Soldiers allegedly shoot two youths dead in Edo community

The families of two persons, Oyegwu Afoso and David Agbagie, have been thrown into mourning after soldiers allegedly shot them to death in the Afokpella community, in the Etsako East Local Government Area of Edo State.

PUNCH Metro gathered that members of the community embarked on a peaceful protest to express their grievances against underemployment by the two cement factories operating in the community.

During the demonstration which started around 6am on Monday, the protesters were said to be chanting solidarity songs as they complained that the portion of indigenes of the community in the employment of the cement factories were casual workers who lose a certain percentage of their salaries to traditional rulers in neighbouring communities.

The demonstration, however, took another turn when protesters compelled members of neighbouring communities to join them in the protest and prevented them from going to the cement factories to work.

Angered by the development, our correspondent gathered that members of one of the neighbouring communities, who were bent on going to work, allegedly mobilised soldiers, men of the Nigerian Police Force, and other security officials to disperse the unarmed protesters.

On getting to the scene, the armed security operatives, in a bid to disperse the protesters in the Afokpella community, reportedly started shooting.

While some of the protesters escaped unhurt, some other protesters who were unlucky, while scampering to safety, sustained varying degrees of bullet injuries.

Lamenting over the development, one of the protesters, who gave his name simply as Michael, said no fewer than three persons sustained bullet injuries while being dispersed at the protest ground.

He explained that the protest was in the general interest of the community, adding that aggrieved members of the community, who were pained by the attack against them despite protesting peacefully, vandalised a vehicle belonging to one of the cement factories.

Michael said, “We were carrying on a peaceful protest and we also invited neighbouring communities to join the Afokpella community in the protest. They were participating at first but later withdrew after a short time.

“Suddenly, people from one of the neighbouring communities came with some youths to disrupt the protest and shot three of our boys. So, we quickly stopped the protest. We later heard that some (Afokpella) youth heard what happened, saw a coaster bus belonging to one of the cement factories that was passing, broke the glass of the vehicle and destroyed it.

“Before we knew it, the soldiers came in three vans to the Afokpella community and started shooting. While some people ran, some youths in the community were courageous enough to explain to the soldiers that members of one of the neighbouring communities attacked them while they were protesting peacefully.”

Michael explained that a shouting match ensued, and the soldiers continued shooting sporadically.

“A lot of people sustained injuries and my cousin, Agbagie, was killed. The soldiers wrote down the names of people who participated in the protest and said they will look for us and kill all of us. We have been living in fear,” Michael said.

PUNCH Metro gathered that the soldiers, while being led by an indigene in one of the communities to fish out those involved in the protest that led to the vandalisation of the vehicle belonging to one of the cement factories in the community, reportedly shot an innocent man to death.

One of the protesters, who gave his name simply as Abanako, said the innocent man was his brother, Afoso, adding that he never participated in the protest.

Abanako, while demanding justice for his slain brother, said before embarking on the protest, the security agents including the soldiers and police were officially notified.

 He said, “My brother (Afoso) was not there when the protest was going on; when we staged a protest in the community last two months, the police and soldiers that came said we didn’t inform them before embarking on the protest. They said we should put it in writing if we want to protest and we notified them about this protest and even gave them the date of the protest.

“They agreed for us to do the protest. When we were doing the protest, we stopped those from other communities that wanted to go to work. Later, they mobilised soldiers, police, and NSCDC officials with guns and they started shooting at us. They shot many of our people and some of us ran away.

“Later, the soldiers returned and started shooting people again. We don’t know why because, at that point, we had already stopped the protest. And that was how they shot my brother who didn’t participate in the protest. We could not take him to the hospital because soldiers were everywhere, they (soldiers) threatened to shoot anybody they see outside, and that was when my brother died at home”

Abanako, who also confirmed that the soldiers allegedly killed Agbagie, said they took his corpse and also whisked away a member of the community identified simply as Imofin, adding that Imofin’s whereabouts had been unknown since Monday.

Afoso’s bereaved cousin, who gave her name simply as Natasha, said until his death, he was a casual worker at the two cement factories in the community.

“Before he died he said ‘Someone pointed at me and the soldiers shot me’. He died at home. My cousin was a jovial person that is easy going. He enjoys life and does not deserve that kind of death. We want justice,” Natasha said.

Efforts to reach the Director, Army Public Relations, Onyema Nwachukwu, failed as he did not pick up his calls and had yet to reply to the text message sent to his mobile number was yet to be responded to as of press time.

The state Police Public Relations Officer, SP Chidi Nwabuzor, when contacted on Wednesday for a reaction regarding the events that led to the death of the victims, said he had not been briefed about the incident.

He, however, promised to investigate and revert to our correspondent but had yet to do so as of the time this report was filed.