Oyigbo residents decry neglect of neighbours hit by stray bullets during curfew


…as NBA’s public hearing scheduled for Oyigbo town hall shifted to unknown date

By Sam Esogwa

Roughly one week after the relaxation of the 24-hour curfew imposed on Oyigbo, a popular, business-inclined cosmopolitan town, by the Rivers State Government, following the mayhem unleashed on security agents and their facilities by hoodlums during the recent EndSARS protest, some residents of the town are still recounting some of the horrible experiences they had during the curfew.

Speaking to BusinessDay which was in Oyigbo on Wednesday to cover the public hearing on the crisis earlier scheduled to hold in the area under the auspices of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Port Harcourt Branch, but which was later postponed, the residents described their experience during the curfew as hellish.

They said they could not have access to where they could buy food as nobody was allowed to move out because of the curfew, making them to starve for days.

Lamenting further, they said the sporadic shooting of guns by the army that resulted in some people being hit by stray bullets, added to their terror and sorrow during the period.

One of the residents, who identified himself as Johnson, said what pained him most was when one of their neighbour’s son was hit by a stray bullet on the neck while inside their house with his family.

Johnson explained: “This boy was in their house when the soldiers were shooting their guns. It’s near Mbano here. Then, all of a sudden, we started hearing cries and people shouting inside their house that somebody has been shot. Some of us managed to sneak out to go and see what happened. We saw this boy’s neck where the bullet hit him, on his neck. The bullet passed through the back of his neck and went and hit the wall. If you see the hole the bullet made on the wall, then you will know that the gun they used was a sophisticated gun.

“But the boy did not die. What saved him was that the bullet did not touch his neck bone; it pierced the right side of his neck, entered through the flesh and came out and hit the wall. If not that the father of the boy is not around, I would have taken you to their house for you to see the hole the bullet made on their wall. This boy am telling you is about 18 or 19 years. His name is Nkasimmadu.”

Asked where the boy is presently, Johnson said: “They have taken him to their village to treat him. It’s like they’re from Imo or Abia State. The father is a very poor man that was just managing to survive with his children. I don’t think their mother is around. Up till now, nobody is talking about this matter, but we’re praying that God will help him to survive. The government should please help the boy and his family. Many people suffered injuries from bullets during that curfew because the soldiers were just shooting anyhow. But thank God the governor stopped the curfew.”

Also speaking to BusinessDay, another resident, who said he sells handset accessories near the Oyigbo Market, briefly narrated how a member of the National Youth Service Corps was hit by a stray bullet. He said the stray bullet killed the youth corps member.

“This one happened before my own eyes. The guy is a youth corper from Imo State. That day, he went to barb his hair, along this Old Aba Road. After barbing his hair, he came out and before we knew it, they started shooting and people started running. One of the bullets hit the guy on his back and he fell down and died. We have even gone for condolence visit to the family. His father is a pastor in Bayelsa,” he said.

Asked if the victim has been buried, the resident, who identified himself as Onyema, answered in the negative, adding: “He’s still in the mortuary. But we have gone to pay the family condolence visit. Many things happened during that time. Had it been that this public hearing is holding today, you people would have heard from people what they suffered. Many families are crying as am talking to you now but nobody to help them.”

BusinessDay could not ascertain, as at the time of filing in this report, why the NBA’s public hearing scheduled to hold on Wednesday at the Oyigbo Town Hall was postponed.  The door of the Town Hall, a brown-painted bungalow, at Chief Wogu’s Compound, Old Aba Road, Oyigbo, was locked with a big, silver-coloured padlock when BusinessDay got there around 12 noon on Wednesday.

There are rumours that the heavy rain that fell between 10:30 and 12:45 may have necessitated the postponement of the exercise. But the residents who spoke to BusinessDay expressed fear that conspiracy on the part of indigenes of the area may not be ruled out, wondering why the Town Hall should be locked up when a sensitive event that was well publicized on the radio was billed to hold there.

Effort by BusinessDay to contact those in charge of the Town Hall was unsuccessful, as those around were not ready to assist with information on how to reach them.

In an attempt to restore calm, peace and sanity in Oyigbo after the crisis-ridden protest that saw hoodlums alleged to be IPOB members killing some policemen and soldiers, burning a police station and also destroying other facilities, the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, had declared a 24-hour curfew on Oyigbo and also ordered that IPOB members should be fished out wherever they are in the state and be brought to book.

Following the imposition of the curfew, security agents, allegedly led by the army, moved in to enforce it. Widespread complaints of human rights abuses from Oyigbo residents and concerned Nigerians, however, trailed the enforcement of the 24-hour curfew, although the army assured that it was observing rules of engagement during the period while also searching for the weapons of its soldiers murdered by hoodlums believed to be members of IPOB during the EndSARS protests.