could not immediate confirm casualty figures as soldiers have initiated a blockade that made it difficult for journalists and activists to conduct independent assessment of the situation.
“Soldiers and militia are still killing people in Oyigbo,” a resident who fled the community on Saturday afternoon told Peoples Gazette. Earlier, another witness, Kelechi Francis told Peoples Gazette how soldiers were invading homes to kill mostly young men, some of whom their remains were left to decompose indoors.
Civic groups have called on the Nigerian Army to allow people willing to leave Oyigbo out of the community. They also demanded immediately opening of the community to journalists and independent rights organisations.
The Nigerian Army said five soldiers were allegedly killed recently by members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, a separatist movement active in Nigeria’s Igbo-dominated southeast and the oil-rich Delta region. It was unclear whether or not IPOB has claimed responsibility for the attack on soldiers, which the military did not publicly announce.
Mr. Wike responded to the violence by directing security forces to be ruthless against perceived IPOB elements in Rivers, but with specific attention to Oyigbo. In merry-go-round, the governor also proscribed IPOB in Rivers, three years after the group was outlawed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Communication in Oyigbo has been significantly restricted over the past week, including for supply of crucial materials for residents. Pictures of military devastation in the community have been leaking to social media, and those who have relatives in the community are also crying out for help.
Scores of lucky residents have also fled the community over the past week, the Gazette understands.
Although Mr. Wike’s directive on October 29 encouraged security forces to violently route out perceived IPOB elements, it was unclear whether or not the governor was in support of ongoing military operation that has led to civilian casualties.
The Nigerian Army 6 Division in Port Harcourt and Rivers police command have yet to provide critical updates on the crisis. (People’s Gazette)