By Emeka Omeihe
Nobody seems to know for certain what ruffled the security situation in the Orlu Local Government Area of Imo State that led to the deployment of soldiers and other security agencies. But within the last three weeks or so, there were two separate incidents of security agencies engaging some groups for conducts considered inimical to peace and orderliness.
There was the reported burning down of the offices of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra MASSOB led by Ralph Uwazuruike in the Mgbee community by a detachment of soldiers and police. Uwazuruike had in a statement after the incident, blamed the destruction of his group’s office on mistaken identity. According to him, the security agencies that burnt down his Mgbee office must have mistaken MASSOB for the proscribed IPOB. That operation was seemingly orderly since no life was lost
But there was another violent clash penultimate Friday in the Okporo community also within the same local government. Media reports said sporadic shootings ensued when security operatives arrived at the community early morning in search of members of the Eastern Security Network ESN. When they could not find them, they started shooting and caused panic in the community
One person was reportedly killed even as eight buildings including a church were burnt in the ensuing melee. The state police spokesman, Orlando Ikeokwu admitted knowledge of “a military operation going on in the area”. Nobody was forthcoming on the nature of the military operation and what could have led to it. All was therefore left to conjecture.
But things appeared to have gone out of hands last week when residents of Orlu started fleeing their homes and business premises as guns boomed in a manner reminiscent of war situations. Soldiers and other security agencies were alleged to be confronting suspected members of the ESM that was floated by the IPOB.
There has been no official figure of the number of casualties but conservative estimates put it at 10 even as the number could be much higher. A viral video showed bodies lying on the streets of Orlu including that of a woman. There were clips of soldiers lying on the ground aiming at and shooting their targets in and around public places, markets and residential homes. The situation was so confused and highly volatile that any passers-by could have been caught in the crossfire. Nobody seemed to know what was happening and what brought about the levying of war on an otherwise peaceful town. Even the media has curiously not been forthcoming as to what the issues really are.
The gravity of the situation was to dawn on all when Governor Hope Uzodinma in a statement, announced the imposition of dusk to dawn curfew in 10 of the 12 local governments making up the Orlu zone (Imo West Senatorial District). He said the measure was as a result of disturbing reports on the “activities of a group of militants who unleashed a shooting spree in the Orlu area of the state, killing and maiming innocent citizens in the process”.
Uzodinma said he was appalled by what appeared to paint the picture of a breakdown of law and order in the Orlu area even as he condemned extreme act of hooliganism and brigandage that accompanied it. He directed security agencies to fish out all those behind the carnage and bring them to face the raw teeth of the law.
But, he left serious gaps as to who are the victims of the attacks and the issues that led to it. This communication gap gave rise to all manner of speculations regarding what the confrontation was all about and those behind the killings. Nobody is privy to what the issues were before the deployment of soldiers. Neither is the government forthcoming on what triggered the seeming breakdown of law and order necessitating the deployment of soldiers and other security agencies to the Orlu town.
It also remains uncertain why Uzodinma had to place 10 local government areas on curfew for an incident that appeared to have taken place only within the Orlu local government area. But the unmistakable impression that was created by the turn of events is that the purported militants that were involved in the shootings are spread across the other nine local governments under curfew. Unfortunately, there was no evidence of fighting or killings by either the purported militants or any group of arsonists in those local governments. There was also no record of security breach in any of the other nine local governments before the curfew.
The fact of this raises posers on the propriety of the curfew in the other local government areas. Or how else do we rationalize a curfew that is bound to impose serious hardship on the local people in those areas for an incident they probably had nothing to do with? And as expected in such military operations, there have been reports of extra judicial killing of innocent citizens for offence that are yet to become public knowledge.
Video clips showing the ransacking of private home by soldiers in search of the so-called militants have been in the public space. Markets were shut down for fear of the unknown especially given that much of the shootings happened around the markets and residential areas. This has taken a serious toll on economic activities especially for a rural community that depends on daily running around to make a living.
Perhaps, the only deduction that can be made from the fighting especially since the governor accused ‘militants’ for the killings, is that the deployment of the military is to fish out the so-called militants. Who these militants are, their modus operandi and how long they have been in their illegal activity are all left to guess work. Many of us are getting to hear for the first time that militant cells exist in Orlu and its environs.
We are yet to be shown proof of that even as it is common knowledge that militancy in this country is associated with oil producing areas. Yes, Imo is an oil producing state. But the two local governments that have that natural endowment domiciled under the belly of their soils are not among those under curfew. That is why the issue of militants in and around the local governments under curfew does not seem to add up.
The inevitable speculation that confronts us is to accept the suggestion that security agencies were deployed to fish out members of the ESN floated by the outlawed IPOB. But how the deployment degenerated to the reported killings are things that still need to be explained. So the most probable thing is that those dubbed militants are members of the IPOB-floated ESN.
That makes the matter somehow further complicated. And as we have argued in this column, the problem with such operations hinges on profiling. Because there are no trademarks to differentiate members of the IPOB or their purported security network, innocent members of the ethnic group from where the IPOB draws a preponderance of its followers are often victims in such security operations. This has seen to the arrest and brutalization of law-abiding young men and women for the seeming misfortune of belonging to the Igbo ethnic group.
Perhaps, nothing illustrates this issue more poignantly than the manner the soldiers and other security agencies went about the Orlu operation. They were seen shooting in public places, markets and chasing people about in their business premises. They did not seem to have an idea of where their targets were. And in situations like this, any and everything is possible. That has been the recurring danger that can be avoided through credible intelligence.
But the state government and the military authorities owe the public a duty to come clear on what the issues really are in the Orlu confrontation.