…Conflicting narratives by IPOB, police, townsfolks
By Mokwugwo Solomon
Expectedly, intrigues and subterfuge have trailed last Monday’s bloody clash between operatives of the Nigerian Police, and people they say they suspect to be members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) at Oraifite in Ekwusigo local government area of Anambra state. The fracas, which erupted mid-morning on when a combined team of police personnel stormed the family house of Barrister Ifeanyi Ejiofor, legal counsel to IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu, at Umunakwa Ifite village in Oraifite, allegedly claimed over 12 lives, including two police officers, a police patrol vehicle, three residential buildings, 16 lockup shops and motorcycles. When Orient Weekend visited the scene of the carnage, it discovered that a four-bedroom duplex belonging to the lawyer’s elder brother was completely burnt. Also burnt were a storey-building belonging to Barr Ejiofor and another three-bedroom house in the front of their family building, which was completely burnt and pulled down. Other properties destroyed, according to the report, included large canopies hired by the Ejiofors for a burial in the family, car and a motorcycle parked inside the compound. Villagers, who spoke to this paper in Oraifite, said there were other properties destroyed in other parts of the village. When our reporter contacted the Anambra state police public relations officer, SP Haruna Mohammed, on Wednesday over the official statistics and position on the properties destroyed during the clash, he said that investi
gations were ongoing into the burning of houses and vehicles. Conflicting accounts: The police, in its first official statement, claimed that its operatives were attacked by armed men they suspected to be IPOB members when they rushed to Ejiofor’s house to arrest him following his refusal to honour an invitation “over a formal complaint against him on alleged case of abduction, assault occasioning harm and malicious damage to property”. According to Mohammed, IPOB members descended on the police as they arrived the scene, set ablaze one patrol vehicle and attacked them with rifles and machetes resulting to the death of two police officers while others suffered machete cuts. The two slain officers were the area commander of Oraifite, ACP Oliver Abbey and the commander of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, Ichi, ASP Joseph Akubo, who led the operation. The divisional police officer, Oraifite, and about 14 other officers who took part in the operation had machete injuries and were admitted in hospitals. The police were, however, silent on the civilian casualties and properties torched during the fracas, as also, the source of the complaint that led to the invitation to the lawyer. The embattled IPOB lawyer, who was on Tuesday declared wanted in connection with the murder of the police officers, later a video press statement issued from his hideout on December 3, claimed that police operatives who came to his house shot randomly at people who came to sympathise with him over the death of his brother, killing over 20 persons. Ejiofor also claimed
that his aged mother sustained life-threatening bullet injuries, while many others, who were allegedly shot by the police, were burnt inside his house which, according to him, was set ablaze and pulled down. “As the carnage progressed, reports kept filtering in on the atrocities they were committing including raping people in the area. In the end, they took away the corpses of the four people they killed in my house in their own van to Nkwor Oraifite along Onitsha expressway where they burned them before leaving”, Ejiofor claimed. He also claimed that the police and Army later reinforced; went back and started burning houses and shops. Ejiofor-IPOB tangle: Orient Weekend gathered that IPOB members came in large numbers to commiserate with Barr Ejiofor during the burial of his elder brother, Revd Louis Chukwukpelum Ejiofor, whose funeral was concluded on Saturday, November 30. According to source close to the family, “The pro-Biafra group stayed over to Sunday, when they attended church service with their lawyer. They were still there till Monday, December 2, helping the family to tidy up the compound, which was littered with refuse before police personnel arrived, wanting to arrest Barr. Ejiofor, who was out of the house as the time of their arrival”. The police, despite persuasions from newsmen, refused to disclose the identity of person(s) abducted, the assault he committed and properties destroyed by the lawyer; citing security reasons for not doing so. In his own broadcast on
Tuesday, Barr Ejiofor said he was called by the DPO of Oraifite on Sunday, December 1, after Thanksgiving Service of his brother. He said that after exchanging pleasantries with the DPO, the discussion ended without the DPO telling him anything. He said also that the Area Commander of Oraifite came to his house on Tuesday morning when he was not around. According to him, when he was speaking with the Area Commander on phone, the police boss told him that they received complaint against one of his boys, and wanted to inform him before arresting the person. According to Ejiofor, “I told the Area Commander to go back that I would come to the station by 11 am. But it was not quite 11 am before they invaded my house.” Ejiofor also claimed that he committed no offence; but only that police wanted to lure him to the station, arrest him and, maybe, kill him. “The actual truth is that the police are interested in getting me out of the way. They are interested in killing me. Government has seen that I am a thorn in their flesh because I am defending Nnamdi Kanu and members of IPOB whenever they have cases. I have defeated the federal government in all the cases I had with them concerning IPOB. I’ve been in all the courts with them and I defeated them,” he said. Siege on Oraifite As at the time our reporter visited the family house of Barr Ifeanyi Ejiofor at Umunakwa, Ifite – Oraifite on Wednesday morning, December 4, quietness had returned to the vicinity and everyone went about his lawful business. There was no police presence anywhere in the community, except at the Oraifite police station, where there were still presence of heavily armed policemen and armoured vehicles in all corners of the police station. However, the Umunakwa Oraifite Village where the incident took place was still deserted. In Ejiofor’s compound, though all the gates were thrown open, exposing the destructions in all corners of the compound, the place was deserted. The popular Nkwo Ifite Market, which is also a daily market, was also deserted with very few petty traders, mostly women, seen in their stalls; and commercial motor cycle operators hardly plied the route. A trader, Ngozi Uzoukwu, who spoke with our reporter at the Nkwo Ifite Market, said many people, especially men and youths, were still on the run, because, according to her, anything can still happen. Villagers counting losses Many villagers are still counting their losses in the community.
A commercial motorcyclist identified as Sunday Arinzechukwu, said the development affected his okada business. He said that he used to earn as much as N3,000 daily before the incident but that since Monday, he hardly earned N600 per day. He also shared a story of his colleague, one John Okoro, a widower whose commercial motorcycle was burnt during the incident, throwing the father of five into hardship. A woman, Uzoamaka, told this paper that her sister, Uju, owned one of the shops destroyed by fire at Umunakwa Ifite Oraifite, close to Barr Ejorgor’s family house. She said that all her wares and personal properties in the shop were completely burnt. A primary teacher, who would not identify himself, being a civil servant, said they directed pupils in their school to stop attending classes until the situation normalised to avoid any pupil being “carelessly killed in a period like this.” Community bans masquerade cults The Oraifite community has come up with a claim that masquerade cults in the community were responsible for the bloody development in the town. In a statement on Wednesday, the president general of Oraifite Improvement Union, Offor Uche, and the traditional ruler of Oraifite, Igwe Dan Udeoji, revealed that the Monday fracas was ignited by rival masquerade cults in the area before some people suspected to be members of IPOB infiltrated them. The town, consequently, banned six masquerade groups whose activities allegedly caused the problem in the community. According to the statement, “The masquerade groups are: Otu-Eke, Otu-Afor, Otu-wo, OtuOrie, Otu-Ube, and Otu Ayaka,” adding that activities of the masquerades had been disbanded forthwith. “The leadership of Oraifite town cannot keep quiet and allow criminal gangs, cultists and miscreants take over the town and tarnish the image of the good people of Oraifite. “The acts are condemned without equivocation in its totality. The good and peace-loving people of Oraifite totally dissociate themselves from the acts of the criminals responsible for the abomination. “The OIU, the Isi Obi of Oraifite, the Obis of Oraifite, the quarter chairmen and the entire people will provide full, unrestrained and active support to the Nigerian Police Force and other law enforcement agencies towards a fair and effective investigation of this dastardly act in order to bring all those directly, and indirectly responsible to book.” The statement added that the criminal elements who acted as catalysts to the tragic events of December 2 had been proscribed and banished from operating in Oraifite. The community expressed heartfelt condolences to the Nigerian Police Force in particular and the families of the officers who lost their lives in the unfortunate incident.