Soldiers’ killing in Aba: Not again!

On May 30, 2024, Nigerians woke up to the sad news of the attack on troops of the 144 Battalion of the Nigerian Army deployed at Obikabia Junction Federal School Road, Ogbor Hill in Obingwa local government area of Abia state by unknown gunmen suspected to be members of the outlawed Independent Peoples of the Republic of Biafra/ Eastern Security Network, IPOB/ESN, killing five soldiers.

Coming on the heels of the attack on unarmed military personnel by civilians at Abuja’s Banex Plaza and the gruesome murder of 17 soldiers on a peace mission in Okuama, Delta state, the Aba killing is as unacceptable as it is condemnable and reprehensible.

The gunmen, numbering about 30, who were enforcing sit-at-home order, stormed troops’ location in three black Toyota Land Cruiser Jeeps and opened fire during which five soldiers were killed.

The assailants also carted away five AK47 rifles, burnt down two military patrol Hilux vehicles and injured two civilians.

The slain soldiers, whose identities were disclosed by the army headquarters at the weekend, include; Seargent Charles Ugochukwu (94NA/38/1467), Seargent Bala Abraham (03/NA53/1028), Corporal Gideon Egwe (10NA/65/7085), Corporal Ikpeama Ikechukwu (13NA/70/5483), and Corporal Augustine Emmanuel (13NA/70/6663).

Characteristically, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) has threatened a retaliatory attack following the killing of its soldiers in Aba. It warned the civilian population against unprovoked attacks on its personnel, saying the “development has negative consequences on troops’ morale.”

Director of Defence Media Operations, Maj.-Gen. Edward Buba, who stated this while briefing journalists in Abuja, warned that such attacks will no longer be tolerated. According to him, these occurrences are unhealthy for our national security, counterproductive and amount to self-sabotage.

“If you harm one personnel in one area, another will be affected elsewhere, as the spirit of esprit de corps among troops is strong,” he said. Buba warned civilians to be mindful of their utterances and actions, which can impact troops’ productivity.

“Surely, it is not the way to treat any human, certainly not military personnel that place themselves in arms to protect citizens or to safeguard the nation. The military has demonstrated a high sense of discipline and professionalism in the face of untoward attacks. Our professionalism must not be mistaken for weakness.”

He posited that to win this war, “We need the support of people. We also hope that the people would equally realize that they need the military to win the war to guarantee their safety.

“Accordingly, this must not repeat itself as it jeopardizes our common interest. If troops err, report them and the military justice system will address the matter. We are at war, and citizens must realize that they also have a responsibility by their actions and utterances to support troops to keep the morale and fighting spirit of troops at optimal at all times.

In a swift reaction to the incident,

President Bola Tinubu charged security agencies to fish out the masterminds and perpetrators of the Thursday killing of five soldiers in Aba. He also charged them to fish out those ordering a stay at home.

The president, who made the calls on Saturday, described the stay at home order as a treasonable offence. He vowed that the federal government would come down heavily against those who had made it a habit to needlessly attack the officers and men of our armed forces.

He warned that on no account should anyone, under any guise, have the audacity to kill agents of state. “I want to make it clear that the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the armed forces have the capacity to crush violent non-state actors, making our communities unsafe.”

Instructively, the Abia state government has placed a N25 million bounty on killers of the five soldiers in the state. The state Commissioner for Information, Okey Kanu, while disclosing this on Friday, said the government considers the killing of the soldiers as “a serious affront” to the state government’s resolve to rid Abia of criminals, who are determined to bring back the days of insecurity in Aba.

“This is more regrettable in the light of the fact that unprecedented investments have been made in the last one year to restore the city’s public infrastructure and reposition it as an attractive investment destination for local and foreign businesses. 

“To underscore its resolve, the state government is offering a N25 million reward to anyone with useful information that could lead to the location and arrest of any of the criminals connected to the unfortunate killings, and the subsequent state of apprehension across the city of Aba and environs,” he stated.

The commissioner said security agencies in the state have been directed to treat informants with confidentiality to guarantee their cooperation and assistance until the killers were arrested.

He said the Abia state government will “respond appropriately” to reassure residents and investors that the government could be “relentless” in prosecuting anyone or group that constitutes threat to peace and security in the state.

Mr Kanu said the Abia state government commiserated with the Chief of Army Staff, Taoreed Lagbaja, and other military authorities over the incident. He announced that the government will take up the responsibility of supporting the families of the slain soldiers, which include the payment of regular stipends to their spouses, and the education of their children to university level.

He said the government commended all military officers and men of the Nigerian Amy in the state for maintaining a high sense of professionalism in their response to the very distressing event.

Kanu urged residents to go about their lawful businesses, assuring that the necessary measures had been put in place to ensure their safety in the state.

“The state (government) will also encourage our military and security personnel to continue to show restraint, whether at the checkpoints, on patrol, or while engaged in other security duties, even as the government continues to work with all relevant stakeholders, including the security high commands, traditional and community leaders to gather and process all intelligence information which will ultimately lead to the capture of the perpetrators of the heinous crime at Obikabia Junction, and anyone directly or remotely connected to it in any form,” he said.

Kanu said the state government has warned traditional rulers in the state against harbouring those responsible for the killing of the soldiers. He advised traditional rulers and other leaders in communities across the state “to set up suitable local intelligence gathering mechanisms” in their localities for sharing new information with security agencies.

Blueprint condemns in totality the unprovoked and unwarranted attacks on troops, as demonstrated recently in the incidents in Abuja’s Banex plaza, Okuama and Aba. It bears emphasising that these attacks are not only cowardly but are also barbaric, unpatriotic and an affront to the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

While the pro-active responses to the tragedy by President Tinubu and the Abia state government are commendable and reassuring, we urge the military to continue to exercise restraint on the matter. The military should follow through the order of President Tinubu, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, to swiftly apprehend the perpetrators and masterminds of the Aba killings.