Amid rising insecurity that has enveloped the Southeast region, stakeholders are raising concerns over the Presidency’s directive of “shoot on sight” order. The concerns specifically arose over the order targeted at protesting Igbo youths, especially against the backdrop of recent posting of northern soldiers to quell the disturbances as well as their mode of engagement in the zone.
Observers said the Presidency’s directive followed related killings of security officials and attacks on security facilities in the zone. Many security officials have been mowed down, while unknown gunmen attack their facilities in the area within the last couple of months, thus raising tension.
Early in the week, apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, raised fresh worries over the directive to contain the tension when it condemned the “shoot on sight” order, insisting that it clearly confirms the uneven handed way the Federal Government had been treating matters affecting the people of the zone.
Quoting a report by the Sahara Reporters on May 8, Ohanaeze insisted that the way and manner soldiers were carrying out their duties in the zone in the guise of checking insecurity, indicated that a plot was afoot that could trigger “another pogrom and genocide in the zone.”
“The pattern of deployment of northern military officers to the southeast lends credence to the above report. Sahara Reporters revealed that in preparation for the above, the Nigerian army has posted Northern Muslims as Commanders over its operations and brigades in Anambra, Imo, Abia, AkwaIbom, Enugu, Benue, Edo, Delta and Rivers states.
“In Anambra, the Cantonment Commandant of the 302 Artillery Regiment Onitsha is Col. Abdulsalam Sambo, a northern Muslim; In Imo, the Commander of 34 Brigade Obinze is Brig Gen Ibrahim Tukura, another Muslim; in Abia, the Commander of 14 Brigade Ohafia is Brig Gen M. Ibrahim, a northerner, while in Akwa Ibom, the Commander of 2 Brigade Uyo is Brig Gen Faruk Mijinyawa, another northerner. This is truly worrisome”, Ohanaeze had stated.
Another Igbo group, Human Rights Advocates, took the matter further by alleging that apart from those deployed to the zone recently; the military formations, including Navy; Customs are saturated with officials from the northern part of the country. The group disclosed that in addition, northern soldiers, among other patrol activities, man military checkpoints in the zone.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which seemed convinced about the motive behind the “shoot on sight order”, said the alleged move would commence from Orlu, Imo State in the next few days, warning that Federal Government should learn from history by not fighting an unwinnable war against nationalism.
Ohanaeze rather advised the Buhari-led government to “seek possible peaceful options as the only solution that guarantees national unity and peaceful co-existence”, just as it observed that the dream of Nigeria’s unity was receding and fading fast with violence, crises and conflicts.
Denial, booth on toes
THE Nigerian Army had however, promptly denied that it was deploying only commanders of northern extraction to quell tensions in the Southeast, stressing that the allegation was targeted at stirring discord and disunity among peace-loving Nigerians, who had refused to support attacks on security apparatuses in the region.
In a statement, Director, Army Public Relations, Brig Gen Mohammed Yerima, said postings were routine exercise based on professional competencies, adding that the army does not train, deploy or operate along ethnic, religious or regional divides.
He stated that while General Officer Commanding 82 Division, Enugu; Major Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja is from Southwest; the Commander 34 Brigade Owerri, Brig Gen. Raymond Utsaha is from north central; General Officer Commanding 2 Division Ibadan, Maj Gen Gold Chibuisi, is of Southeast extraction, adding that Brig Gen. Farouk Mijinyawa was never the Commander of 16 Brigade of the Nigerian Army.
Burnt police station
Even with the denials, there are fears that such orders are gradually being implemented in the zone by the soldiers and may have given rise to the clashes and alleged extra judicial killings taking place in the zone.
Last week, a video clip that went viral online showed a distraught lawyer, who was held by soldiers on patrol in Owerri, Imo State, for allegedly mounting a Biafra flag inside his car. The lawyer, whose car was eventually damaged by the officers before they let him off the hook, had claimed that his offence was “putting Biafra flag in my car.
“One of them told me, he would have killed me, but for the fact that I am a lawyer”. While bemoaning the mental torture he received during the incident, the wailing lawyer wondered why there was “no freedom any longer in Nigeria.”
If the lawyer was lucky to have escaped with his life intact, a businessman, Noel Chigbu was not. Noel, the operator of Sharwarma Zone in Owerri, was killed by military men at the Amakohia flyover in Owerri at about 10pm for allegedly “violating check point rules”.
It was gathered that the soldiers, who snuffed life out of him at the Check point had dumped his remains at the Federal Medical Centre, morgue, Owerri, took his badly shattered car to the police station and made an entry that his relatives should visit the health facility and claim his body.
Noel was said to have acquired a new Camry car and had gone to drop off his friend that fateful night. But, he never returned. He left a four-month pregnant wife, a two-year-old son and four year old daughter.
His sudden death at the hands of military officers was closely followed by the killing of a first year student of Imo State University, Divine Nwaneri, at a military checkpoint close to the Imo State governor’s office. Nwaneri was said to be riding with her friend when soldiers allegedly swooped on them, shooting and killing her on the guise that a similar vehicle used to commit crime earlier had been on their trail.
Angered by these developments, a Coalition of South East Youth Leaders (COSEYL), last week, accused the military of extra judicial killings of youths of the Southeast region, alleging a calculated plan to reduce Igbo youths to nothingness.
In a statement, Goodluck Ibem and Kanice Igwe, President and Secretary general of the group respectively, COSEYL said: “These killings and more that happened in recent times, are tangible proofs that the military are on a secret mission to exterminate Igbo youths in the southeast. The killing of unarmed agitators and pampering of Boko Haram terrorists is a clear testament that Ndigbo have been marked for extinction by the Nigerian military.”
Wondering why soldiers paid from tax-payers money would kill an innocent youth on the flimsy excuse of violating checkpoint rules, the group declared that such “is absolute madness and must stop forthwith. The truth is Noel Chigbu was killed by soldiers for refusing to give them ‘bribe’.
“The soldiers have made it compulsory that anyone that passes by their road block must bribe them through their civilian proxies, who disguise as plantain chip sellers, or risk being killed.”
COSEYL said it was sad that the incident was coming few days after Divine Nwaneri was killed by soldiers, who ordinarily were meant to protect her, and many others of her type in the society.
While the zone was yet to contend with those incidents, Police Officers started parading and arresting newspaper vendors said to be distributing newspapers carrying reports on the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
Following a harrowing experience she encountered, when her husband Chuks Ugwuibe was arrested as he went to collect money from his vendors after selling their newspapers, a pregnant Mrs. Ugwuibe, was alleged to have developed high blood pressure. In the process, she went through a cesarean surgery and delivered prematurely.
Newspaper vendors in Imo State proceeded on strike in protest over alleged incessant harassment by security agents in the state.
Also expressing reservations, a Think Tank of Igbo Intellectuals and Professionals, Nzuko Umunna, complained about the “Shoot-on-Sight” order in an open letter to the Chief of Army, Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru.
The letter signed by Dr. Ngozi Odumuko stated that a “shoot-on- sight” directive amount to an order to extra-judicially exterminate innocent citizens as there was no telling who might be part of the collateral, unintended casualties.
“Throughout history, such military strategies or policies have always run the risk of going contrary to all accepted conventions and protocols on the rules of engagement, particularly the Rome Statutes. In fact, it can be read as Genocide, where as in this case, there is clear and evident danger of such action resulting in high casualties.
“If the speculation of a Shoot-On-Sight order were to bear any atom of truth, then it amounts to a declaration of war on the area. However, even if, for any reason, the Federal Government is minded to declare war on the Southeast or a part of it, there are standard international conventions and protocols that must be observed. One of such is the requirement to publicly and unambiguously declare that a war situation has arisen in such a place so that those who wish to, especially the civilians and innocent citizens can withdraw from such a place. That has not been done.
“But, it is our well considered contention that there do not exist in the Southeast of Nigeria any peculiar situation, which does not exist in even worse forms in other parts of the country to warrant or justify such a Shoot-On-Sight order. And, we put whoever thinks to the contrary to the strictest test of proof,” the group stated.
As the security agencies get set to execute the shoot on sight order, National Leader of World Igbo Peoples Assembly (WIPAS), Mazi Chuks Ibegbu, told The Guardian, that nobody should underestimate the alarm raised by Ohanaeze Ndigbo over the directive. He declared that the development was an invitation to anarchy.
While insisting that the order would not be tolerated, Ibegbu decried the many extra judicial killings going on in Imo, Anambra, Ebonyi, Abia and Enugu states, noting that only a competent court of law could pass a death sentence on anybody.
Lamenting why such orders had not been given in the northern area, where Boko Haram fighters have been killing and kidnapping and making life unbearable for Nigerians, Ibegbu said it was disheartening that “even the order by the President on those bearing AK-47 illegally has not been implemented by the security agents, while the marauding herdsmen continue to carry guns.”
The WIPAS leader noted that so far, the activities of the Nigerian Army have become “suspicious,” particularly through highhandedness on matters concerning Igboland.
His words: “The den of terrorism is in the north. The den of banditry is in the north. This place is peaceful except the people legitimately agitating. In the past four or five years, the Nigerian military have continued to commit extra judicial killings; they killed agitators in Aba, Onitsha and Port Harcourt (Obigbo), whereas the bandits in the north are not treated same way.
“The Military is denying sectional posting of officials, but if it is true, it is against the spirit of unity of Nigeria. As it is, they are sectionalizing the army and it is most unfortunate.”
Nonetheless, on their part, MASSOB pointed to the much-advertised May 30 remembrance anniversary for Biafra heroes as reason for current onslaught in the zone, stressing that no amount of intimidation, killings, and highhandedness among others, would stop the realisation of the project. (The Guardian)