Pattern of terror: Izombe debacle
Reports scooped from fleeing residents of the oil rich Izombe in Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State is excruciatingly heartrending.
Indigenes are deserting the town as fast as they could . At the last count, the Nigerian Military had torched seventy two Houses , fifteen vehicles and twenty five motorbikes. The rain of bullets from the nozzles of trained military men is maiming and cutting lives short , though the number of the dead is yet to be ascertained.
Forty eight hours later, the hitherto silent Imo state government vows to set up a panel of inquiry to unmask perpetrators of the mayhém and bring them to justice even when it the army has admitted that they occupied Izombe. Could it be mere political rhetorics at best?
Trouble started for the Izombe community when some supposed bandits engaged in a gun duel with security agencies in the area.
Mike Abbatam, police spokesman in Imo state said “two security personnel and three others were feared killed when hoodlums invaded Izombe Police Divisional headquarters . The attackers whose plan was to bomb the station engaged the cops in a duel battle which resulted in loss of lives.”
International best practices would have prescribed the Nigeria Police Force to first carry out her investigations before taking action against the Izombe community ,as the perpetrators may not be resident there.
The Nigerian security forces did not disappoint in doing what they know how to do best – confronting innocent civilians with live fire while razing down houses worth millions of naira, rendering hundreds homeless and koboless.
This crude method of dealing with unarmed and helpless civilians has been a part of what Nigerians have been used to since return to Democracy.
In 2001, barely two years after the transition from military rule to democracy, Benue communities were razed because some hoodlums attacked nineteen soldiers. Zaki-Biam, Tse-Adoor, Vaase, Sankera, Anyiin, and Kyado were turned to ashes. Over two thousand people died according to office records.
In April of 2018, irate soldiers stormed Naka, the headquarters of Gwer West Local Government Area Benue, burning down residential buildings and commercial stores. Properties and goods, especially cash crops, estimated in millions were destroyed during the incident. Reports had it that after five suspects were arrested in connection to killing a soldier in the community, security personnel still went ahead to level villages and render hundreds dead or homeless. The soldiers were initially stationed near the town to check ongoing killings linked to herdsmen across Benue State.
Soldiers who were sent to check bunkering activities in Okoma community in Ahoada East Local Government Area of Rivers State in September 2020, invaded the community and burnt down several houses. The Nigerian Army said they were after fleeing oil thieves but the aftermath was razing down a bubbling community and leaving the few aged persons who had no strength to run, stranded .
In December 2020 when soldiers invaded Bolou-Tubegbe community in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State, reportedly in search of kidnappers, they ensured the community felt pains as all houses in that area were burnt down. Not a single one stood after their operation. Indigenes sustained various degrees of wounds as the soldiers rained bullets on the community. Few died.
In June 2021, many members of Amangwu-Ohafia, in Ohafia Local Government Area of Abia State ,deserted their land as soldiers razed tens of houses claiming that a soldier was killed. The tears are still fresh as indigenes who could barely feed now have to contend with gathering money to replace their lost shelter.
In July 2021, after reports that a police check point was attacked in Obeagu Uno in the Enugu South Local Government Area, soldiers moved into the community to mow down houses and residents.
These are just a handful of instances where complete annihilation have been meted on civilian communities by the Nigerian security forces.
In Izombe, the innocent were not spared. Just like the accounts from other communities who military men have visited their anger on.
They repeat a longstanding pattern of the Nigerian military’s brutal tactics against the civilian population. Forces allegedly responsible for such violations must be suspended immediately and brought to justice.
Osai Ojigho, the director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said , “These brazen acts of razing entire villages, deliberately destroying civilian homes and forcibly displacing their inhabitants with no imperative military grounds, should be investigated as possible war crimes”.
Under the international law of armed conflict (LOAC), Military necessity “permits the destruction of life of … persons whose destruction is incidentally unavoidable by the armed conflicts of the war; … it does not permit the killing of innocent inhabitants for purposes of revenge or the satisfaction of a lust to kill.”