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Soldiers kill man during shootout with armed youths in Ebonyi

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Ruth Oginyi

Controversy has trailed the shooting of an armed man identified as Chidi Agwa Arua at Nguzu in Edda, Afikpo South Local Government Area of the State by soldiers enforcing the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown over the weekend.

This paper learnt that the deceased was shot dead by during a shootout between soldiers and armed youths following a bloody clash that erupted between the youths and task force enforcing Ebonyi State government ban on burial ceremony in the community.

The incidence which took place in front of the residence of Ebonyi State House member, Hon. Nkemka Okoro Onuma, has continued to generate controversy in Edda following claims that it was youths from Ekoli that killed the deceased and caused the injury of others who were secretly rushed to an undisclosed hospital in Abia State for treatment.

However, the council chairman of Afipko South local government area, Barrister Uduma Chima Eni exonerated himself from the fracas as well as killing of Nguru man. Eni explained that it was soldiers that shot Chidi after they were attacked by the boys.

According to him, Nguzu youths attacked soldiers at night after a ceremony held at the compound of the lawmaker representing Afikpo South West, Hon. Nkemka Okoro Onuma. He further disclosed that some members of the anti COVID-19 taskforce and one of his boys who had gone to know the reason they were holding public gathering against the state government’s directive that no events of such magnitude should be held in any part of the state to avoid the spread of coronavirus disease in Ebonyi were earlier attacked by Nguzu youths.

The council boss who disclosed that during the weekend they succeeded in stopping about 24 burial ceremonies also noted that six burials were suspended in Nguzu and prominent among them was that of one Dr Dan Achi whose younger brother came back from Italy for the burial.

According to him, efforts to see if he can talk to the deceased brother who came back from overseas so as to tell him to postpone the burial failed as nobody agreed to release his contact. He said because of that he told the taskforce to mount surveillance on Nguzu and to contact the commissioner for Border Peace if any ceremony was held in the area.

Adding that when he went to the border between Ebonyi and Abia through Nguzu, he called Nkemka to tell him what was happening but he refused to pick his calls, then he also called Nkemka’s counselor who is his boy and told him the problem they needed to solve.

Hear him: “Surprisingly, when I was going back to Ekoli, Nkemka’s compound was filled to the brim with people. l didn’t know the occasion but you can hear the music from Nkemka’s compound blaring, you could hear it from the motor park and from the road. I was a bit surprised but I didn’t stop, I just kept moving because I’m not in the best of terms with so many of them due to the constant misinformation they are fed with.

“So I had the intention of calling him from Ekoli to ask him what was happening and to tell him to stop the ceremony otherwise I will either report him to the Commissioner of Police or to the Governor.

“But some members of the anti COVID- 19 taskforce who followed me to the boundary where we went for monitoring, stopped while I was in front still moving. They were three and wanted to know why they were having a ceremony.

“On sighting them the boys at Nkemka’s compound said ‘you Ekoli people you have finished doing your own burial and don’t want us to do ours’. They descended on them and bit them blue black.

“I was at a mortuary in Edda to talk to the mortuary attendant not to release corpses because they had already lined up caskets when somebody came to me with bike that the taskforce members were beaten up and my boy who was among them was the one they concentrated on, that he wants youths of Ekoli to go and rescue them.

“I have had experience in this kind of thing that I told them not to go. First, I was angry that they were following me and stopped where I didn’t stop. Secondly, I know that if I permit them to go and rescue them it may turn to another thing and finally end up as communal crisis, I didn’t want that.

“While I was still trying to contact the DPO, some of my associates said let them go and know what was happening and they went. It wasn’t up to two minutes they came back with the victims.  One escaped and he was the person that came and informed me, the other one showed me where he was matcheted and for my boy Okoro, he was beaten in a way that if you don’t know him well looking at his face you won’t recognize him again.

”They were talking of going for reprisal but I cancelled it because of the reasons I earlier stated. Even when the other taskforce people mobilized, they were about 30 in number but I stopped them. Now at that stage I tried calling Nkemka and he still didn’t pick my calls”, he narrated.

“When I came out going up towards the Secretariat towards Nkemka’s compound, I saw a group of boys they wouldn’t number anything less than 70. Most of them armed with rifles, stick and cutlass. I told my driver to stop and reverse, I shouted three times before he obeyed because of what he saw. I told him ‘don’t follow where we came from, but to go straight to the junction’.

“What alerted me the first place was that I saw two bikes and the way they passed with speed was terrible, it appeared they were attacked.

“I went and told the soldiers at Nguzu junction, they said people have been calling them to report that they were molested. While there, we saw a vehicle with a broken windscreen who told me the boys were looking for Ekoli people and the driver said before he could finish explaining to them that he is from Arochukwu, they had already vandalized his vehicle.

“I called the DPO and told him about the situation, he assured me that within 20 minutes he will clear the road. He will come with enough teargas to clear the road and I was satisfied, though I was trapped at the junction waiting for him to clear the road before I will go back.

“When they sent policemen, they came with their patrol vehicles and two teargas but these youths were replying with gunshots and they pulled out. They called the mobile policemen to go and remove the barricade. At that time several passenger vehicles that wanted to pass through Nguzu to Ekoli had been vandalized.

“Those they could not identify they will ask ‘you were are you from as soon as you say you are from Ekoli, it’s a crime, they will start beating you, even people with children’.  At times they will beat them and in confusion the driver and passengers will scatter into different directions, even people who didn’t know where they were going to.

“So if you are not well known you just tell lie by naming any other part of Edda. At a point a former Council chairman, Orji Mba, who was one of Ochiri’s boys got to the spot, they held him and said he is from Ekoli, and vandalized his vehicle and the Civil Defense personnel his cousin one John Chima, was the one driving him, he is in AE-FUTHA as we speak. They inflicted several matchets cuts at his back.

“Orji later told me that one of them, tall, was the one that identified him as Ochiri’s boy and helped him to escape with his driver. When they left Nkemka’s compound another barricade was set up in front of Assemblies of God church, they ran into that one and because of the experience they had, they drove with speed in order to escape.

“They got to corpers lodge where the soldiers are occupying now before they cleared. Soldiers asked them what happened and they narrated it to them.

“The soldiers still repeated that several people had been coming there with vandalized vehicles and wounds and they asked what was actually happening, the mobile policemen who came said ‘that’s where we are going because regular police patrol that was sent there were chased away’.

“They now requested the soldiers to assist them, then the soldiers asked the man driving Ochiri’s boy if he could go with them he said yes, but Orji said no that with what he saw he can’t go back there so he dropped, that Civil Defense personnel now drove Orji’s vehicle carrying some of the soldiers and went back, he was leading.

“The boys had already laid ambush so the moment they saw the vehicle they assumed that they were the people they were expecting, Ekoli people coming for reprisal, they now opened fire on them and the soldiers fired back. The soldiers engaged them and one person was killed, and two injured, they recovered the boys pump action loaded with live ammunition.

“So myself there, our people were worried that there was crisis and I was at Nguzu, they know the implication and I’m number one enemy, so the youths were already mobilizing that they must go for me. But when my younger brother called I told them not to come that I will come back.

“And one good thing is that the soldiers who killed the boy are not denying it. They have made statements both to the Army and the Police authorities. Nkemka is just trying to politicize it, he stated.”

The council chairman blamed Nkemka for the death of the boy, due to his failure to control the people he mobilized as they engaged security men in a shootout.

But in his defence, the lawmaker Nkemka denied holding or aiding any public gathering in his place against the State Governments directives. He described the incident as a calculated attempt by his political enemies to tarnish his hard-earned image for future political gains. “If there is a family that hosted social gathering, that wasn’t to my knowledge, and since my own family wasn’t involved in such gathering, no matter how low key, it never held in my home or was I part of it”, he defended.

Contacted, the police public relations officer in Ebonyi State DSP Loveth Odah said her office was not aware of such incidence. Odah promised to get back to our correspondent when she receives the report from the DPO.

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