Three persons were killed on Tuesday when troops of the Nigerian Army invaded Orsu-Ihiteukwa, a community in Orsu Local Government Area of Imo State, Nigeria’s South-east.
The incident happened at about 12 p.m.
The troops, operating in armoured vehicles, were said to have opened fire on residents.
Many residents, mainly the youth, have fled the community due to the invasion, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
A resident of the community, Chidi Ibekaeme, told this newspaper that the soldiers have been attacking the community since September, 2021.
He said the troops carried out the attacks under the guise of launching an onslaught against suspected members of Eastern Security Network (ESN), the militant wing of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
During the Tuesday attack, two of the victims identified as, Ugochukwu Obianeli and Nonso, were killed while they were molding cement blocks in the community, he said.
One other victim, a yet-to-be-identified elderly man, was shot on his legs by the troops at Eke Ututu Market in the community, according to sources from the community.
It was gathered that the victim, who sold electrical materials in the market, could not run like others when the troops stormed the community.
He died Wednesday morning due to complications from gunshot injuries.
Mr Ibekaeme said one of the victims, Mr Obianeli, is his brother-in-law, whose new wife gave birth in eight months ago.
He said although there are suspected ESN members in bushes, the community members were not aware, because they have never attacked residents of the community.
Mr Ibekaeme said the separatists have been guarding the community against herders’ invasion of the community.
“The unfortunate thing is that whenever they come (to attack ESN members), they normally kill innocent people who are in their various houses,” Mr Ibekaeme said. “We have been going through a lot in my community.”
Mr Ibekaeme, a lawyer, also accused the soldiers of frequently “abducting” some leaders of the community and locking them up.
He said the soldiers are not empowered by law to detain people in their facility.
“Around 6 August, they (soldiers) came to our community and burnt houses and whisked some of our leaders away. Till date, nobody has seen them,” he said.
He claimed that the soldiers were from 34 Artillery Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Obinze, in Owerri West Local Government Area of the state.
According to him, security agencies are at liberty to raid criminals’ hideouts in the community, but should not attack innocent residents.
Another resident of the community, Friday Nwajuo told PREMIUM TIMES that the suspected ESN members threw an impoverished explosive device at the troops, who engaged them in a shoot-out.
He said the two victims, Messrs Obianeli and Nonso, were labourers who went into hiding when the soldiers invaded the community and shot sporadically.
“When they (the two victims) came out, they thought the soldiers had left. So, the soldiers saw them and shot them to death thinking they were ESN members,” he said.
Army spokesperson, Onyema Nwachukwu, did not immediately respond to calls and a text message seeking comments from him.
But, in a statement on Wednesday, Mr Nwachukwu, a brigadier general, said only two IPOB members were killed by the troops.
He said troops from 82 Division and 34 Brigade of the Nigerian Army killed the suspected separatists during a raid.
The operation was carried out in conjunction the Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Airforce and other security agencies, he said.
“The neutralised members had taken position to launch one of their primed rocket launchers, when they were engaged and taken out by the vigilant troops,” the army spokesperson said.
Mr Nwachukwu said the troops were not hurt by the impoverished explosive device thrown by the IPOB members, but it destroyed some shops at Eke Ututu Market when it exploded.
“Troops will continue to ensure there is no safe haven for all criminals operating around Orsu and Orsumoghu areas,” he said.
Some impoverished explosive devices planted along the road as well as locally fabricated rocket launches, were among the items recovered during the operation, according to the Army spokesperson.
Like other states in Nigeria’s South-east, security has deteriorated lately in Imo State with frequent attacks by armed persons. The attacks often target security agencies and government facilities.
IPOB, a group seeking the creation of an independent state of Biafra which they want carved out from the South-east and some parts of the South-south, has been linked to the deadly attacks across the two regions.
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