By Egufe Yafugborhi, Port Harcourt
Oyigbo is not Rivers State’s only boundary community or locality with South-East. This realization has left some persons wondering why Oyigbo assumes the hotbed of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPoB).
Many believe that the scenario takes root in the ownership dispute in the community. Oyigbo is said to mean ‘come join the group’ in the language of the Ogoni people of Rivers who are said to have so named the community from origin.
Nonetheless, the area is said to have been carved out of Asa Province in the present day Abia State.
And more than the Rivers’ native claimant, the overwhelming majority core Igbo settlers identify the community as Obigbo (heart of Igbo).
Darlington Nwauju, spokesman for the Niger Delta Rights Advocates, said, “This geographical contiguity of Oyigbo to the commercial town of Aba and the linguistic similarities coupled with cultural affinity underscore why Oyigbo has been so welcoming of IPoB.”
And to Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, founder of the Movement for Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), the Igbo own Rivers is far beyond boundary Oyigbo.
Nwazuruike went on, “Governor Nyesom Wike is an Igbo man. We all know what happened in Rivers immediately after the war when Umuokoro was renamed Rumuokoro, Umuola became Rumuola and Obigbo was changed to Oyigbo”.
Nwauju said, “On another note, seeming abandonment of Oyigbo by successive Rivers State government left huge infrastructure deficit which made the land of Oyigbo a fertile ground for anti-government IPoB sentiments.”
This notion corroborated the frustrations of the member representing Tai-Oyigbo-Eleme Federal Constituency in the National Assembly, Chisom Dike, who had to reject a car gift from Wike and dumped the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Oyigbo-born Dike said, “The state of roads in my constituency made me reject the car gift from the governor.
“Currently, Oyigbo is impassable. You need to travel a detour through two LGAs before you can get to Oyigbo. A journey that is supposed to be 15 to 20 minutes now takes you two hours. It has brought much hardship to our people because they can’t access Port Harcourt. Our people have been mounting pressure on me to do something.
“We wonder why our area is not his (Wike) priority. We hear about projects but the main road to Oyigbo is impassable. Our area hosts Afam Power Plant and Shell Gas Plant.
“So, for me, it is not justifiable to receive such car gift. Which road will I drive it on? I don’t have access to the governor. The normal setting is to have access to the governor to discuss issues affecting your people.
“I was once with the governor and he told me that he didn’t know me. I was shocked when he said that.”
Given the level of perceived neglect, the natives tend to feel more sense of Igbo than Rivers; more attached to the majority core Igbo settlers who apparently dictate the pace of the local economy, dominated by trade spillover from Aba.
Nwauju affirmed that this state of affairs presented a weak-link and begging leverage for IPoB’s gradual creep into Obigbo.
“Most of the natives are helpless because the IPoB sentiments came upon them subtly but steadily and have festered”, he said.
“It started like a joke but gradually they built cell units in the LGA and communities. I am aware that IPoB has cells that penetrate communities where ever they find themselves and stakeholders make monthly contributions to fund the organisation.
“It festered in Oyigbo as resident Igbo investors and entrepreneurs who can’t afford to abandon their businesses to attend or openly participate in prosecuting IPoB agenda simply contribute their quota at the background by providing material support.
“Before long, IPoB had built several cells steadily in Oyigbo, recruiting and indoctrinating new members among semi-literate or even illiterate including natives.”
A law in itself
With the rapid spread, acceptance and freedom to operate in the community, IPOB suddenly transformed into a law unto itself in Oyigbo.
IPOB flag flying in various quarters of the community has become a common sight hardly strange to residents.
On Saturdays, members of the group flock to designated worship centers, predominantly in Charles Ibe Street, Timbers Drive and Kom Kom area of Oyigbo, in response to IPOB supreme leader, Nnamdi Kanu’s choice of Sabbath Day worship of Judaism.
The El Shabah Church, one manifestation of the IPoB Sabbath Day worship in neighboring Igbo Etche, Etche LGA, was raided and the car belonging to the church founder burnt allegedly by soldiers in the wake of IPoB killing of six soldiers in the group’s alleged latest violence in Oyigbo.
Then on Sundays, IPOB members gather at designated points for meetings.
An intimidated resident alleged, “They have actually become a law unto themselves.
“Not all Igbo traders and other investors who have been funding the IPoB in Oyigbo do so willingly.
“Many comply out of fear of being attacked and punished for not supporting them with money.”
IPoB’s alleged violence targeted at the police and soldiers in Oyigbo on October 21 was not the first allegedly carried out by the proscribed group.
On the eve of the 60th Independence Anniversary of Nigeria, some purported IPoB members had allegedly invaded SARS outpost in Oyigbo, killed an officer and torched the building and operational vehicles.
Then alleged IPoB members, in the guise of #EndSARS protesters, killed four policemen, six soldiers, burnt three police stations and carted away 50 AK47 rifles in wake of the destruction in less than 48 hours.
Wike, who had hardly enjoyed mutual trust of the police and the army in the state, rightly then won their confidence to, once and for all, wipe out IPoB from Rivers.
With the governor doling out over N200million in compensation to console families of soldiers and the policemen killed in the crisis, a separate N50million bounty was put on the head of an alleged internal collaborator with IPoB, a promise to rebuild and replace public property destroyed and an Executive Order to flush our IPoB from Oyigbo or any other part of Rivers, it is left to be determined if the alleged terrorist group would enjoy same liberty to operate in Rivers anymore.
Despite the military denials of the allegations of prosecuting ruthless reprisals against IPoB in Oyigbo, residents felt the heat of widespread intimidation with claims of torture, even fatalities in some quarters. Much of the unconfirmed claims of or military “carnage and massacre” or sundry rights abuses in Oyigbo have, however, gained prominence only in the social media with hardly any victim or relatives of those allegedly killed coming in the open to affirm same.
A security expert told Sunday Vanguard, “If you as much molest a soldier, you know how they react.
“When you then kill as much as six in cold blood and steal their guns what do you expect? Funny enough, they will be so professional that a lot that happened over their occupation of the community may never be unearthed”.
After initial torrents of accusations against Wike for his hard line fight back against IPoB, critical stakeholders have begun to vindicate the governor while fingers are pointing in the direction of the group’s leaders for instigating chaos capable of setting off a second civil war.
Least expected, MASSOB founder, Uwazuruike, who doesn’t see eye to eye with Wike, said, “Soldiers are killing those who killed their own. This thing has nothing to do with #EndSARS.
#EndSARS people were doing their thing until some people went to Lekki tollgate in Lagos and killed some people.
“Then someone in London started that minute to say ‘kill army, kill police, burn houses’.
“Then his supporters in Oyigbo started killing. He gave them the instruction. It was on tape. Prevention is better than cure. Wike is an Igbo man.
“We all knew what happened in Rivers immediately after the war when Umuokoro was changed to Rumuokoro, Umuola was changed to Rumuola and Obigbo was changed to Oyigbo.
“It was not Wike that changed them. And it is not someone in London ranting on radio that will change them back to their normal forms now.
“You are holding some people, whatever you say they must do. You ask them to kill the army and security officials without knowing the consequences.”
Chairman, South-East Governors Forum and Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, warned the Igbo to be watchful of IPoB because the Federal Government labeled it a terrorist group, saying it is trying to instigate another civil war.
Umahi, in Rivers with South-East governors and leaders of Ndigbo, after listening to Wike’s account of IPoB activities in Oyigbo, kicked that the group could go to Benue and Rivers states to hoist its flag and claim those territories belong to Igbo, stressing that Igbo leadership is opposed to the IPoB stance.
President General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo, described Wike as a champion of restructuring of Nigeria and a man who loves justice, saying the meeting had reinforced the affinity between the Igbo and the people of Niger Delta.
Nwodo explained that the leadership of Igbo could not remain aloof while some misguided few who did not experience the brutal reality of the last civil war continue to fan the embers of disunity.