OYIGBO MAYHEM: A Story that will not go away quickly
BY UBAKA OKOFU
If Biafra is eventually achieved, there are signs that the people of Oyigbo, in Oyigbo Local Government Area of Rivers state and several other epicentres of the Biafra struggle might suffer morbid memories considering the spate of killings and orgies of violence that had bedevilled the Igbos, especially in Oyigbo, a bridge community between the South-south and the South-east of Nigeria. Since the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) stepped up its secessionist agitation that has presently escalated into what is clearly some confrontation with the Nigerian security services, Oyigbo had been a hotspot for mayhem, particularly between security agents and some of the people of Oyigbo who are said to be sympathetic to the cause of, and realization of the Biafra agitation.
Oyigbo is the administrative headquarters of Oyigbo local government area of Rivers state. This ‘Igbo’ community is several kilometres away from Port Harcourt, the state capital. It’s a boundary town between Rivers state and Abia on one side. This, perhaps, accounts for why the people are essentially Igbos and not Ikwerre or any other ethnic group traditionally known to Rivers state. However, Ikwerre, the dominant tribe in Rivers enjoys a close affinity with the Igbos of Oyigbo or anywhere in the South-east.
Notwithstanding, several of the people see themselves as being more of a South-east stock than the South- south which Rivers state is. But, there is little to what anyone can do about this as a boundary which is more of the geography of the area than the cultural proximity and singularity of the people. If the latter was the case, Oyigbo or Obigbo ( as the Igbos would want to call it) would conveniently have been in Abia state than anywhere else. Little wonder, Oyigbo is also referred to as ‘Obigbo’. As the name implies, ‘Obigbo’ is not limited to Oyigbo alone, but every densely populated Igbo community in Rivers state.
It’s no longer an understatement that since IPOB, under the leadership of Mazi Nnamdi Kalu took over the agitation for the realization of Biafra, several lethal confrontations between its’ members and men of the Nigeria security services had been recorded with most of such violent demonstrations taking place in South-eastern states, Delta and Rivers state. Just like in Asaba in Delta state, Oyigbo in Rivers has been a major hotspot of such violent demonstration.
It however did not come as a surprise that the ENDSARS protest would offer IPOB members in Oyigbo yet another window to further reject being a part of the Nigerian state. It should be noted that the apex body of IPOB had earlier fixed October 1 for a sit at home protest for its members across the country. So, when the ENDSARS protest swept through the country on October 20 like a wild harmattan fire, members of IPOB in Oyigbo had no option but to roll out their arsenal in the community in what pundits said was a retaliation of the onslaught against the Igbos as a result of their secessionist agenda. It was not the first time security agents and IPOB members were locked in violent clash in the community. Hangovers from previous clashes were said to have left many IPOB members dead in the community, and perhaps, was the immediate cause of the latest fracas.
By the time the dark clouds which had gathered over Oyigbo from the inferno that consumed an Area Command and several other Divisional Police stations had settled somewhat, a police barrack and over 50 vehicles parked in the spacious police barrack had dissipated, the armoury of the police was emptied and 3 bodies of men of the Nigeria police were lying frigid and lifeless.
In all of these, the wanted leader of IPOB in Oyigbo, Stanley Mgbere cannot be isolated. He was declared wanted by the Rivers government and a bounty of N50 million placed on him by the same government for his criminal roles in several crises that had bedevilled Oyigbo and environs. On the 28th of October, a few days after the mayhem in Oyibo, Governor Nyesom Wike had signed an executive Order proscribing the activities of IPOB in the state. It will be recalled that the federal government under President Buhari had earlier proscribed IPOB while also declaring the socio-political group a terrorist organisation.
A disturbing angle to the Oyigbo mayhem is the speculated deep seated animosity between the Igbos of Oyigbo and the governor of the state, Nyesom Wike. It is being speculated that the Igbos of Oyigbo expected so much understanding and support from Wike. They believed that the Igbos and Ikwerres are one considering the affinity of culture. Wike, being an Ikwerre man ought to see himself as a Biafran, and therefore be sympathetic to the cause and realization of the Biafran nation. Rather, the contrary has been the case as Nyesom Wike has seemingly zero tolerance for Biafra.
Another side of the Oyigbo mayhem was the alleged killing of a soldier of the 6th Mechanized Battalion. The deceased was said to have been burnt inside a military vehicle. It was this act of lawlessness, and the associated alleged attack on the police station where about 3 policemen were reportedly killed and over 50 police raffles stolen, while a large number and rounds of ammunition were carted away. that is said to have inflamed tempers
What cannot be however disputed in the latest Oyigbo mayhem is that the government, whether the federal government or that of Rivers state had turned their faces away from Oyigbo while the military unleashed terror as reprisal on civilians in the community for the alleged killing of a soldier in Oyigbo.
It was difficult to ascertain the numbers of civilians who were caught and killed in the cross fire between men of the Nigerian soldiers and IPOB. However, the casualties on the side of the people are being described by some as unimaginable. Houses of suspected IPOB members were burnt down and so many youths were cut down in their prime. It has indeed been a sad turn to what had ordinarily begun as a peaceful self-determination crusade.
And with the latest development in which a church that is linked to Governor Wike’s dad,has reportedly been attacked with explosives and with the police alleging that the suspects of the dastardly act are self-confessed IPOB members, it will indeed be most necessary to ask that every effort be taken now to ensure that the crisis situation does not escalate any further. Nigeria needs all the peace it can find now.
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State