By OBINNA EZUGWU
The killing of a military couple, Master Warrant Officer, Audu Linus and his fiancée, Private Gloria Mathew, in Imo State by gunmen on Saturday, April 30, provided a climax to what had been weeks of bloodletting in the Orlu axis of the state.
Tension has continued in the wake of a separatist agitation that is increasingly turning violent, with both gunmen suspected to be sympathetic to the separatist group, Indigenous People of Biafra and its armed affiliate, the Eastern Security Network (ESN), and security agencies taking turns to unleash mayhem on communities.
“At the moment, everyone here is moving with caution because we hear that soldiers are planning to attack in response to the couple that were killed by unknown gunmen,” said Oluchi Ogu, a student in Owerri on Friday.
In Orsu, a local government in the Orlu area of the state, the past few weeks have been particularly traumatising. Young men were said to have been rounded up and summarily executed by uniformed men who are also accused of burning people’s homes.
But the agitators themselves have demonstrated capability to unleash even more brutality on innocent citizens who step out into the streets on Mondays, and members of the elite, whom they mostly target for being “saboteurs.”
Homes of government officials are routinely attacked with explosives. In late March, including the home of Prof. Obiozor, president general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Awo- Omamma, Oru East Local Government Area, using Improvised Explosives Devices, IED and petrol bombs.
“The killing going on in Orsu is very bad,” narrated Jennifer, a member of the National Youth Service Corps who visited home after camping. “I had to quickly leave. They kill people anyhow and burn houses. Most of the killings are not reported.”
Beyond Imo, Anambra where the murder of Dr. Chike Akunyili, husband of late Prof. Dora Akunyili sent shock waves across the country, also continues to be a hot spot. In the Nnewi and Ekwukobia axis, gunmen are on the prowl, burning local government headquarters and police stations while not sparing random citizens and businesses.
“It is sad situation we are facing,” said Chisom Uba, a youth leader in Nnewi. “These days, the gunmen can just emerge from anywhere and anyone can be caught in the crossfire. We also hear that there are now factions among them, which is making the case more complex.”
Uba said the IPOB used to have popular appeal, but not anymore because according to him, “everyone is tired of the nonsense.”
Yet, it is already evident that the IPOB, which had launched ESN last year to, according to it, contain killings by herdsmen in the region, has lost control.
While, for instance, the group had called off the Monday sit-at-home order it initially issued as a way of mounting pressure for the release of its detained leader, Nnamdi Kanu, whose arrest by the federal government in June last year, escalated the violence, sundry hoodlums and gunmen continue to enforce the order violently.
The IPOB has consistently denounced enforcers of the order, but they continue nonetheless.
On Thursday, while Buhari was on his way to Ebonyi State on a two-day working visit, a group of gunmen stormed Aba, Abia State to enforce yet another sit-at-home because of the president’s visit, even as the IPOB had denied issuing a sit-at-home on the day.
Following the killing of the military couple, the Nigerian Army alleged that they were murdered by suspected members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) on transit to Imo state for their traditional wedding, as callous and despicable.
But the separatist group would subsequently deny any involvement in the killing, which described as barbaric and an abomination in Igbo land.
The army in a statement by Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, its spokesperson, on Tuesday, noted that the decision of the separatist group to commit the act against an Igbo daughter in Private Mathew, was evidence of its acts of terrorism against the Igbo.
“The Nigerian Army (NA), on Saturday 30 April 2022 received information on the gruesome, barbaric and most despicable manner in which members of the Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB) and its armed affiliate, Eastern Security Network(ESN) murdered in cold blood, two soldiers Master Warrant Officer (MWO) Audu M Linus (retired) and Private(Pte)Gloria Matthew, who were on transit to Imo state for their traditional wedding.
Apparently, the soldiers had embarked on the trip to fulfill the traditional rites of conjugating their matrimony, as the very well respected and cherished Igbo tradition demands,” the statement said.
“Ironically, the fact that one of the soldiers, Pte Gloria Matthew who hails from Nkwerre LGA of Imo state, has an ethnic affiliation with the good people of South East Nigeria did not prevail on the sensibility of the dissidents.
“This dastardly act, one too many, clearly portends the deep seated hate, desperation and lawlessness with which foot soldiers of IPOB/ESN have being unleashing terror on Ndigbo, whom they claim they are on a mission to protect and emancipate, as well as other innocent Nigerians who are resident or transiting the South East..
However, in a statement on Wednesday, IPOB’s media and publicity secretary, Emma Powerful, described the accusation by the Nigerian Army of IPOB’s masterminding the act as “laughable and fallacious.”
He said, “No true Igbo will hurt an in-law, how much more a married daughter (Ada) in Igbo land. Even the ancestors will avenge such wickedness.
“We cannot kill our sister who is about to marry, but those who killed them were those Nigerian government and its security agencies, especially the military and DSS, created to demonise IPOB and ESN. These agents of death, some of whom we have made their identities public severally, are behind the killings of these soldiers, not IPOB or ESN operatives.”
According to Powerful, the Army had always looked for occasions to attack innocent Igbo youths in order to rope them in the aftermath of the act and tag them as suspects…
“Our only crime is that we want to be self-determined. How come it is only in Nigeria that IPOB members are cannibals? When will they stop lying against us? Nigeria security agencies should please leave us alone. We hate bloodletting. We are not killers. God will judge all those trying to paint us black and evil for what we know nothing about,” the statement added.
Buhari dashes Igbo leaders’ hope
Worried by the killings, Obiozor, the Ohanaeze president, at a meeting of the group’s imeobi, its highest decision-making body on Thursday in Enugu, appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to release Kanu as a way of addressing the situation.
When Ohanaeze and other Igbo leaders eventually met with the president who was on a two-day visit to Ebonyi State, in Abakaliki on Friday, the leaders repeated the appeal, but Buhari objected, insisting that the court be allowed to decide. The Chairman, Southeast Traditional Rulers Council, Eze Charles Mkpuma, delivered the plea.
But responding, the President said: ‘‘I have listened carefully to the various appeals from the elders to the traditional leaders regarding a wide range of options, and as I have said previously, this matter remains in the full purview of the courts where it will be properly adjudicated.
“My worry is for our hardworking and innocent civilians, for whom life is already tough and would like to earn a decent and honest living.
‘‘There are many that fit this profile and the government owes them that obligation to protect lives and property.
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