By: PATRICK TITUS, Uyo
Residents of Iwukem village in Etim Ekpo Local Government of Akwa Ibom State are now living in fear over alleged plans by soldiers to attack the community.
Speculations making round in the community has it that soldiers are planning to attack the village as an aftermath over last Saturday’s killing of a soldier by unknown gunmen in the area.
Arising from this fear, the villagers, mostly women now sleep in churches and police station while the men take shelter in the bush for fear of the anticipated raid.
It would be recalled that last Saturday, unknown gunmen, suspected to be militants in the area, had attacked the village and killed a soldier and six villagers, injured many at the Iwukem junction and allegedly made away with the late soldier’s gun and uniforms.
By Sunday morning some soldiers, the villagers alleged came to the village and set houses many shops around the Junction ablaze.
When contacted, the spokesman for the 2 Brigade, Nigerian Army, Major Bashir Jajiro defrayed the rumour as untrue but said that if there is any human right abuse, the villagers should report to the Human Rights Desk at the Brigade Headquarters in Uyo.
The villagers including the Village Head, Chief Friday Uyoh and Mr. Ubokutom Akpanow, the Youth Leader, also lamented that they have been abandoned by the state government, claiming that since the Saturday and Sunday’s afflictions on the community by both militants and soldiers.
Iwukem Village, a border community with Abia state, is in Abak/Etim Ekpo/Ika Federal Constituency, which the state deputy governor, Mr. Moses Ekpo hails from.
Akpanowo, told our correspondent that since the attack on the village, the soldiers who usually mount a check point by the Junction had left the village only to resurface on yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon;
According to Akpanowo, the resurfacing soldiers were seen discussing with policemen from MOPOL 25 which has a base in the village, adding that the appearance of the soldiers has caused panic in the entire village.
After the soldiers abandoned the checkpoint after the invasion of the gunmen, the village leadership said they approached the MOPOL Base and begged them to come and mount the checkpoint to deter more attacks from the gunmen.
Akpanowo revealed that when the villagers asked the policemen what they were discussing with the soldiers, the policemen confessed that the soldiers asked them to withdraw from the junction.
The youth leader stated that the soldiers asking the policemen to withdraw from mounting the check point means they are planning to attack the armless and innocent villagers over the dead of their colleague.
Prior to Saturday invasion by the militants, Akpanowo disclosed that the soldiers at the checkpoint were given information by some villagers that the gunmen were about to attack the villagers but the soldiers dismissed the information and described the informants as drunks.
The anger of the soldiers, Akpanowo claimed, is that the villagers did not support them to fight the gunmen, and queried how villagers who do not have arms could have repelled the attackers who came into the village about 10 pm.
On why the village was the target of attack by the gunmen, Akpanowo stated that since the security crisis in some parts of Etim Ekpo and Ukanafun local government areas since last year, Iwukem has served as a refuge for persons who fled their villages.
He continued that the village is safe because of the presence of MOPOL 25 Base and a Police Station since it is a boundary community that had clashes with the neigbouring Azumuni in Abia state.
The village head of Iwukem, Chief Uyoh, condemned the action of the soldiers and revealed that he sent somebody to inform them that the gunmen were planning to attack the village but the dismissed his messenger as a drunk.
He narrated that the soldiers on Sunday attacked his father’s compound and a bullet from their guns wounded Chief Friday Uyoh who had been treated and discharged from a Cottage Hospital in Abia state where two other villagers have undergone operations and are recuperating.
Uyoh disclosed that one of the houses that the soldiers set ablaze was the home of a retired teacher, Mrs. Helen Fidelis Akpan, whose son is a sergeant with the Nigerian Army and she was rescued from the burning house by the villagers.
He lamented the gunmen abducted a lady, Miss Endurance Anthony Umoh, who has been missing since Saturday while a young man that was taken alongside with her escaped from the captivity of the gunmen.