TENSION is rising in Imo State amid fears that a spare of tit-for-tat communal killings may begin after unknown gunmen killed seven suya sellers over the weekend in separate shootings in Orlu and Umuaka.
One eyewitness, identified as Harisu Ishiaku, said that the suspected killers, who were dressed in military uniform and numbered more than seven, stormed the Afor Umuaka Market in Njaba Local Government Area of the state around 8.30pm on Saturday, accosted the victims in their shops and shot them. He added that four of the victims were aged between 30 and 45 and had lived in the area for many years without any trouble or attack from members of the community.
While suspecting those, who carried the attack maybe strangers, Mr Ishiaku pointed out that before now, there had never been any problem between the traders and the Umuaka community. Mallam Ibrahim Abdulkadir, the coordinator of Imo State Hausa Traders Association, said the first incident happened on Friday as three suya sellers were about to close for the day when gunmen in a Sienna car emerged from nowhere and shot at them.
He added that in a similar commando style, the gunmen operating in the same vehicle shot dead four Hausa traders at Umuaka. According to Mallam Abdulkadir, the Hausa traders in Orlu now live in fear and some had even relocated to Owerri.
Mallam Abdulkadir said: “Actually, this thing started on April 2. I was called that three persons had been killed by some men operating in a Siena car.
“The victims were suya sellers and were killed just as they were closing their shop in the night. Just as we were about to handle the situation, on Saturday I was called again that four persons were killed by the same people.”
Since their deaths, the bodies of the victims had been taken to Owerri in preparation to burying them according to Muslim rites. Ibrahim Sulaiman, the senior special assistant to the governor on gender, vulnerable groups and northern affairs said the state government, as well as security agencies, were on top of the matter.
While calling for peace to reign, he added that Governor Hope Uzodimma was disturbed by the incident and was poised to bring the perpetrators justice. In addition, Mr Sulaiman appealed to his northern kinsmen to remain calm and continue to be their brothers’ keeper at all times.
Mr Sulaiman added: “We have just finished a meeting with government officials and head of security agencies in the state. They’ve intervened in the matter to ensure that peace reigns. We cannot continue like this. We must nip this in the bud for the peace and security of our country.”
While saying that the killings were politically motivated by people who never wished the government and people of Imo State well, he expressed regret that the situation was getting out of hand. Mr Sulaiman assured the northern community of the commitment of the state government to putting a stop to the attacks.