The residents of Emene community in the Enugu East Local Government Area of Enugu State are still in consternation following the killing of some youths by security agents comprising the soldiers, air force personnel, the police and operatives of the Department of State Services on Sunday, August 23, 2020, during a clampdown on members of the Indigenous People of Biafra.
IPOB members were said to be having Jewish prayers and training in martial arts when the DSS attacked them.
It was gathered that when a dozen patrol vans loaded with security agents armed to the teeth arrived at the community, they turned their guns on the IPOB members, who reportedly took to their heels.
Eyewitnesses said that in the ensuing confrontation, gunshots and teargas fumes filled the air between the St. Patrick’s Secondary School and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church along the old Abakaliki Road and the premises of St. Patrick’s Secondary School flowed with blood as fleeing IPOB members were pursued into the streets.
Scores of Catholic faithful, who were on their way to the 7am Mass, were said to have run helter-skelter, while those already in the church had to endure teargas fumes that enveloped the entire environment.
Members of the community, however, want those security men, who killed their sons and daughters, to be brought to justice.
Sunny Okoroafor is a retired soldier, who witnessed the carnage. He said the day could best be described as a ‘Black Sunday’ and the events would be engraved in the history of the community for generations, stating, “What happened was an unjustifiable action by Nigerian security forces against the Igbo.”
The incident threw Emene and its neighbours into chaos and disrupted church services as worshippers at the various churches in the area ran helter-skelter to escape being fell by bullets.
“I saw six unarmed youths killed in cold blood in front of my house, other residents said more people were killed and that the military men took their corpses away before the police came and evacuated those I saw,” Okoroafor stated.
Narrating the incident, which he said was captured on camera, Okoroafor said the Emene Community High School was a major sporting arena in the entire community and different sets of people, including IPOB members, train and have their meetings there.
“My children used to stay at the school to study and play. IPOB members also come to the school to have their meetings and train in martial arts every Sunday. They have been doing that for several months to the extent that other youths got interested and were coming to train with them in martial arts.
“The previous Sunday, there was a rumour that the military would come to disturb them, but at the end, nothing like that happened and they held their training and left. So, on Sunday, August 23, 2020, I was in my house around 7.05am when my daughter ran into the house shivering. She said policemen came into the place where those children were having their meeting and one of them pointed a gun at her head.
“She said that the man allowed her to go when she told him that she came to sell water to those engaged in physical exercise, which the IPOB guys were part of. Over 50 people were there engaged in various sporting activities.
“So, I came out to observe what was going on and I saw two Hilux vans blocking the entrance to the school. I saw operatives of the DSS and some of the IPOB guys they seized in their vehicle.
“About three minutes later, those DSS guys started shooting and that lasted more than five minutes. I don’t know whether it was the people inside the school that they were shooting at, but the next thing I saw was the IPOB boys pursuing the DSS guys with stones, woods and bottles, while some of them were bleeding as they were running. Some strong ones among them continued the chase and finally sized one of the operatives, while the others jumped into their vehicles and zoomed off.”
Okoroafor added, “Unfortunately, one of the DSS guys missed their vehicle and he ran across the road looking for an escape route. I learnt he was one of those, who started shooting at the unarmed IPOB boys. So, the IPOB boys pursued him with sticks, stones and planks and eventually caught him; they brought him to the main road and stoned him.
“Those IPOB boys were not bearing arms, but what I observed was that some of them had charms, because when those DSS operatives were shooting at them, the IPOB boys were pursuing them and when the situation got tense, the operatives jumped into their vehicles and ran away. I am not telling you a story. I was there as an eyewitness.
“I learnt that the one person, who was killed and burnt, was filming them when they were protesting and when they wanted to take his phone, he resisted; that was what I was told.”
Mr Chijioke Ezeh, who lives adjacent to the Community High School, corroborated Okoroafor’s account, saying, “I was preparing to go for the 7am Mass at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church when I started hearing rapid gunshots. This lasted close to five minutes and I looked through the window and saw men clad in black attire with the inscription, ‘DSS’.
“They were shooting at the people inside the school compound; some fell down and some did not. The next thing was that they were running and IPOB boys were pursuing them to the gate with sticks and stones they grabbed in the school.
“About 20 minutes later, I saw many people bleeding from bullet wounds being conveyed to hospital. Angered by the development, after those DSS guys had run away, the boys started making bonfires in the middle of the roads to prevent vehicular movement, but people were allowed to trek.
“The IPOB guys started protesting and chanting, ‘What did we do to the government that made the DSS to come and shoot us where we are playing in our community? What offence did we commit?’ They were chanting and going up and down, but none of them bore arms, except a few with sticks.”
Eze added that the IPOB men started telling people living along the road to go inside their houses and their members, who were not strong enough, to find their way and even passers-by to stay off the road, because the security agents would come for them.
He stated, “My daughter filmed everything from upper floor of our house. After some minutes, the DSS guys reinforced and came with the military and the police, all of them numbering over 50, with over 30 Hilux vans and started shooting at the protesting IPOB members from different directions. They blocked all the strategic roads with armoured personnel carriers and were shooting unarmed youths and carrying their corpses away. They killed people going to church and tricycle riders.
“Those bodies the soldiers did not carry away during the shooting that lasted more than 30 minutes were lying on the roads after the incident. The pictures of those ones are all over the social media.”
Okoroafor also stated, “I saw four dead bodies lying on the main road in front of my house, and the security agents came and took the bodies away. They also went inside the street and came out with five IPOB members, whose hands were tied to their backs. I also saw two more corpses they were carrying in their vehicle.”
Another resident and an eyewitness, Mrs Onyekachi Asogwa, described the killings of unarmed Igbo youths by security forces as callous and unjustifiable.
She stated, “What those DSS guys did was wrong; you don’t come and kill unarmed citizens where they were holding a meeting. They had been having the meeting every Sunday for several months in the same venue and nothing happened. They had never attacked anybody nor has anybody complained against them. Every Sunday, if you come here this place, it is always filled up with vehicles and tricycles.
“The police have come here on several occasions to monitor what they were doing and after, they would go away. The boys don’t wear Biafra uniform or any insignia, so I wonder why the DSS men would come and start shooting unarmed civilians. I don’t know why they came when people are dying somewhere else, when herdsmen are killing people, kidnapping people for ransom everywhere in Enugu State and nothing was being done.
Another resident, Chukwuemeka Nishi, said that what pained him the most was that the persons being shot at were unarmed, stating, “Is it not madness? If you have arms, you shoot at another person with arms. You can’t shoot somebody who doesn’t have arms. It is an aberration and unethical to shoot an unarmed person. It contravenes the rules of engagement in the military and even in the police.
“The security men did what they did because Nigeria is an anarchistic state and nobody will speak for the dead; otherwise, they wouldn’t have done what they did. You can imagine the state governor came here and said nothing and the next day his pictures flooded pages of newspapers. Is it not sad that unprovoked security men killed your citizens and you came and said nothing to the people you claim to be governor over? It is very unfortunate.”
The state Commissioner of Police, Ahmad AbdurRahman, who spoke with The PUNCH on the telephone, confirmed the killings, but said only four persons died and that the police recovered their corpses after the incident, but he accused IPOB of being responsible for the death of the victims.
He, however, failed to account for those his men and soldiers killed when asked about the corpses the military took away.
AbdurRahman stated, “I was alerted that members of the Indigenous People of Biafra were on the rampage along the Ebonyi-Enugu Expressway by Emene, firing indiscriminately in the air and at the same time making bonfires on the road.
“It was an operation that was carried out by the DSS. They didn’t invite us. They thought they could do it peacefully. So, it was later that the operation turned unfortunately bloody, when IPOB took their men into custody.
But one of those arrested told newsmen that they were only having an exercise at the school, which was the practice every morning, when the DSS stormed the place and started shooting.
Meanwhile many Igbo individuals and groups, including the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinaya Abaribe, and the Ohaneze Ndigbo, have called on the Enugu State Government of to set up a panel of enquiry to unravel the truth surrounding the incident, describing the killing of unarmed Igbo youths by security agents as no longer acceptable.