Victims of the October 8, 2021 military invasion of Izombe community, in the Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State have appealed to Governor Hope Uzodinma to expedite action towards ameliorating their plights.
The security forces, led by soldiers, invaded Umuokwu, Umuorji and Ndioko communities all in Aborshi Izombe Autonomous Community on that day, razing and destroying more than 100 buildings as result of a misunderstanding between some youths and soldiers. The incident, which led to the death of two soldiers and two civilians, resulted from misunderstanding over sharing of toll collected from oil bunkerers.
Prayer and fasting
The community recently declared a week-long prayer and fasting session from October 2 to 8 to mark the first anniversary of the mayhem. Mr. Oguwuike Okorie, President Umuokwu Youth Association, who spoke on Saturday in Izombe, said the prayer and fasting were to seek divine intervention over the continued plights of the victims of the invasion, one year after.
“It is public knowledge the level of destruction suffered by our people last year when security operatives invaded Umuokwu, Umuorji and Ndioko communities.
“Many buildings, vehicles, motorcycles and other properties were damaged leaving scores of the victims homeless. “Since the unfortunate situation, almost 100 per cent of the victims are still homeless because they are poor and vulnerable individuals who are struggling to feed. “The painful aspect is that these people knew nothing about the issue that led to the problem,” he said.
Judicial Panel of Enquiry
Okorie noted that it was for these preliminary findings that Governor Hope Uzodinma after visiting the community ordered the distribution of relief materials to the victims and later set up a Judicial Panel of Enquiry on the matter.
“The panel recently submitted its report to the governor, while the government is yet to come up with a White Paper on the panel report. “While we use this medium to thank the governor for his demonstration of love for the community over the unfortunate incident, we appeal that he steps up action towards rebuilding of the houses as the victims are in serious agony,” he said.
He said that some victims of the attack are now down with high blood pressure even as some who sustained injuries are either already dead or in critical condition. The youth leader said that timely action by the state government could help alleviate the pains of the victims. For most victims of the carnage, life has not been easy as rebuilding their destroyed homes and properties lost, have been a very tall task to accomplish.
Okorie said: “My uncle Moses Okorie died about a week ago due to the injuries he sustained during the October 8, 2021 invasion. “My late uncle, whose corpse is now in the mortuary, was in his house when the security operatives stormed the community that day and he fractured his leg in an attempt to scale the fence and flee to safety.
“In spite of this excruciating experience, the security men burnt down his house and the properties thereby causing the septuagenarian the pains, sickness and anguish that led to his death last week.”
On his part, Mr Dan Chukwu, a victim, said that since the unfortunate incident, life has not been the same for his family members.
“I lost everything because our house was reduced to rubble, my entire life caved in since that incident. As I speak with you, my family is still in a small apartment provided to us by my cousin,” he said. Chukwu said, it is the small mattress, which the officials of the Imo State Oil Producing Area Commission (ISOPADEC) gave to him when they shared relief materials to victims that his family of eight is still sleeping on.
According to him: “Some members of my family now sleep on a local mat, while my wife and two others manage the foam (mattress).” It will be recalled that the commission was at the time, directed by Governor Uzodinma to provide relief materials to the victims following his visit to the community, a few days after the attack.
Governor’s promise Some of the victims were given mattresses, rice, Jerry cans, slippers and rubber buckets with the assurance from the governor that the government would rebuild houses of innocent people damaged. But one year after, no single victim of the mayhem has had his house rebuilt by the government, military or any other government agency.
Mr Bennett Onyeukwu, a victim said though the effect of the attack left a lingering memory in their minds, the incident was a huge lesson for him. “I must thank a lot of people whose acts of benevolence to the victims of that carnage resuscitated some of the victims. “A lot of people came to our immediate help from Umunwama, and Obeabor Izombe communities, men and women organisations of the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri, the 1988 set of St. Peter Claver Seminary Okpala Old Boys and several other groups,” he said.
Onyeukwu, who said though nothing given to a disaster victim could replace the value of what he or she lost, said that what people did for the victims taught him a huge lesson. But, he however called on the government to hasten actions towards rebuilding the destroyed communities as many people are in misery and pain.
More than 350 petitions were received and treated by the judicial panel of inquiry set up by Imo State Governor on the security crisis that rocked Izombe on October 8, 2021.
The Chairman of the panel, Justice Fred Njemanze disclosed this when he presented the report of his panel to the governor at the Government House, Owerri last month. Njemanze said the petitions received included 19 pieces of evidence from chairmen, traditional rulers, and some President- Generals of the affected communities.
They also included evidence provided by the Police, the Department of State Services DSS), and the Correctional Services. The Chairman said: “We could have received more than that but because of some sort of fears which so many were entertaining, including lawyers appearing for them. “Some of them had to withdraw at certain stages out of fear. “Unfortunately, the Army refused to appear before the judicial panel despite all we did to bring them.
“The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) also did not appear. “But in all, we have four volumes of our reports; the first report is the main report where we made our findings and recommendations. “Volumes two, three and four are the proceedings, exhibits and other materials,” he added.
He described part of their panel’s findings as “man’s inhumanity to man and acts of savagery.” Njemanze commended the governor for the opportunity given to the members of the panel to serve the state.
Responding, Uzodimma, who commended the panel for conducting a thorough work in a timely manner, promised to take into consideration their far-reaching recommendations. Uzodimma said they would be consulted whenever their services were required again. He expressed confidence that when the recommendations were implemented, it would calm the nerves of aggrieved persons and restore lasting peace in the area.
The governor further pledged the continued protection of lives and property of residents in the state. While the victims are grappling with the challenges they are exposed to for no fault of theirs, their hope which now seems bleak, rests on the rare demonstration of political will by the governor through the panel.
With the report of the panel which must have unearthed the truth, succour will only come the way of the victims if the recommendations are fully implemented by the governor and government of Imo State.