Following misinformation and disinformation on the social media on what transpired in Oyigbo, an oil-rich community in Nigeria’s Niger-Delta, during the #EndSARS protests in late 2020, Daily Trust set out on a fact-finding mission.
In the wake of the #EndSARS protests across the country in 2020, violence broke out in Oyigbo, a town situated 30 kilometers away from Harcourt, Rivers State.
The violence degenerated to the killing of six soldiers and four policemen, a development which the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, blamed on members of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
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Consequently, Governor Wike imposed a 24-hour curfew on October 23 in Oyigbo as the violence spread.
Then, the town witnessed increased deployment of security officers to recover guns taken away from the killed soldiers and restore peace.
The founder of the Movement for Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, blamed the violence on Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB.
A human rights organization, International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) said it confirmed the killing of at least 50 people with 80 others during and after the #EndSARS protest in Oyigbo Local Government Area of Rivers State.
The chairman of Intersociety, Mr. Emeka Umeagbalasi, in a statement, said Governor Wike aided the military to kill residents of Oyigbo between 21st October and 4th November, 2020.
The Public Relations Officer of 6 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major Charles Ekeocha, denied that soldiers killed innocent Oyigbo residents.
Claims, counter-claims stirred the social media
In all of these claims and counter-claims, the development stirred the social media as it opened floodgates of disinformation and misinformation.
For instance, on November 2, 2020, Prophet Itode Iloye (@iloyeitode) with 4112 followers on Twitter, tweeted a viral photo depicting soldiers as marching residents of Oyigbo in files to an unknown destination.
“Genocide is ongoing in Oyigbo LGA, Rivers State. Nigeria military killing innocent people. #nigeria,” he tweeted.
The photo has been widely used in the media to depict soldier brutality against Oyigbo residents during the crisis.
A reverse image search by Daily Trust showed that the photo has been in circulation as far back as February 2017 when Daily Times published it.
More so, the Nigerian Army debunked the photo, describing it as “fake news” on its Facebook page.
Similarly, on November 1, 2020, a Facebook user, Wenite Nworah Ojor, joined in Facebook spreading disinformation about the Oyigbo crisis when he shared old, recycled photos to depict what he described as “OYIGBO MASSACRE: Corpses Flood Streets As Soldiers Go On Rampage In Rivers, Kill Dozens – Report.”
A reverse image search showed that one of the photos was taken on October 24, 2020, when security operatives paraded suspected looters who were seen with different goods and food items belonging to private businesses and government within Osun State and not victims of the Oyigbo crisis.
The misleading photo shared on Facebook as Oyigbo crisis victims were from Osun, and not Oyigbo.
In addition, another photo shared as depicting Oyigbo crisis victims was also misleading as it actually showed 520 suspects arrested in Lagos in connection with the series of arson, vandalism, burglary, and robbing of unsuspecting members of the public of their valuables during the unrest occasioned by the #EndSARS protest in the state.
Police paraded the suspects on October 27, 2020, in Lagos when the photo was taken, but Ojor shared the same photo on November 1, 2020, as Oyigbo crisis victims.
Meanwhile, a Facebook user, Uzukwu Patrick Eze, claimed that Governor Wike gave the military a blanket order to massacre Igbo in Oyigbo.
“Wike on National TV this morning claimed that IPOB killed 6 policemen, 6 soldiers and burnt down all the courts and all police stations in Oyigbo. Even if these were true how does that justify the blanket order to massacre Igbos in Obigbo,” he wrote.
Checks showed that Governor Wike debunked the claim, and the MASSOB leader, Uwazuruike also debunked the claim.
Witnesses, relatives of victims recount ordeals
However, Daily Trust Saturday went on a fact-finding mission to Oyigbo to determine what actually happened.
Several residents and eyewitnesses recounted what transpired, including the cause of the crisis.
It was gathered that soldiers were deployed to Oyigbo shortly after six of their colleagues were murdered by hoodlums.
The hoodlums, under the guise of #EndSARS protest, invaded Oyigbo Police Area Command, killed two police officers and set the entire police station ablaze.
Several police vehicles were set ablaze in the attack.
Soldiers were deployed to the community to complement the efforts of the police in restoring peace in the community.
The murdered soldiers met their death when they were overpowered by the hoodlums at Charles Ibe Street in Oyigbo.
Their death did not go down well with the Nigerian Army as a battalion of soldiers from the 6 Division of the Nigerian Army were drafted to Oyigbo to fish out the killers of the soldiers and recover six guns collected from the dead soldiers.
Daily Trust Saturday spoke to residents and family members who lost loved ones in the incident.
A resident, Amara Mercy Igwe, said she lost her husband, 41-year-old Apostle Hope Ojiabo Igwe, to the crisis.
She said soldiers, deployed to the community to maintain peace, murdered her husband.
Apostle Igwe was the founder of Jerusalem Fire Ministry located at the Ogoni Camp, in Oyigbo.
Narrating the death of the pastor, the deceased wife, Amara Mercy Igwe, told our reporter that the deceased had gone out to pray for a member of the church who was sick.
“He told me that he was going out to pray for a member of our church who was sick. That was on the 23rd of October, 2020. The entire Oyigbo was hot because soldiers came into the city. There was heavy shooting as bullets were flying up and down. Few hours after he left, the sound of gunshots became fiercer and I became worried. So, I called his phone and nobody was picking the calls,” she recounted.
She said she got a call around 2 pm from somebody, who informed her that her husband had been shot by soldiers around Oyigbo express, opposite Conoil Filling Station.
“I later learnt that the person got my phone number through my husband’s handset which they got from his pocket. When I got there, I saw my husband lying faceup lifeless in the pool of his blood,” she said.
Mercy Igwe said that it was difficult to evacuate the corpse of the husband to the mortuary because of the sporadic shooting of the soldiers.
“It was as if the entire Oyigbo was in a war situation. We were not able to evacuate the corpse that day because the shooting was something else. All the people we called to help were afraid to come out because of the shooting. So, the next day when the shooting subsided, we were able to move his corpse to the Final Home Call Mortuary,” she said.
She described her husband as a peace-loving man who valued the burden of others more than his personal problem.
The deceased’s sister, Mrs Mercy Godwin, also confirmed his wife’s account of how the pastor died.
She revealed that on the same day, she got a call from a stranger who asked her to come to Oyigbo Express opposite Conoil.
“The person told me that my brother has been shot by soldiers. I rushed to the place and saw him lying faceup lifeless,” she said.
A friend of the deceased, Mrs Immaculata Ugo, described Apostle Hope Igwe as firebrand Pastor.
“He was my prayer partner and we prayed often,” she said.
A member of the church where the deceased presided over as a General Overseer, Odinaka Chibuzor, said she was one of those that evacuated the deceased’s corpse to the Final Home Call Mortuary.
She said that the deceased sister, Mercy Godwin, informed her about the death and two of them went together to move the corpse to the mortuary.
Daily Trust Saturday visited the Home Call Mortuary located at Oyigbo/Imo River road and the mortuary attendant who identified herself as Chikaodi admitted that the deceased was brought to the mortuary on October 24, 2020, at about 9 am.
She said that the deceased had bullet injuries at his back before he was deposited in the morgue.
On the trial of other victims of the crisis, Daily Trust Saturday learnt of the killing of 29-year-old Queen Nwazuo.
Her fiancé, 36-year-old Monday Bakor, told our reporter that she was shot by a police officer attached to the combined team of police/soldiers/civil defence corps special taskforce deployed to Oyigbo in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protest.
Queen Nwazuo, who was buried on December 5, 2020, at her Ogwe-Asa community in Ukwa West Local Government Area, was a student of the Abia State Polytechnic.
Bakor said that his fiancée was shot by a member of the task force putting on a red Beret at his shop located at the Atata axis of Oyigbo.
“Queen was my fiancée and we were getting set for our marriage when the unfortunate incident happened. We were together at my shop located at a place called Atata in Oyigbo where I have a barbing salon and also sell recharge cards and phone accessories. On October 23, 2020, there were heavy gunshots and people were running up and down.
“I and my fiancée were inside the shop and hurriedly locked the shop and started packing our things. Suddenly, a man putting on black and black with red beret fired a shot inside the shop. The bullet pierced through the iron container I used as a shop and hit my fiancée on her throat. She fell. I picked a bike and took her to Divine Light Clinic where she was certified dead,” he said.
At the Divine Light Hospital located at No 8 Paraclete Avenue, off 35 Umunchi Street, Location Road, Oyigbo, our reporter was unable to see the medical director of the clinic but a nurse attached to the clinic confirmed to our reporter that the deceased was brought to the hospital dead on October 23, 2020.
The source said that a bullet pierced through the throat of the deceased.
Similarly, the family and neighbours of 28-year-old Ifeanyi Lawson, who lived at the popular Ohaofia Quarters in Oyigbo, are yet to come to terms with the death of the youth.
A close neighbour to the deceased, Otuosoro Sampson, told our reporter that Ifeanyi was shot by soldiers who invaded Ohaofia Quarters with an armoured tank on October 23, 2020.
He said that while many residents ran into a swamp close to the quarters to take cover, Ifeanyi was not lucky enough as he was hit by a stray bullet and died on the spot.
“Heavily armed soldiers with armoured tanks invaded Ohaofia Quarters and started shooting. They pulled down a building housing a shrine. The shooting was so fierce that many of us ran to the swamp close to the quarters. I and many other persons were inside the swamp for three days without food or water,” she said.
She said Ifeanyi, who was shot by soldiers, was not lucky to escape as he was hit by a stray bullet. Our reporter learnt that the deceased was buried in December.
Another resident of the area, Darlington Okechukwu was also shot dead.
A resident who recounted how Okechukwu was killed, Otuosoro Sampson, said the deceased was shot as he tried to escape from the soldiers.
He also informed our reporter that two residents of the area, Nduka Idika and Jacob Alusi were still missing as at the time of compiling this story.
He said that the two residents were taken away by soldiers and have not returned since then.
Daily Trust Saturday also learnt that an ambulance conveying a corpse to Final Home Mortuary was burnt down with the corpse inside by soldiers.
A resident of People Street Oyigbo, who witnessed the incident told our reporter that the soldiers stopped the ambulance and ordered the driver to come down before setting it ablaze.
The source, who pleaded anonymity, said, “I saw them harassing the driver of the ambulance. The driver was ordered to come down from the vehicle and the next thing I saw was the soldiers open fire on the fuel tank of the vehicle and it went up in flames with the corpse inside.”
A source from the Final Home Call Mortuary told our reporter that the ambulance was bringing the corpse to the mortuary.
Investigations also revealed that 28-year-old Onons Sampson, who saved two soldiers from being lynched by hoodlums, is said to have been detained at the 6 Division of the Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt.
Sampson’s brother, Hon. Onyema, told our reporter that Sampson on October 23 rescued two soldiers in his house located at Charles Ibe Street Oyigbo.
He said that the soldiers were overpowered by the IPOB members and ran into the compound where his brother resides.
“On that fateful day, some aggrieved IPOB members had over powered some soldiers who took to their heels and found themselves in my brother’s compound. They were being pursued and they scaled many fences to finally get to where my brother was residing. My brother, who had lived in the north, hid the soldiers in his apartment and gave them his clothes to change. The hoodlums who were looking for the soldiers gave my brother a machete cut on his head because they felt he was hiding the soldiers in his house. One of the soldiers that escaped brought other soldiers who came and raised down the entire buildings,” he said.
He said after the incident, his brother was declared wanted by the Nigerian Army.
“When I heard that they are looking for him, I did not have any fear because I knew that he did not do anything wrong. I took him to the 6 Division where he was arrested and is being detained till date. I have been to the 6 Division several times to see if I can secure his release but did not succeed. They told me that he is on protective custody,” he said.
He called on the Nigerian Army to release his brother.
In addition, Adamu Musa, a provision shop seller in Oyigbo, said he was getting ready to open his shop when one of the residents and his friend told him not to open and run for his life.
“I hurriedly locked up my shop and left. In less than 20 minutes, I sighted many boys with all kinds of objects heading towards my shop.
“I hid somewhere and watched them from there. They vandalised my shop and later set it ablaze. I am very grateful to that boy who gave me information; if not I would have been a dead man,” he recounted.
Significantly, the 24-hour curfew imposed on the entire Oyigbo community averted what would have led to a violent clash between the IPOB members and Northern community.
Soldiers were very professional – Military
Some hoodlums suspected to be IPOB members had on the heels of the #EndSARS protest attacked Hausa settlement at Iriebe in Obio Akpor Local Government Area and Kom kom part of Oyigbo.
The leader of the Hausa community in Rivers State, Alhaji Musa Saidu, said that about 10 persons were killed by hoodlums suspected to be IPOB members.
He said that he personally organised the burial of the deceased at a burial ground in Onne.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army denied the killing of innocent Oyigbo residents.
Spokesman of the 6 Division of the Nigerian, Army, Port Harcourt, Major Charles Ekeocha, said that the soldiers sent to Oyigbo were very professional in carrying out their duties.
Major Ekeocha said that the soldiers were in Oyigbo to restore peace, adding that the soldiers did not kill innocent residents of the community.
This report was funded by the Daily Trust Foundation and supported by the MacArthur Foundation.