There is palpable tension in Enugu State as Nigerian soldiers reportedly aiding kidnappers in the state allegedly opened fire on members of the State Neighborhood Watch fighting the kidnappers.
Two people were killed including the wife of one of them while four others were injured.
According to SaharaReporters, the incident happened around 9 pm on Thursday night along 9th Mile -Eke- Ezeagu Road.
Recently, a report also from SaharaReporters, stated that kidnappers suspected to be Fulani jihadists had turned major highways in the state into kidnapping havens despite tens of military and police checkpoints lined along roads in the state.
Last week, commercial drivers plying the Enugu-Ugwuogo-Opi-Nsukka Road protested against the rising spate of kidnappings on the road and in other parts of the state.
During the protest, the drivers were seen carrying placards with various inscriptions to express their grievances against the abductions.
They called on the security agencies and the state government to do something about the situation. Security operatives and soldiers have been accused of aiding kidnappers in the state and other parts of the Southeast region.
Some journalists who visited the scene of the attack in Eke community on Saturday and the hospital where the survivors were receiving medical attention, described the incident as horrific. The victims were seen in critical condition.
The incident has also shattered peace in Eke community which has witnessed one of the deadliest and most horrifying attacks by kidnappers in Enugu State. The incident has also sent fear into local farmers who have stopped going to their farms, as they have expressed the belief that the Nigerian Army has subtly waged terrorist attacks on them using Fulani herdsmen.
Eke community is the country home of the Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr Osita Okechukwu, immediate past Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama and a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr Godwin Onwusi, who ran for the Udi North State Constituency in the 2023 general elections among others.
It was gathered that the vigilante who was gruesomely murdered by the soldiers, identified as Mr Ebuka Oke, lost his father exactly a month earlier and yet to be buried.
The Assistant Chief Security Officer of Eke Security Neighbourhood Vigilante Watch, Mr Emeka Anigbo, is among the victims of the horrific and unjustified attack.
Anigbo, who sustained gunshot injuries and currently lying on his hospital bed, managed to narrate to journalists how the soldiers attacked them.
Anigbo, who writhed in pain while narrating the incident, thanked God for the timely intervention of the Divisional Police Officer of 9th Mile Police Station. He said if not for the police DPO, they would have all been dead, adding that the soldiers would have tagged them as members of the Indigenous People of Biafra/ Eastern Security Network (IPOB/ESN) or simply kidnappers.
According to him, they were at 9th Mile Corner on Thursday night where they had gone to felicitate with their colleagues who were being inaugurated as Neighbourhood Watch members when they “got a distress call that armed robbers had blocked the major road leading to the Catholic Church Pilgrimage Centre, popularly known as Ugwudinso in Eke through Ama breweries”.
“On receiving the call, we abandoned the food and drinks we were eating and swiftly drove out with a view to confronting the criminal elements. We also notified the Divisional Police Officer of 9th Mile that covers the location.
“Due to heavy gridlock occasioned by the blockage of the road, we could not get to the scene with our vehicle,” he narrated.
Continuing, he said they decided to park their vehicle along the road and started moving towards the place. “On closely approaching the scene, we sighted three armed soldiers near the place without their vehicle and we didn’t know how they got there. So, on sighting us they shouted stop there.
“We obeyed the instruction and stopped. I shouted that we are members of the State Neighborhood Vigilante Watch from the area. Thereafter, they asked us to keep coming,” Anigbo stated.
“Surprisingly, on approaching the soldiers, they started firing at us,” Anigbo narrated in tears, adding, “The soldiers we understand came from 82 Division of the Nigerian Army started firing at us. They shot dead one of us, Ebuka Oke by name immediately. We were shouting we are neighbourhood watch group.
“Our shouting didn’t even ‘touch’ them and they equally shot dead the wife of one of those inaugurated at 9th Mile. She was on a motorcycle with her husband going back to Eke. This is despite that we were in our full security uniform and had identified ourselves. The trigger-happy soldiers opened fire on us at a very close range.
“After shooting me several times and while I was on the ground, one of the soldiers went ahead to shoot me again in the shoulder even though he saw my ID card and my uniform,” Anigbo said tearfully.
He further narrated, “The same soldier kept on marching me on the chest with his boot, saying, ‘I will kill you today’. In fact, it was the timely arrival of police operatives from 9th Mile Conner that saved my life. It was the police that stopped the soldier, confirming that we are Eke Neighborhood Security Guards.”
Efforts to speak with Chinedu Okolo, one of the victims of the soldiers’ shooting described the situation as severe, with his manhood shattered by the soldiers’ bullets.
The third victim, Obinna Offor was also seen writhing in pain, while on oxygen therapy at the intensive care unit (ICU).
Some relations of the victims, who spoke on condition of anonymity condemned the soldiers and described their action as barbaric and callous. The locals called for justice.
In separate interviews, they described the incident as proof that the Nigerian Army had been aiding kidnappers in Enugu State and in other parts of the Southeast region.
“If the police hadn’t gotten there on time, the soldiers would have killed all of them and labelled them IPOB/ESN in their usual way to cover their atrocities in the Southeast region. Who can now say they are not part of the kidnapping?” one of the relations lamented.
“We call for an independent and unbiased investigation into the incident. Thank God some of the victims are still alive. We also are calling for the arrest of all the soldiers whom we learnt were from the northern region to face justice for their crime.”
A security source stated that shortly after the attack, one Lieutenant Colonel who went to the hospital to see the victims questioned the soldiers for shooting the security men and killing some of them, in Hausa language.
“Apparently, he didn’t know that someone around understands their language,” the source revealed.
He added that the military colonel questioned one of the soldiers who accompanied him to the hospital, asking: “Is it how you were taught to do it?”
The source, however, revealed that a few weeks ago, some soldiers quarrelled with the same neighbourhood watch team for rescuing a kidnapped victim before the ransom was paid.
“The soldiers asked the local vigilantes why they embarked on the rescue operation without their knowledge. Is this not absurd and ridiculous? The Southeast people, especially Enugu people are at the mercy of Nigerian security forces, especially the Army that are behind most of the kidnappings and other terror attacks,” the source said.
However, when the Nigerian Army was contacted to shed more light on the incident, it denied that soldiers attacked local security operatives.
The Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, 82 Division Nigerian Army, Lieutenant Colonel Jonah Unuakhalu, who spoke in an interview with some journalists, described the victims’ accounts as untrue.
He, however, admitted that a woman was killed by what he described as a “strange bullet from armed hoodlums,” whom he said engaged the soldiers in a shootout.
According to Unuakhalu, the troops received a distress call that some criminal elements were operating along Eke Road. He said they immediately rushed to the scene, adding that on sighting the soldiers the hoodlums opened fire on them.
He added that the soldiers overpowered them.
He said the bravery of the soldiers led to the arrest of one of the hoodlums and the recovery of two pump action guns and some live bullets after some ran into a nearby bush.
The Army spokesperson, who said he had no information regarding the killing of the second person, insisted that it was in the course of the exchange of fire between the troops and the hoodlums that a strange bullet hit the deceased housewife who was rushed to the hospital and confirmed dead.
He said, “So, there is no iota of truth in the information being peddled around that it was soldiers that killed the deceased. Our men only rushed to the scene to salvage the situation, after receiving a distress call.”
“It is unfortunate that the woman died, if not, she would have been in the best position to narrate exactly what happened. Meanwhile, the Division is going to carry out proper investigation on the incident, so as to unravel what actually transpired,” he added.
SaharaReporters had earlier reported that members of the neighbourhood watch group of Akpawfu autonomous community in the Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State were arrested and disarmed by police officers from Force Headquarters Anti-Fraud Unit amid insecurity in the community.
Also, it was learnt that there had been pressure from some quarters in the state to disarm the Forest Guard who have shown resilience in confronting the kidnapping in the state.