The Nigerian Army in search of Eastern Security Network has arrested and brutalised no fewer than 12 pastors and church elders in Orlu, Njaba, and Orsu communities of Imo State for allegedly belonging to the ESN group.
SaharaReporters learnt that the clerics were taken by personnel of the 34 Brigade, Owerri and the 302 Artillery Regiment, Onitsha, as well as the Inspector-General of Police Intelligence Response Team from their houses and places of worship on the suspicion that they were ESN informants and members.
Residents claimed that more than 20 other persons remained in the military custody after the raid, which started in the last week of January and continued up till last week.
Some of the affected communities include Ubokoro-Atta, Okporo, Uda Orsuihiteukwa and Okwudor in Imo State and Orsumoghu, Lilu and Ukpor in Anambra State.
“One of the pastors arrested and paraded is Pastor Chigozie Nwaka, Presiding Priest of Our Lord’s Sabbath Church in Atta Community, Njaba Local Government Area. Several other residents were arrested by the soldiers and there are reports that seven farmers were killed during the army invasion,” a source said.
A civil rights group, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, on Sunday condemned the army for “its arbitrary arrests”, while calling for the release of the clerics and other members in custody.”
The intersociety chairman, Emeka Umegbealasi, said, “Over 30 people were paraded by the Nigerian Army and labeled as ESN terrorists who recently killed soldiers in Orlu. The army further claimed that they were arrested with rifles and Biafra insignias in Orlu and environs.
“On the contrary, our investigation stated that the people paraded were raided from their homes and church sanctuaries in Orlu, Njaba, Orsu and Oru Eastern Local Government Areas of Imo State and some parts of Ihiala and Nnewi South Local Government Areas of Anambra State.
“They include clerics of the African Instituted Churches – a branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria and some mentally challenged persons too.
“They include: Presiding Priest, Pastor Paulinus Izuchukwu Offor and seven others; namely: Johnson Francis, Izuchukwu Osuzuigbo, Chigozie Onyekaigwe, Obi Nzubechukwu Daniel, Chukwudi Chukwubueze, Ezenwa Chisindi and Emmanuel Chiadi.
“Some 12 pastors and church elders were taken from their homes or church sanctuaries and abominably labelled as habouring ESN.”
The Nigerian Army had been on the search for the ESN since December 2020 culminating in airstrikes carried out on February 18 on suspected ESN strongholds.
Military fighter jets believed to be deployed by the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Air Force conducted the strikes which caused tension and apprehension in the areas.
The ESN operatives in January had a bloody clash with the Nigerian Army from Obinze barracks, where four soldiers were reportedly killed.
SaharaReporters since December 31, 2020, reported that the Nigerian Army deployed combat helicopters, gun trucks and soldiers to search some suspected forests in the South-East states where the ESN, launched by Nnamdi Kanu, was said to be camping.