The seeming mystery surrounding the arrest and subsequent detention of 76 farmers from the Umuneshi Autonomous Community in Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State deepened when two key military formations sandwiching the community denied involvement following police report that the army was responsible.
The 82 Division, Enugu and 14 Brigade, Ohafia, Abia State, in separate responses, denied any involvement in the arrest and detention of the Awgu farmers who had clashed with Fulani herdsmen accused of destroying their farms.
The Abia State Police Command has confirmed that the villagers were actually arrested by the Army and not “fake soldiers” as earlier said by the Army.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. Udeviotu Onyeke, told The Authority yesterday that the villagers were arrested by the Army and handed over to the police on the same day the incident occurred.
Onyeke said that the Criminal Investigation Department of the State Command had been handling the matter since then, thus, laying to rest, days of speculations on the actual identity of those who arrested the villagers.
But the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the 14 Brigade Ohafia, Major Sydney Mbaneme, had while reacting to the allegation that solders carried out the operation, said the “men in military uniform” were “fake solders”.
He also said they might be civilians who camouflaged themselves, adding that, “If at all they are soldiers, they are not our soldiers”.
In another related reaction, the spokesman of the 82 Division, Enugu, of the Nigerian Army, Col. H. Gambo, said the Division was not aware of the arrest by its men. He said that information available to them showed that none of their men was involved in such a dastardly act.
Meanwhile, the Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, yesterday condemned the security agencies for the arrest of the 76 villagers and demanded their immediate and unconditional release from detention.
According to Fayose, “It has gotten to a level that lovers of peace in Nigeria must speak out against this keg of gunpowder which is the threat that the Fulani herdsmen have become.”
In his official reaction to the alleged arrest, Governor Fayose, who spoke through his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, said President Muhammadu Buhari should address the killing of Nigerians and destruction of farmlands by the Fulani herdsmen.
The governor, who called for the immediate and unconditional release of the 76 Igbo villagers, said the President Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) Federal Government must not give the impression that the Fulani herdsmen were lords in other people’s lands.
Two weeks after they were arrested by “men in military uniform” who two key close-by military formations have dismissed as “fake solders”, the 76 Awgu farmers currently being detained in Umuahia Prison are yet to regain their freedom.
The villagers were on March 17 picked up by the said “fake solders” in their community following a clash with Fulani herdsmen who were allegedly destroying their crops since 10 years they settled in the community.
The traditional ruler of the community, His Royal Highness, Igwe Godwin Nwobi, had alleged that his subjects were arrested by “men in military uniform” after protesting the continued destruction of their crops and farmlands by the herdsmen.
He wondered why the villagers would be bundled to Umuahia outside their home state, raising serious concern over their health condition as some of them, according to him, sustained various injuries following a beating by the security agents.
When our correspondent visited the Abia State High Court Complex, yesterday, where the case was expected to come up as the Magistrate Court has no jurisdiction over the charges, the arrested villagers were not produced in court by the prison officials.
Meanwhile, the 72-hour ultimatum issued to the federal government by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) to release the detained Awgu farmers expires today.
In a press statement co-signed by Barrister Emma Nmezu and Dr. Clifford Chukwuemeka Iroanya and obtained by The Authority on Tuesday, the pro-Biafra group warned that the bold backing of the marauding Fulani herdsmen using federal might can no longer be accepted by civilised society.