Soldiers have intensified siege in Oyingbo Local Government Area, Rivers State, where six of its operatives and four policemen were murdered and their rifles taken away by suspected members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The army was said to have insisted that apart from fishing out the IPOB members involved in the dastardly act, its operation would continue in the area until the recovery of all stolen rifles.
Governor Nyesom Wike had declared war on members of IPOB in the council, who reportedly hijacked the #EndSARS protest to unleash terror on security formations, burning police stations, private properties and killing 10 security operatives.
Wike, who signed an executive order reinforcing the proscription of IPOB by the Federal Government, at the weekend lamented that IPOB members were capitalising on the proximity of Oyingbo to Abia to invade the state through the council.
Sources said at the weekend that Oyingbo became a ghost town immediately the military began its operation to smoke out IPOB members and recover its stolen riffles.
A source and landlord in the area said residents were living in fear as soldiers blocked all the exit routes in the council.
He said all the streets were deserted, all markets closed and everybody was forced to stay indoors by the soldiers, who maintained constant patrols of the council to enforce the 24-hour curfew imposed on Oyingbo by the state government.
“There is no buying and no selling in Oyingbo. Our area has been turned into a war zone and there has been continual booming of guns since these hoodlums took laws into their hands to kill and burn security operatives.
“We hardly sleep because of gunshots. We are, however, appealing to the army to relax their operations to enable us get essential services. With the present condition, nobody can assess the hospital. We can’t buy food. We are all suffering,” he said.
The source said soldiers were breaking into some houses in the area to effect arrest of suspects, but said they could be doing so folowing credible intelligence.
It was gathered the military was making discoveries in some notorious hideouts and camps popularly called ‘Waji Down Below,’ ‘kom-kom,’ ‘Mbano camp,’ and ‘Obeama.’
One of the sources said: “These are known hideout of hoodlums. They are the ghettos of Oyingbo. Some of the looted items were recovered there. A number of arrests were made in those camps.
“There was military aerial surveillance in Oyingbo at the weekend. It was a typical war scenario. Residents lay flat on the ground out of panic”.
Spokesman for the 6 Division, Nigeria Army, Port Harcourt, Maj. Charles Ekeocha, confirmed that six soldiers were killed by IPOB with their rifles snatched from them.
Ekeocha said: “Our operation in Oyigbo is not targeted at innocent people. We are after the miscreants. We lost six of our men in the unrest and their weapons were carted away.
“The weapons that were taken are important. If they are not retrieved they can be used on residents of that area and Rivers State or any other part of the country. So we must retrieve those weapons. That is why we are there.”
He said its operatives only entered houses suspected to be the hideout of the IPOB members.
He added: “The exercise going on there is to identify houses used by these so-called IPOB members because we have information. We are searching those houses to see if we can get those weapons. That is what we are doing and we are professional about it.
“It is not in our (Army) character to molest anybody as they claim. We are there to protect them after they have been crying out about the activities of IPOB and some other hoodlums last week”.
He urged residents of the area to remain calm and work with security agencies to arrest fleeing IPOB members and recover the weapons of slain officers.
Wike, while receiving members of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), dismissed the claims in some quarters that the ongoing military operation in Oyingbo was a war against the Igbo.
The Governor said: “I don’t support criminality. IPOB killed six army officers, four policemen, burnt police stations and court buildings. This is Rivers State. Go to Oyigbo and see the level of destruction. Now the State Government will be rebuilding those facilities.
“Those who don’t understand our actions are saying we are fighting the Igbos. How will they allow criminals to speak for them when there are intelligent Igbo people to speak for them?
“If they (IPOB) are aggrieved, instead of channelling it to the right quarters, they go and kill innocent people and destroy public places”.