The War In Ohafia
Ohafia crisis – the battle between the 14 Brigade of the Nigerian Army and the people of Ohafia took over the internet in June 2021. There were media reports on the alleged atrocities committed by the Nigerian Army on Ohafia, the political capital of Abia North Senatorial Zone. It was reported that the 14 Brigade of the Nigerian Army was pounding the area with military grim and precision.
On the 6th of July 2021, I was contacted by Mr Olanrewaju Oyedeji of the International Centre for Instigative Journalism, ICIR. I was to assist him in the investigation. I was to interpret, translate and perform other duties the position comes with. Mr Olanrewaju is Yoruba and he felt that my Igbo origin will grace the pursuit. Did it? Well, let’s find out. First of all, Ohafia is a town comprising of twenty-six Igbo villages which suggest that most people might not be very comfortable being interviewed in English. The ancient Ohafia people were known for their might, bravery and exploit in battles. Secondly, even if there may be some people who wouldn’t mind being interviewed in English, chances are that we might miss out on some vital details. On top of this, there are other benefits my involvement confers.
However, it was a great idea and a wonderful opportunity for me as a storyteller. And since the story was targeted towards social impact, it made more sense to me. Mr Olanrewaju Oyedeji came from Abuja and we met in Owerri. I packed my bags and we headed to Umuahia, Abia State. I charged my camera and other gadgets throughout the night and readied for what was ahead. The following morning, we travelled to Ohafia.
The Ohafia crisis was said to have begun at the Ebem park, the most populous part of Ohafia and ended at the Amangwu village. According to an eyewitness report, the crisis started at the Ebem park, with the alleged unidentified gunmen firing at one another, and into the air, in a display of resistance to firearms. According to witnesses reports, when they heard the gunshots, they thought it was the soldiers, but when they realized otherwise, they flew to safety.
The sporadic shooting incident led to the unfortunate gunshot of a Nigerian military official who was at a nearby market. Pending this incident, the Nigerian military reportedly set up roadblocks and invaded the Amangwu village, one of the villages in Ohafia. Amangwu village is largely dominated by farmers and petty traders. It is predominately surrounded by forests and bushes in which the soldiers believed provided home for the unidentified gunmen. Amangwu village also shares boundaries with Ebonyi State. This invasion by the military, led to the abuse of human rights, burning of homes, loss of properties and means of livelihood, and other atrocities.
That morning when we got to the park, we observed the area, spoke with some people and then began our investigation. As soon as we started an interview with a witness who has given us consent. We were accosted by men in the park. What started with few men of about three, escalated to a number of men of about fifteen. Before we could know it, I was dragged by my trousers and asked to sit on the flow which I refused. Mr Olanrewaju on his part was trying very hard to calm the situation but it was obvious that things have gotten out of hand. His efforts could not yield many benefits.
We were detained for hours. They reported us to the local vigilante, involved their ward councillor and other stockholders. We dialogue and they asked us a lot of questions. We explained to the best of our knowledge and answered most of their questions. It was until then that we regained our freedom. While we were detained and await our trial, we asked a lot of questions. We were able to turn our predicament into a valuable tool. A lot of people spoke to us and we listened. We were able to extract background information that aided our investigation. So much more than I ever imagined.
We left Ebem and journeyed to Amangwu village. It was a big risk but we had to make the sacrifice for the story we believe in. While we journeyed, Mr Olanrewaju told me that everything that had happened at the Ebem park was a result of the pain and grief that the community have been through. Even though the Nigerian military had denied the Ohafia crisis, the countenance and action of men, women, and children in Ebem, Ohafia, says otherwise. It was obvious they were recovering from a traumatic experience. They feel lost, detached and helpless. They don’t know who to trust.
When we got to the Amangwu village. We saw burnt homes, cars, shops, and other properties. Before we could do anything in that village, we reported ourselves to the chiefs who led us to the traditional rule known as the Eze. We learnt that he was in a monarch meeting at the local government council; we called him on the line and spoke with him., and we told him who we are and why we were at the Amangwu village. He loved our mission and promised to join us as soon as he could. We toured around the village and saw displaced families and people whose properties and means of livelihood have been destroyed. We spoke to victims who were eager to share their experiences.
According to an eyewitness report, the Nigerian Army came into the village in seven Hilux vehicles and began to shoot. They told us, “I was in my shop when I heard the gunshot, we didn’t have much time to close our shops, so we ran away”. “I locked myself inside the shop. While I was inside, they poured petrol in front of the shop and tried to burn me inside. I ran out and pleaded with them and they took me around the village to show them where the unknown gunmen were hiding – if I had known any unknown gunmen, I would have told them. I was scared to death.” “when I heard the gunshot, I ran away. When I returned, my house was gone”. For a truth, life has never been easy for the people of Amangwu since after the incident.
All the while, I took pictures and recorded videos. While we were still learning their experience and waiting for the Eze to join us. We were yet again accosted by angry village youths and was detained for the second time. This time, It was somehow easy because women and children who saw what happened immediately called the chiefs who came to our rescue. The chiefs spoke with the youths who maintained that we were not leaving their custody until they had a word with the Eze on whether or not he knew about our mission in Amangwu village.
After so much dialogue with the chiefs, they had to let us go and we were free again. At this point, I was already feeling sick. We had forgotten that we hadn’t taken our breakfast and it was past 3 pm the invagitation about the Ohafia crisis has taken over us. Shortly afterwards, the Eze joined us. We initiated an interview and he complied. I recorded the interview while Mr. Olanrewaju asked him questions. He showed us around the village and we saw and spoke to more victims. We saw bullet marks and other evidence of military combat. The Amangwu village has indeed suffered great human rights violations and abuse at the hands of the Nigerian military. The consequences of their action may leave lifelong damaging effects on the individuals and the Amangwu village at large, including economic, psychological and physical effects.
However, this unfortunate story of the Ohafia crisis, Ebem, and the Amangwu village is a reality that is not unpopular. From Umuaka, Orlu crisis in Imo State to Aba in Abia state and Obigbo in River State. This reality has buckled into a nest of silence, and most of the time told from the perspective of the perpetrator due to fear and stigma.
We came, we saw, and we told the stories the way they are to bring awareness to the injustice, abuse of power and the abuse of human rights happening every day right under our nose. I want to bring support to the families and lives in vulnerable settings, men, women, and children. To bring hope to the hopeless through storytelling. I tell stories to activate people and create a social impact. I will continue to do so until everyone leads the lives they deserve.
…Stories that can change the world. Cheers, your favourite Storyteller.