Our Lives Un­der Python Dance II, By South-East Res­i­dents

Peo­ple Live in Fear Army Praised For Flush­ing Out Hood­lums ‘Kanu Should Lis­ten to El­ders’ IPOB: We’re Ready For Probe

Sunday Trust - - FRONT PAGE - By Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (Abuja), Tony Adibe, Enugu & Li­nus Ef­fiong (Umuahia)

It is quiet now in Afara-Ukwu com­mu­nity of Umuahia, Abia State, where two weeks ago, it was a mecca for vo­cif­er­ous mem­bers of the Indige­nous Peo­ple of Bi­afra (IPOB) who thronged the com­mu­nity to pay homage to their leader Nnamdi Kanu.

Gone now is Nnamdi Kanu, whose fa­ther’s house was the head­quar­ters of the group, gone now are the pro-Bi­afran ag­i­ta­tors. And gone too are the red, green and black in­signia of the now pro­scribed group.

Those who are left are the ones try­ing to piece to­gether their lives and bury their deads. One of such peo­ple is Chief Okechukwu Odemele, a tra­di­tional prime min­is­ter of the com­mu­nity, whose sis­ter was killed in the clash be­tween sol­diers and mem­bers of IPOB.

“That day I was run­ning to save my life like­wise those of my chil­dren,” he said. “My chil­dren were shout­ing ‘daddy, daddy we can’t see ooo.’ I couldn’t breathe be­cause of the tear gas that was fired. It’s was a day I will never pray for [a re­peat] in life”

He sur­vived and his chil­dren did. But his sis­ter was not so lucky. “For the past one week the fam­ily is yet to get over her death,” he said.

In the last one week, Chief Odemele has not slept in his house. His chil­dren have not gone back to school be­cause schools haven’t re­sumed yet and he is wor­ried be­cause the tra­di­tional ruler of the com­mu­nity, who hap­pens to be Kanu’s fa­ther, has been miss­ing since the en­counter.

“The dis­ap­pear­ance of the tra­di­tional ruler till date is of great con­cern to the com­mu­nity,” the chief said.

Prior to Septem­ber 14, there was a rou­tine to life in Afara-Ukwu. The in­creas­ing promi­nence of IPOB had added colour and vi­brancy to the com­mu­nity, even if some mem­bers of the com­mu­nity were not in sup­port of the separatist group.

But on that day, men of the Nige­rian Army while con­duct­ing a train­ing ex­er­cise dubbed “Op­er­a­tion Python Dance II” (or in Igbo Eg­wueke II) made their pres­ence known in what the army said was a “show of force.” The show which be­gan at the city cen­tre soon spread to the axis where the Kanu’s re­side and ac­cord­ing to res­i­dents, trou­ble started when mem­bers of IPOB blocked the FMC-Word Bank Road in Umuahia me­trop­o­lis at about 6.00-6.30pm deny­ing ac­cess to mem­bers of the 145th Bat­tal­ion of the Nige­rian Army.

The sol­diers fired warn­ing shots in the air to dis­perse the crowd and the IPOB mem­bers re­tal­i­ated by throw­ing stones and bro­ken bot­tles at the sol­diers, in­jur­ing one of them, Cor­po­ral Ko­la­wole Mathew, and a fe­male passerby. The sit­u­a­tion quickly es­ca­lated from there.

“What we saw was ter­ri­ble as if we were in a war­front,” Chief Odemele said. “The sound of the guns in this com­mu­nity, the el­derly among us are yet to re­cover from the shock. It was a ter­ri­ble sight to behold be­cause bul­lets flew ev­ery­where. If you visit the build­ing of Nnamdi Kanu’s fa­ther who is our tra­di­tional ruler, it’s as if the build­ing is at the cen­tre of war­front. The palace was van­dal­ized. The tra­di­tional stool was des­e­crated by the troops.

“The eco­nomic life of the com­mu­nity as I speak to you is par­a­lyzed, the tri­cy­cle driver now re­fused to con­vey pas­sen­gers to the com­mu­nity he prefers go­ing empty rather than tak­ing any­body to the com­mu­nity be­cause they are afraid of what hap­pened,” he said.

Al­though the in­tro­duc­tion of “Op­er­a­tion Python Dance II” by the Nige­rian Army was re­port­edly to tackle such se­cu­rity prob­lems such as armed ban­dits, cult clashes, com­mu­nal clashes, kid­nap­pings, cultism, farm­er­sh­erds­men clashes, and vi­o­lent se­ces­sion­ist ag­i­ta­tions, in the South-East zone of the coun­try, the im­pact of the ex­er­cise, es­pe­cially on some res­i­dents of Abia State will prob­a­bly re­main for a long time in their mem­ory.

Daily Trust on Sun­day re­calls that in Novem­ber last year, the army had launched “Op­er­a­tion Python Dance I” in the five South­East states, and later re-launched “Op­er­a­tion Python Dance II” which was de­signed to last from Septem­ber 15 to Oc­to­ber 15, 2017.

Deputy Di­rec­tor, Army Pub­lic Re­la­tions, Nige­rian Army, 82 Di­vi­sion, Enugu Colonel Sa­gir Musa, who ad­dressed news­men at the

Cor­re­spon­dents’ Chapel Sec­re­tariat, Enugu said, “Pri­mar­ily, these are the targets of this ex­er­cise,” em­pha­siz­ing that, con­trary to views held in some cir­cles, the Python Dance op­er­a­tion was not chiefly ini­ti­ated against the IPOB, but mainly to curb crime and crim­i­nal­ity in the area.

Ac­cord­ing to Col Musa, mil­i­tary ex­er­cises any­where in the world are meant for train­ing pur­pose, adding, how­ever, that “Where pos­si­ble, it will dove­tail into real mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion. What do I mean here? Part of the train­ing ex­er­cise of Python Dance is the is­sue of pre­par­ing sol­diers on how to pre­pare and man check-points, road-blocks, and we need to re­fresh the troops. Show of force is also part of it,” he said.

Again, the army spokesman said: “Now if sol­diers are on this kind of ex­er­cises, sud­denly along the road they see a ve­hi­cle car­ry­ing arms, for ex­am­ple, or some­body is kid­napped, cer­tainly we will ob­struct with the view to get­ting him (the vic­tim) res­cued and re­cov­er­ing the arms, and en­sur­ing that jus­tice is done. Now that’s why I said, though it is a train­ing pe­riod, though it is an ex­er­cise, it can, how­ever, dove­tail into real mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion. Or if there’s com­mu­nal cri­sis; when we’re on this ex­er­cise, cer­tainly, we’re not go­ing to fold our arms for it to con­tinue; we will in­ter­vene. So this is what the ex­er­cise Eg­wueke II is all about.”

But what­ever good in­ten­tion be­hind the in­tro­duc­tion of Python Dance, the fallout of the clash be­tween mem­bers of the IPOB and sol­diers in Abia State, es­pe­cially in Afa­raUkwu, com­mu­nity, Umuahia North Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment of Abia State and Aba, the com­mer­cial hub of the state, has left a bit­ter af­ter­taste for many res­i­dents.

When our cor­re­spon­dent vis­ited the Afara-Ukwu com­mu­nity, he found houses, mar­kets and schools de­serted with most res­i­dents hav­ing fled to nearby Olokoro com­mu­nity, leav­ing in their wake an eerie si­lence that is a sharp con­trast to the noisy na­ture of the com­mu­nity, the Bi­afran ag­i­ta­tors and their lead­ers. Be­cause there are so few peo­ple in the com­mu­nity, one could stand at the en­trance to the com­mu­nity and see the last build­ing in it.

Res­i­dents who have re­turned are liv­ing in fear be­cause they are not sure if the sol­diers will re­turn to raid the com­mu­nity again. Those who have the courage to sleep in their houses go to bed quite early and as shops in the com­mu­nity are still closed, they now have to visit neigh­bour­ing com­mu­ni­ties for pro­vi­sions.

One of the up­side of the op­er­a­tioin, res­i­dents said, is the dis­ap­pear­ance of hood­lums who once made life un­bear­able in the area, re­sult­ing in a drop in crime rates as Po­lice Pub­lic Re­la­tions Of­fi­cer, DSP Og­bonna, con­firmed.

How­ever, many houses have been rid­dled with bul­let holes af­ter the con­fronta­tion, es­pe­cially those close to Kanu’s res­i­dence.

A mo­tor parts dealer who iden­ti­fied him­self as Emenike Nwadilobi said though a large num­ber of peo­ple in the com­mu­nity are not in sup­port of Kanu and IPOB’s Bi­afra ag­i­ta­tion, he de­scribed the con­fronta­tion with the troops as a bloody bat­tle.

“When I came back from the mar­ket, I saw the mil­i­tary ev­ery­where with guns, ar­moured Per­son­nel Car­rier (APC), and there was spo­radic shoot­ing and peo­ple where run­ning for safety. I be­lieve this is a war and not an ex­er­cise. It is very painful be­cause it took me over four years to erect a three bed­room flat and look at the wall of my house, de­stroyed by bul­lets, the alu­minum win­dows in my house were also de­stroyed. I hardly sleep in my house. I find some­where else to sleep be­cause of fear,” Nwadilobi said.

When I came back from the mar­ket, I saw the mil­i­tary ev­ery­where with guns, ar­moured Per­son­nel Car­rier (APC), and there was spo­radic shoot­ing and peo­ple where run­ning for safety

Since the clash, there has been no clear fig­ure of ca­su­al­ties with claims and counter claims. The IPOB al­leges that a mas­sacre has taken place but wit­nesses and au­thor­i­ties have de­nied these claims. Some ca­su­al­ties have been recorded no doubt but there is no of­fi­cial fig­ure. Even the mil­i­tary is claim­ing ig­no­rance over this.

““Now, your ques­tion, how many peo­ple were killed? It’s a ques­tion I can­not an­swer be­cause I don’t know. The point is that I knew there are is­sues with the so­cial me­dia trend­ing. But they are all those things you can­not and you will never as­cer­tain the death of some­body on the con­tent of so­cial me­dia. It’s doubt­ful and even the press re­lease they (IPOB) ini­ti­ated, you saw that they were a lot of pro­pa­ganda is­sues when­ever there were mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions,” Col. Musa said.

He dis­missed IPOB’s claims as at­tempts to dis­credit the mil­i­tary and said videos be­ing cir­cu­lated on so­cial me­dia about in­ci­dents that might or might not have hap­pened dur­ing the clash will be in­ves­ti­gated.

“We are go­ing to in­ves­ti­gate it. We are thor­oughly scru­ti­niz­ing it and if we find any sol­dier of the Nige­rian Army tak­ing part in it, we have to deal with the is­sue de­ci­sively. We have our rules of en­gage­ments guid­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions. And any sol­dier who flouts the rules will face the con­se­quence,” the colonel said.

How­ever Onit­sha-based In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety of Civil Lib­er­ties and the Rule of Law says it has iden­ti­fied four peo­ple killed dur­ing the clash.

Speak­ing to jour­nal­ists in the Anam­bra State cap­i­tal, Chair­man of the group, Nze Emeka Umeag­bal­asi, said, “From our own re­port at the source, there was a mid­night raid in Aba and a lot of peo­ple were killed by sol­diers on Op­er­a­tion Python Dance II. A lot of peo­ple ran away and slept in the bush and a lot were in­jured. It is a fact, not fiction. From in­ves­ti­ga­tion, we have four of the names of those killed. They have re­cov­ered bul­lets used and aban­doned dur­ing the raid. So, if the mil­i­tary tells you it did not in­vade, it is false.”

While the rhetorics go on, traders in Aba, the com­mer­cial nerve cen­tre of Abia State are count­ing their losses.

Mrs Nkiruka Ako­mas, who sells per­ish­able items such as veg­eta­bles, re­calls that on the Satur­day that pre­ceded the crises in the state, she went to the mar­ket where she bought okra, fresh toma­toes and pep­per in large quan­ti­ties to make sup­plies to her cus­tomers. But sadly, af­ter the clashes the next day, the Abia State Gov­er­nor Okezie Ik­peazu im­posed a cur­few, thereby mak­ing it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for her to sell her goods. She said she had lost both her per­ish­able goods and her cap­i­tal as a re­sult.

Mr Kufre Okon, a tai­lor, who spe­cial­izes in sow­ing clothes ei­ther for tra­di­tional mar­riage or white wed­ding cer­e­monies, nar­rated how the cri­sis and the sub­se­quent cur­few made him un­able to meet up with dead­line for cus­tomers to pick up their clothes and some cus­tomers whose clothes were ready had a hard time col­lect­ing their clothes. “The cri­sis caused me to lose a lot of money,” Okon said. Soft­en­ing the blows In an at­tempt to bring a hu­mane face to “Op­er­a­tion Python Dance II”, the mil­i­tary is of­fer­ing free med­i­cal outreach to peo­ple in the South-East and would be en­gaged in re­pairs of roads, schools and other in­fra­struc­tures across the re­gion.

“The Chief of Army Staff has there­fore di­rected that a contingent of durable mech­a­nism be im­bued in the over­all plan­ning and ex­e­cu­tion of the ex­er­cise to achieve a hitch-free yule­tide for the en­tire re­gion,” Col. Musa said.

He said the med­i­cal outreach is aimed at gain­ing the sup­port and un­der­stand­ing of the lo­cals on what the ex­er­cise is all about.

“This will fur­ther ce­ment the ex­ist­ing mu­tu­ally cor­dial re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Nige­rian Army and the civil pop­u­lace par­tic­u­larly in the ar­eas of our op­er­a­tions,” Musa said.

The med­i­cal outreach pro­gramme has just been con­cluded in Ebonyi State while Enugu State will be the next area to ben­e­fit. Python Dance in Ow­erri Ow­erri, cap­i­tal of Imo State has had it share of stern-faced sol­diers as part of the op­er­a­tion in the South-East.

Our cor­re­spon­dent was in­formed that the pres­ence of armed sol­diers has caused fear and anx­i­ety among some res­i­dents, par­tic­u­larly on the Okigwe Road Junc­tion Ow­erri axis where sol­diers are sta­tioned

A res­i­dent, Mr Lawrence Nwachukwu who spoke to our cor­re­spon­dent on the phone said, “I heard the sol­diers have come into Ow­erri. But that doesn’t mean that they are ha­rass­ing ev­ery­body they see. No. They are only af­ter trou­ble­mak­ers and those who are hold­ing or wear­ing the IPOB/Bi­afra in­signia since the group has been pro­scribed. When you have such items and you walk to­wards the lo­ca­tion of sol­diers, it means you are look­ing for trou­ble be­cause you may not know the kind of or­der their com­man­der gave them.”

An­other res­i­dent of Ow­erri, Duru Chi­dozie said that the pres­ence of sol­diers in the cap­i­tal has caused a change in the city.

“All the in­signia of IPOB are nowhere to be found on the streets and roads of Ow­erri. The sol­diers were sta­tioned in some strate­gic lo­ca­tions such as Ow­erri-Port-Har­court Road, Ow­erri-Aba Road. The sol­diers are also at the Ow­erri-Okigwe Junc­tion as well as in­side the me­trop­o­lis. But the ag­gres­sive sol­diers are gone. That’s the sit­u­a­tion here in Ow­erri,” he said.


Sol­diers on a show of force pa­rade to wade off crim­i­nals


Free med­i­cal outreach at Nwagwu Com­mu­nity Pri­mary School, Nwagu, Abaka­liki Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Area of Ebonyi State, or­gan­ised by the mil­i­tary as part of the Op­er­a­tion Python II ex­er­cise

A fe­male passerby and Cor­po­ral Ko­la­wole Mathew of the Nige­rian Army, al­legedly at­tacked by IPOB mem­bers when a mil­i­tary con­voy in a show of force pa­rade passed through IPOB’s Leader, Nnamdi Kanu’s res­i­dence in Abia State

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