Soldiers carrying out "Operation Python Dance II" in Abia State, didn't spare journalists either.
The Abia NUJ office is a one-storey affair located on Aba Road, Umuahia.
The guests were soldiers who were carrying out a show of force under the “Operation Python Dance II” campaign, a few meters away.
“The soldiers stormed our office and accused us of taking photographs of them from the building”, one journalist told Pulse.
According to The Vanguard account of events, “the soldiers held the journalists hostage for over 10 minutes, accused them of writing “nonsense” against the military, taking unauthorised “photographs” that debase the military and making mockery of their assignment in the Southeast.
"They also claimed that one of the reporters was recording the ‘show of force’ from the balcony, a claim debunked by the journalists who said that they were just watching the convoy like others who were doing so on the ground".
Pulse was told by some of the journalists on the scene of the incident that the soldiers rejected all explanations to the contrary before handing a few journalists the beatings of their lives, guns drawn and at the ready.
Among the brutalized journalists were FRCN Correspondent, Lawrence Nwokedi; the Oracle Newspaper Correspondent, Ezeogo Boniface Okoro; the Daily Times correspondent, Mr. Sunny Nwakanma; and the Authority Correspondent, Mr. Chidi Asonye.
Some of the journalists also had their phones seized and smashed.
“Some of my colleagues were watching from the balcony, while I was watching from the window. As they were negotiating round the Tower to Bende Road, some of their trucks stopped and I noticed one of the soldiers pointing at me”, narrated Ezeogo Okoro of the Oracle Newspaper.
"Simultaneously, I saw many soldiers jump down from two trucks and headed towards our office. Swooping on our office, one of them pointed at me and ordered me to give him my phone. I told him that I had no phone with me at that material time; he slapped me and ordered me to open my bag which I was carrying. As I was bringing the contents out, I brought out my Samsung Tablet 3, he snatched it from me and smashed it.
“They equally collected another phone from Sunday Nwakanma of Daily Times and destroyed it with their gun and made away with another phone belonging to Comrade Chidi Asonye of the Authority Newspapers.”
The army has apologised for pummelling the journalists.
Deputy Director, Public Relations in the 82nd Division of the Army, Sagir Musa, said the military is profusely sorry about the incident.
He promised that the incident will be investigated.
Musa said the soldiers who physically assaulted the journalists acted outside the rules of engagement. He said their actions were not in tandem with the rules and regulations governing the operations of the military.
Sagir added that the army detested such excesses and gross indiscipline from within its rank and file.
The spokesman thereafter urged journalists in the state to endeavour to put the incident behind them and not allow it destroy the relationship between the army and the press.
Sagir assured the NUJ that an unhealthy incident like the one in Umuahia will not repeat itself. He said the perpetrators will be fished out and appropriate sanctions meted out to them.
However, Bonny Okoro who is the National Trustee of NUJ urged the military authorities to check the excesses of its men across the nation.
“Operation Python Dance II” has come under severe criticism from members of the public.
The Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohaneze Ndigbo, and politicians from the region like Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe have asked the military to withdraw the troops from the Southeast in the name of “Operation Python Dance II”.
“It is more worrisome that the military operation, restricted to the Southeast in peace time, has no doubt fouled the environment and sent strong signal that the region is under siege, which should not be so in a democracy”, Abaribe said.
He added that; “We therefore urge extreme caution, and advise the military to de-escalate the situation and choose the best operational modus that will not only guaranty the safety of Nigerians, but also enhance national unity.
“Nigeria is not at war, people are only exercising their constitutional and universally guaranteed rights. So far, they are carrying on in a manner that has never given room to violence which could warrant a wholesale military expedition.”
The military says its operation Python Dance II is aimed at flushing out kidnappers, cultists and robbers from the Southeast and isn't targeted at the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB) who have been pining for a separate republic to be carved out of the present Nigerian structure.
There have been bloody clashes between soldiers and members of IPOB in Abia State since “Operation Python Dance II” was launched.