A civil society group, Int’l Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law (Intersociety), has accused the Nigerian Army of embarking on indiscriminate arrests, torture, dehumanization and criminally and falsely labeling victims as ‘kidnappers’ and ‘IPOB terrorists’ in Aba and environs.
“All those arrested on Tuesday, 5th Nov 2019, numbering over 45, were jam-packed in not less than five Army Hilux vans and sighted taken to the Isi-Ala-Ngwa Army Checkpoint in the outskirt of Aba. Others were also seen by eyewitnesses in Army Hilux vans heading to the Ngwa High School operational headquarters of the 144 Battalion, Aba,” the group alleged.
In a statement Friday, the group further alleged, “Till today, it is not independently ascertained if they are dead or alive as they are presently held in unknown locations without trial or unconditional release. It is strongly feared that the arrested truck pushers, newspaper free readers and vendors; tricycle riders, traders, artisans and passers-by are most likely to be paraded in coming days as the ‘kidnappers’, ‘armed robbers’, ‘cultists’, ‘IPOB terrorists’, ‘cross border bandits’ and ‘fleeing Boko Haram terrorists/commanders’ or ‘Boko Haram logistics suppliers’ the Nigerian Army and the Defense Headquarters are looking for.”
The statement, signed by Chidinma Udegbunam, Chinwe Umeche, Ndidiamaka Bernard, Obianuju Joy Igboeli, Samuel Kamanyaoku and Emeka Umeagbalasi, added, “Free Newspaper readers, who are dominant in the list of the arrested citizens in Aba are strong social enlightenment clusters in Nigeria. Composed largely of artisans, traders, commercial tricycle, motorcycle and commuter bus riders/drivers and passers-by with little or no formal means of identification, they usually emerge at Newspaper Stands from far and near to freely read and analyze social happenings including local, regional, national and international breaking news. Many of them, owing to difficulties in tracing their identities and residences may end up being killed by soldiers extra judicially or tortured to death or made to disappear permanently from military custodies.
“This statement of ours, therefore, is a preemptive one, more so when indications are high and strong that the authorities of the Nigerian Army under 14 Brigade, Ohafia and 82 Division, Enugu will in coming days publicly parade them as kidnappers, IPOB terrorists or fleeing Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists/commanders or Boko Haram logistics suppliers arrested in their various new hideouts in the Southeast Nigeria.
“The Nigerian public and members of the int’l community must therefore, watch out and be at alert. No Army statement coming from its so called ‘OPI’ particularly in the Southeast must be taken serious or digested without raising valid questions of how, why, what, where and when. The Army and the Defense Headquarters must also be made to understand that it is much easier to tell lies but a herculean task to defend them.”
Intersociety says it is keenly waiting for Nigerian Army to unveil the names of captured “fleeing Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists/commanders who have abandoned their enclaves in the Northeast and relocated to Southern Nigeria including Igbo Land. Since the Army said it is acting based on ‘gathered intelligence’, Nigerians are waiting anxiously to hear such names as ‘Abubakar’, ‘Abdullahi’, ‘Mohammed’, ‘Ibrahim’, ‘Usman’, etc; arrested as fleeing Boko Haram terrorists/commanders now relocated and hiding or living in Igbo Land and other parts of Southern Nigeria.
“The independently expected Army media conference and parade are likely to be made in coming days as part of its public updates on progress or successes so far recorded. The illegally and unlawfully arrested citizens are also likely to be repetitively falsely accused or labeled during the media parade including placing violent items (i.e. military rifles and other prohibited and un-prohibited guns) and cultural insignias as ‘violent and terrorist items recovered from the arrested hoodlums and terrorists’. This is more so when the Army was recently forced at the National Assembly public hearing to disclose that ‘the Operation Positive Identification’ was ‘targeted and still targeted at the Southeast, though not a war zone.”
Intersociety had first raised several alarms that the ongoing operation, as was the case in Sept 2017, was faked and camouflaged including being given a fake national outlook.
The group added, “At a Newspaper Stand located at No 1 Echefu by Asa Road, near Cemetery Road Market in Aba, eyewitnesses said seven Army Hilux vans, five in Army color and two white Hilux vans stormed the Newspaper Stand and swooped on ‘free readers’ and vendors; forcing many to scamper for safety and that not less than five were arrested and dehumanized before taken away. All the seven Military Hilux vans did not bear plate numbers. Out of the five arrested, two were identified as Citizen Sunday Elom, a commercial tricycle rider living at Opobo Road by Ugbo-Hill, Aba and Mr. Ugochukwu, a truck pusher at Cemetery Road Market, Aba.
“At another Newspaper Stand located along Opobo Road by Ogbo-Hill Junction, eyewitnesses said not less than ten ‘free readers’ and others were arrested by soldiers same day. At No 50 St Michael Road, soldiers stormed Newspaper distribution spot in the area with five Hilux vans. Three of the vans were loaded with arrested citizens; arrested at various newspaper stands and other busy public spots in Aba. Newspaper distributors in the area were molested and warned to stop selling local and national newspapers or dailies carrying ‘Biafra news’.
“The soldiers also took time going round all the Newspaper Stands in the area to extract and seize any carrying ‘Biafra stories. In the end, not less than twenty more citizens were arrested and forced to take pictures while holding ‘Biafra Newspapers’. The arrested were later bundled away to undisclosed locations. More illegal and unlawful arrests and associated ill-treatments were reported same day at Ariaria Market Junction and Union Bank Junction where eyewitnesses saw not less than five Army Hilux vans jam-packed with dozens of innocent and defenseless citizens heading towards Isi-Ala-Ngwa Army Roadblock.”
General Harassment Of Citizens At Roadblocks & Other Public Arenas
According to Intersociety, travelers and other road users in Southeast and South-south are being harassed and maltreated with reckless abandon by soldiers and other military personnel and personnel of the Nigeria Police Force. Apart from being stopped and delayed for hours for search and extortion, citizens’ rights to privacy, expression and communications are allegedly being trampled upon.
“Citizen Chinedu Okenmmiri, an Aba based petty trader/hawker using his wheel truck, was making calls by the side of his wheel truck parked by the roadside along Union Bank Junction by Okpu-Umuobu area of Aba. As the call was going on, a patrol team of Police SARS attached to Eziama Police Station sighted and swooped on him, seizing his phone on the process. On illegally browsing his phone, they saw the screen saver bearing the face of a white lady. He was instantly branded ‘419’ or advance fee fraudster and accused of ‘severally duping white foreigners’. He was clamped into detention at Eziama Police Station and asked to pay ‘N2m’ cuts. In the end, when his captors found that he was a pauper, they forced him to cough out N10, 000 as ‘bail fee’. These are just to mention but a few,” the civil society group regretted.
It called on Acting the GOC, 82 Division, Brig Gen Lasisi Adegboye and his subordinate Commander of 14 Brigade, Ohafia, Brig Gen Solomon Babatunde Kumapayi to release unconditionally and as a matter of uttermost immediacy all the innocent, unarmed and defenseless citizens arrested since or before 1st Nov 2019 in Aba and other parts of Abia State as well as others likely to have been arrested in different parts of the Southeast.