Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, condemned the invasion of Aku-Okigwe in Imo State by the Nigerian Army and South-East security outfit, Ebubeagu in their efforts to rescue an abducted female soldier, Lieutenant PP Johnson.
The group said the method adopted by the military on December 31 2022, in which the entire stretch of federal highway from Okigwe in Imo State up to Lokpanta in Abia State was blocked, and travellers were left stranded for hours even as neighbouring villages were set ablaze by soldiers violated the rules of engagement in internal security operations.
HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, also condemned the female soldier’s abduction by unknown gunmen while visiting her grandmother on December 26, 2022.
Stressing that kidnapping and killings of members of security forces by hoodlums are intolerable crimes against humanity, the rights group challenged operatives working within the intelligence community to arrest the actual perpetrators of this relentless violence.
While charging security agents to go after the perpetrators of the act, the group cautioned state actors against using maximum force on the residents of the community where the abduction occurred to avoid collateral damage.
It said the fact that most people who were still home for the Yuletide season were unaware of why there were sporadic gunshots, including the explosion of dozens of canisters of suspected hand grenades, spread a climate of fear for hundreds of thousands of citizens who were in their home towns for the Christmas festivity.
The rights group wondered why innocent villagers would be subjected to such callous ordeals by soldiers who ought to be professionally trained and maintained with taxpayers’ funds.
According to reports, Soldiers and Ebubeagu operatives had gone on a rampage to trace and rescue Lieutenant PP Johnson. Security operatives also set alight the houses of villagers unconnected with the crime of the forceful abduction of the young soldier.
The Chief of Army Staff needs to seriously work on the aspect of civil-military relations and work out modalities to win the hearts and minds of the civilian population to be in a position to receive actionable intelligence and avoid the use of primitive mass attack and rampage by soldiers who ought to be professionals.
HURIWA’s Onwubiko said, “The reported invasion of Aku-Okigwe by military and Ebubeagu officers is condemnable, just as the abduction and dehumanisation of Lieutenant PP Johnson by unknown gunmen. Hoodlums like those seen in a viral video torturing a female soldier do not deserve to be pardoned, and security agents must go after them.
“However, in going after the perpetrators, the military must operate by the rules of engagement so as not to attract collateral damage to innocent citizens and residents of Aku-Okigwe.
The military’s perpetual invasion of South-East communities has not been working. The attack of Aku-Okigwe is not the first by the army. The military invaded the Obeagu Community in the Ishielu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State in December 2022. In November, troops from Headquarters 82 Division invaded the Amangu community in Abia State, causing havoc in the area.
“In September, troops also invaded the Orsu Local Government Area of Imo and Orsumugho, border communities in the Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra, killing three residents. In 2021, soldiers invaded the Izombe community of Oguta Local Council of Imo with its attendant escalated the crisis.
“According to the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, security agencies have killed 1,400 residents and razed 1,000 homes in 100 Igbo communities in the last 14 months.
“The Theatre Commander of Operation Hadin Kai (OPHK) in the North-East, Major General Chris Musa, on Saturday, encouraged talks with the commanders of terror groups as part of the “non-kinetic” aspect of ending Nigeria’s 13-year insurgency war. If this is the case in the north, as seen by many amnesty programmes by state governments and the Federal Government, why not try the same non-kinetic strategy to end the crisis in the South-East?”