By Chris Njoku, Owerri
Residents of Orlu Local Government Area of Imo State on Monday fled their homes following a sporadic shooting by soldiers and suspected members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its outfit, the Eastern Security Network (ESN).
At least 10 people were feared dead, according to sources.
Reports said the number of casualties could be more.
A viral video showed bodies lying on the streets or Orlu, including that of a woman, said to have been hit by a stray bullet.
Vehicles conveying armed soldiers were also seen. A clip showed soldiers lying on the ground and appearing to take aim.
Governor Hope Uzodimma declared a dusk to dawn curfew in nine of the affected council areas.
It was gathered many houses and shops were burnt in reprisal by soldiers following the alleged killing of one of them.
Last Friday, a policeman was also allegedly killed at Okporo, Orlu by some security operatives believed to be ESN members.
Scores were wounded in the ensuing confusion.
According to the state government, “innocent citizens were killed and maimed in the process”.
Uzodimma, in a statement by his spokesman Oguwike Nwachuku, said the curfew followed disturbing report on the activities of a group of militants that unleashed mayhem on residents of Orlu.
He urged security agencies to fish out the perpetrators without fail.
The governor said the curfew was an interim measure to immediately restore the peace in the area.
It will begin at 6pm and end at 6 am daily and affects Orlu, Orsu, Oru East, Oru West, Ideato North, Ideato South, Njaba, Isu, Nwangele and Nkwerre local government areas of Orlu zone.
Addressing a news conference, Uzodimma said the perpetrators of the carnage were out to paint a picture of near break down of law and order in Orlu area.
The governor advised the residents of the affected LGAs to comply with the curfew as anyone who violates it will be treated as a suspect.
Uzodimma said security agencies have been directed to carry out a 24-hour patrol, adding that law-abiding citizens can go about their businesses without fear of molestation.
The governor condoled with the families of the bereaved and assured them that those who committed the heinous crime against them and their loves ones will not go unpunished.
The governor said: “This afternoon, I received a very disturbing report on the activities of a group of militants who unleashed a shooting spree in the Orlu area of the state, killing and maiming innocent citizen in the process.
“I am totally appalled by this sad report which appears to paint a picture of near breakdown of law and order in the Orlu area.
“The government condemns in its entirety this act of extreme hooliganism and brigandage.
“This is completely unacceptable to this administration. Those behind this callous barbarism will surely regret their actions.
“Consequently, I have directed the security agencies to fish out without fail, all those behind the carnage and immediately bring them to book.
“Let no one be in any doubt that the perpetrators of this dastardly act will ever escape justice. I assure them that they will pay for their cruelty against a peace-loving, innocent people.”
The governor assured Imo people that the situation in Orlu area is under control.
“Every security measure necessary has been put in place to ensure that law-abiding citizens can go about their businesses in the affected areas without any fear of molestation.
“The government sincerely condoles with the families of the bereaved and all the victims of the unfortunate incident.
“I assure them that those who committed the heinous crime against them and their loved ones will never go unfurnished,” the governor said.
A former minister of aviation Chief Femi Fani-Kayode tweeted: “The clash between soldiers and members ESN in Orlu, Imo State has resulted in some deaths & this is unfortunate.
“I call for restraint on both sides. The soldiers ought to be deployed against killer herdsmen and not ESN. When will Buhari learn?”
Another former minister, Oby Ezekwesili, said: “Can the @HQNigerianArmy and @DefenceInfoNG please communicate what’s going on here in Orlu Town to the public?
“It certainly has the appearance of a war scene. Is an entire town under combat operation from our Military?
“Can the C-in-C let Nigerians know who ordered this operation?”
Efforts to get the reaction of the Nigerian Army on the crisis in Orlu were unsuccessful.
Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Sagir Musa, did not pick his calls or respond to text messages sent to his phone.