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INVESTIGATION: Inside the horrific bloodshed and massive extrajudicial killings by Nigerian Soldiers in Oyigbo community Rivers State

 INVESTIGATION: Inside the horrific bloodshed and massive extrajudicial killings in Nigeria’s Oyigbo community This is a moving story of how...

 INVESTIGATION: Inside the horrific bloodshed and massive extrajudicial killings in Nigeria’s Oyigbo community

This is a moving story of how the Nigerian Army inflicted war-grade assault on Oyigbo community in Rivers, killing many residents, and injuring many others. It is another case of gross human rights violations.

Like most brides-to-be, Queen Nwazuo, 30, was beside herself with anticipation. Her wedding to her fiancé, Monday Bakor, was scheduled for next February and the preparation for the event had long begun. But the rosy future the student of Abia State Polytechnic looked forward to with her lover was truncated by bullets from rampaging troops of the Nigerian Army, who were on a reprisal mission in Oyigbo, Rivers State.

Ms Nwazuo, an orphan, was shot dead on Thursday, October 22, as she and Mr Bakor were trying to lock the latter’s shop at 12B Ehi Street as residents scurried to safety from soldiers who were shooting indiscriminately at unarmed civilians in Oyigbo town. Oyigbo lies west of the Imo River, the location of the oil wells that straddle Abia State and Rivers State in Nigeria’s Niger Delta.

“They did not care,” a distraught Mr Bakor told PREMIUM TIMES as he sobbed intermittently. “They were directly shooting at people. It was not stray bullets. They were directly shooting people. They killed people and they were using grammar to explain it.

Photo: Queen Nwazuo’s remains, with bullet visible on her neck. Photo shared exclusively with PREMIUM TIMES.

“They came to the street where people were and I saw everybody as they were locking their shops. I was rushing to lock mine when a bullet pierced through the iron door of my shop. I saw particles all over me but the bullet hit my fiancée and she fell.

“I did not even care if they would kill me. I carried her to the hospital with the help of a person who brought a bike. It was at the hospital, Divine Light, that she was confirmed dead. Nobody was confronting anybody in that area. I am not IPOB. I don’t meet with anybody. You can only see me at my house and church and that shop.

“I am angry. They killed innocent people and they are still denying. They killed a woman I am about to marry next February. I opened this shop for us to make some money to use for her return to school.”

Mr Bakor said he and his late lover had fled Oyigbo to Etche on Wednesday, before they returned on Thursday, believing calm had returned. He said he took the woman’s remains to a mortuary around Timber Road in Oyigbo, a claim verified by PREMIUM TIMES. Informants at another mortuary at Imo River, which a resident, Emmanuel Maduabuchi helped locate, said families were bringing dead bodies to deposit amid the siege.

“It was divine grace that I was not also killed when I took her to hospital and later to the mortuary. Everywhere was dry and there were shootings everywhere,” he said.

Another victim, just like several others who were killed by the troops, Excellent Moses was, on the evening that the fatal cockktail opened in Oyigbo, standing hundred metres from the Mbano Camp Junction where an armoured combat vehicle of Nigerian soldiers was stationed, powering gunfires to different directions . He was hit by a bullet. Fallen and soaked in blood, Mr. Moses, a young Christian minister, let out a loud painful screech, before some low dying moans.

His friend by whose house he was standing, Willy Callistus (surname not included over safety concern), hurtled towards him. Given a fireman’s carry, Mr Moses was taken to a nearby hospital, Glorious Medical Centre.

“By the time I got to the hospital after his friends called me, my son was already dead,” Mr Moses’ mum, a civil servant, visited by PREMIUM TIMES, began, struggling to hold back tears. “I saw two holes, one on his chest and the other by his side, meaning the bullet pierced through the front and blew open his side. His shirt was also perforated.”

Mr Moses, a pastor serving at the Living Faith Church, Igwuruta, a Port Harcourt suburb, had travelled to his Oyigbo family home on Tuesday, October 20, to get a carpenter and interior decorator for some work at his Igwuruta apartment. It was a journey of no-return. He was shot dead by soldiers, his family and two friends, who witnessed the fatal incident, said.

Photo: Remains of Excellent Moses. Photo taken by his friend who gave him fireman’s carry to the hospital.

“They said soldiers did not kill anybody in Oyigbo but my own first son was killed and those who witnessed the incident and carried him, like these boys (pointing to Willy Callistus, and Emmanuel Maduabuchi, another of Mr Moses’ friend) said the bullet was from the APC (armoured personnel carrier) at the (Mbano Camp) Junction,” his mother, a civil servant, told PREMIUM TIMES at her Ohita Street family home.

This reporter saw bullet holes on the houses close to the spot where Mr Moses stood before he was killed.

Photo: Bullet holes on a building around where bullet hit Excellent Moses. Credit: Taiwo-Hassan Adebayo/PREMIUM TIMES)

The video in this tweet has been verified to that of a young man called Justice, who was shot by Nigerian forces in Oyigbo. We showed the video to a set of young men at a football field off the road that leads to the Glorious Medical Centre. They identified him, as did Willy Callistus separately. 

A brutal reprisal mission to Oyigbo

The killer soldiers launched out on a vengeful mission after mobs, whom the authorities alleged were members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), an Igbo separatist group, killed some security personnel. As fully-loaded military trucks rolled into the town, soldiers, armed to the teeth, jumped down in combat fashion, then took strategic positions on the streets of Oyigbo, also called Obigbo. The carnage soon began in earnest.

The official narrative provided by authorities was that the troops were deployed to the town to fish out separatists who murdered soldiers and police officers. Authorities also said the soldiers were there to recover stolen arms.

But under what seemed a deliberate blackout, with a 24-hour curfew in force, the Nigerian Army inflicted a cocktail of devastation and bloodshed on the town, a PREMIUM TIMES investigation found, based on on-the-ground reporting, interviews with multiple sources, including families of victims, witnesses, military, mortuary attendants and hospital sources, and a review of verified citizen-generated videos and photos.

The soldiers took vengeance on defenceless people in what ranks among the cruellest use of excessive force against unarmed civilians in the country’s history. The carnage at Oyigbo is comparable, in its execution, to the massacres in Odi (1999) and Zaki Biam (2001), under former President Olusegun Obasanjo; and Zaria(2015), under incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. Both leaders were military dictators before becoming democratically elected presidents.

For several days between the last week of October and November 3, soldiers, day and night, fired bullets around Oyigbo, indiscriminately targeting unarmed civilians, several of whom were either killed or injured, multiple witnesses, among them rescuers of victims, said. They planted fears in the community and triggered forced displacements, with residents fleeing westwards to Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, or eastwards to neighbouring Imo and Abia States.

“My family was able to escape to Port Harcourt,” Christian John told PREMIUM, adding that a friend, with whom he attended preparatory lessons for the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations in the past was killed during the shootings. He only identified the friend by his first name, Olisa.

At Mbano Camp Junction, on the old road to Aba, the economic nerve centre of Abia State, an armoured combat vehicle was stationed, ferociously powering gunfires in different directions, according to multiple witnesses, including residents and tricycle operators, who operate in the vicinity. It was some hundred metres away from that spot that, Mr Moses, the young Christian minister, was hit by a bullet.

Amid the siege on Oyigbo, gory pictures depicting man’s inhumanity to man emerged on social media at the end of October and Rivers State, once the main theatre of Niger Delta militancy, became Nigeria’s latest epicentre of gross human rights abuses, competing with Lagos where soldiers descended on peaceful protesters, killing yet an unknown number of them and injuring several others.

As public concerns rose, #Oyigbo #Obigbo #Oyigbomassacre trended on Twitter days after Mr Moses and several others, including at least one child, whose case was verified by our reporter, were killed by the soldiers. Many of the soldiers who executed the massacre were deployed from the Operation Delta Safe camp protecting Imo River oil and gas installations, sources familiar with the matter said.

The Terrible Things of Oyigbo

“Terrible things happened in Oyigbo,” a worried Ifeanyi Egesi said, as he drove this reporter towards the subdued community. On this day, Mr Egesi was the only Port Harcourt airport cabman who agreed to take an Oyigbo-bound passenger. Others were fear-stricken, aware of the grisly crimes that had happened there and the possibility of being killed by soldiers.

Residents unable to flee the town complained that they were left starving in their homes as they were unable to go to work or buy food to eat for days because of the indiscriminate shootings by soldiers. They said they only began to enjoy some reprieve after the 24-hour curfew was reviewed to 7 PM – 6 AM on November 3.

With a 24-hour curfew in force and with the Rivers State Government and the army denying extra-judicial killings of innocent and defenceless people and human rights abuses, a clear and factual picture of the situation was slow to emerge.

During our week-long investigation in Oyigbo, we observed that fears rang clear among the people and many of them had to clear their telephones of pictures of victims or military in action over fear soldiers could forcibly take their devices and punish them for having recorded abuses.

By interviewing several residents, many of them still terrified, our reporting showed nearly every individual in Oyigbo is aware of the abuses, having witnessed them happen, seen mourning families, or seen fleeing residents and dead human beings abandoned by the roadside like the two at Trailer Park.

We obtained disturbing pieces of evidence suggesting war-grade violence by the military on unarmed people and challenged the claim by the government and the army that the Oyigbo operation was only in search of stolen arms and members of the separatist group, IPOB, accused of carnage.

Video in this tweet has been verified to have been shot in Oyigbo by physically been to the area around Location-Shell Road, our digital team says it had not appeared anywhere before the Oyigbo troubles.

Interviews with two senior military officers and a civilian who works in a military barracks would later complement our on-the-ground finding – the army deliberately went on a revenge offensive to “deal with” the community for “harbouring” IPOB members., brushing aside any concern about human rights violations.

Oyigbo Massacre Victim — 14-year-old Victor Eme

Among multiple witnesses interviewed by PREMIUM TIMES, a motorcyclist, who did not want his name mentioned, said he saw seven persons die from gunshots fired by soldiers at three different locations.

He took our reporter, accompanied by Willy Callistus, to the three locations. At one place, a right turn after the roundabout on Old Aba Road, facing Imo River eastwards, three persons were said to have been killed there. But the families refused to comment on the record, firmly rejecting requests for details after confirming the fatalities only.

One family member said they were scared as soldiers were stationed just across the Imo River bridge and that they remained suspicious that the soldiers had planted informants among the civilian population.

Next was to Bernard Eme, who operates a restaurant on the Old Aba Road, and had two of his brothers helping him. One of them, Victor, a 14-year old schoolboy, was hit by bullets during the siege of Oyigbo, Mr Eme confirmed.

“We thought he (Victor) was in the shop during the shootings but I was called that he was shot and lying on the ground. I said ‘no’ that he was in the shop with my other brother but he left the shop when the other boy had slept off,” Bernard said. He said neither he nor his brothers had any link with IPOB.

He said Victor was taken to Heritage Hospital where he was confirmed dead.

The third place the motorcyclist took PREMIUM TIMES to was the market “by St. Paul Catholic Church” where three men were said to have been shot dead. One person at Mr Eme’s restaurant corroborated this claim, apart from traders, who also said their wares were destroyed.

Another Oyigbo Massacre Victim — Francis Ejiogu

Francis Ejiogu, 28, described as a forklift operator and phone businessman by his parents John and Stella Ejiogu, was hit by a flying bullet on Thursday, October 22.

“He was not protesting, he was hit by stray bullets,” the deceased’s friend, Victor Chidiebere, told PREMIUM TIMES. The late Francis, also commonly called ‘Paapaa’, was described by his friends as a kind fellow.

Photo: Francis Ejiogu, aka Paapaa, before he was killed. Photo shared to Facebook by his friend Victor Chidiebere.

He was with his grandmother on Location Road – which links the Palace Road of the Oyigbo monarch, Mike Nwaji and Shell Road from Mbano Camp Junction – when gunfire caught him, the father Mr Ejiogu, said. He was the only son of his parents, who now have two surviving daughters.

“He was rushed to hospital by my in-laws at her maternal grandmother’s place,” Mr Ejiogu said. But Francis died the following day, Friday, October 23, at the Divine Light Hospital in Oyigbo.

The video in this tweet has been verified to be that of Francis Ejiogu in the hospital 

Yet another Oyigbo Massacre Victim — Emeka Onyeama

Emeka Onyeama lived with his younger sister in one of the houses right of Mbano Camp Junction when one looks eastwards. Their house, visited by PREMIUM TIMES, has a shop, which the sister uses for petty trade, and through which their sleeping space is accessed.

He was a transport worker, helping the Junction’s tricycle drivers solicit passengers, two of the drivers, Chidi (who wanted only his first name published, concerned about his safety) and Emeka Chinemeram, said.

The two drivers took PREMIUM TIMES to the house Mr Onyeama shared with her sister before his death. But the sister had left for their village in Enugu State to report the killing of her brother to their parent, neighbours said. The remains of Mr Onyeama were taken to the mortuary by his sister, assisted by men using a motorcycle, neighbours and Mr Chidi said.

Mr Chinemeram said he had cleared his phone of photos of Mr Onyeama’s remains and those of the two dead bodies at Trailer Park because he was scared soldiers could seize his phone and find he had documented evidence of their excesses.

“Six persons confirmed dead at Glorious Hospital, Oyigbo”

For the days the soldiers besieged Oyigbo, six persons hit by bullets were taken dead to Glorious Medical Centre, authoritative sources at the private facility told PREMIUM TIMES. One of the six persons was Excellent Moses whose grieving family PREMIUM TIMES visited.

“We confirmed six persons dead as they were brought severally,” one person at the hospital said. “14 persons were admitted and we referred some to the University of Port Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, UPTH.” The hospital sources did not disclose the identities of those admitted and transferred to the teaching hospital.

At the teaching hospital, Choba, in Port Harcourt, a front desk nurse, identified as Mercy, confirmed victims from Oyigbo were referred to the public facility. She declined to disclose details of patients, citing hospital rules as reason.

But our reporter told another nurse that he was in search of a friend who went missing in Oyigbo and believed to have been brought to the teaching hospital.

The nurse checked the register for the fictitious name our reporter provided. Of course, it was not found. However, the nurse disclosed that there were Oyigbo victims admitted but that access to the wards would not be granted since the fictitious name of the missing person our reporter provided did not match any entry in the register.

But she said, “one person among those brought during the incidents in Oyigbo is now dead, and was a Cameroonian, called Eriga. But there was no serious person with him and he was on the bed there (pointing to one of the beds in the hospital’s Accident and Emergency reception area) before he died the following day.”

“Ambulance burnt with dead bodies inside”

The commercial motorcyclist, who said he witnessed how seven persons were killed by soldiers, and led this reporter to the restaurant of Mr Eme, whose 14-year old brother, Victor, was also killed, again took us to the Market area to see and photograph a burnt ambulance in the middle of the road.

Photo: Ambulance with dead bodies inside burnt by Nigerian forces in Oyigbo. Photo with the bike our motorcyclist source in motion. (Credit: Taiwo-Hassan Adebayo/PREMIUM TIMES)
Photo: Anoter building razed on suspicion it was owned by IPOB but residents denied a link. Credit: Taiwo-Hassan Adebay/PREMIUM TIMES


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