The military swung into action yesterday, combing some creeks and waterways in Bayelsa State for the militants who killed three soldiers at a checkpoint near Nembe Jetty on Monday.
War-kitted troops moved into the creeks and waterways hours after the Joint Task Force (JTF) Operation Delta Safe (ODS) Commander Rear Admiral Joseph Okojie vowed “to go on the offensive” over the killing of his men.
In Shendam, Plateau State, Chief of Army Staff Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai warned that killing of soldiers and airmen in line of duty was unacceptable.
There was massive deployment of troops in Nembe and its surrounding creeks early in the day. Many fled on sighting the soldiers.
Fighter jets hovered in the air as the soldiers took strategic positions, cordoning off the waterways.
A resident, who spoke in confidence with The Nation, described Nembe as a “ghost town” after it was deserted.
He said: “The town is deserted. People who ran away are yet to return. Stores and shops are closed. We can’t even find anything to buy. Some ran into the mangroves, others into smaller communities and Yenagoa.
“Some of us are only able to stay because the Deputy Governor, John Jonah, and the JTF commander held a town hall meeting with us and assured us of our safety. But people who ran away have not come back”.
Jonah, who led a government delegation and Rear Admiral Okojie, were said to have met with the residents.
The deputy governor commiserated with the military over the soldiers’ death.
At the meeting held at the King Koko Square, Nembe, Jonah described the soldiers’ killing as senseless, barbaric and not in the best interest of Nembe and the state.
He described the incident as painful and unfortunate, recalling that a similar one occurred in July, last year.
His visit, Jonah said was to console and engage the military to douse the tension in the community.
The deputy governor urged those who fled to return home. He called on youths and other stakeholders to help the military fish out the killers.
He urged the clergy to continue to pray for lasting peace in the community.
Rear Admiral Okojie was said to have promised that the troops would not molest people.
He said the killers would be made to account for their action.
According to him, troops are on the trail of the criminals and will soon arrest and bring them to justice.
Rear Admiral Okojie urged the community to volunteer information to the military, appealing that people should not be scared of the soldiers’ presence.
Some community leaders were said to have condemned the soldiers’ killing.
A member of the House of Assembly from Nembe, Ebi Ben-Ololo, Vice-Chairman, Nembe Council, Chief Bright Erewari-Iweka and Chief Walter Feghabo-Amain said since the coming of JTF, Nembe had known peace.
They said the community would cooperate with the military to ensure that the killers were brought to justice.
Chief Wilfred Ogbotobo was said to have called on the government to use “maximum force” instead of pampering and indulging the militants.
According to him, the militants have become emboldened because they are treated with kid gloves.
He said: “All the peace-loving people of Nembe condemn in the strongest terms this latest and all forms of criminality perpetrated in Ijaw territories under the guise of Niger Delta struggle.
“We want to sound it loud and clear that these indolent, cowardly and dastardly acts of terrorism with no head or tail would only compound and diminish the genuine struggle for the wellbeing and uplifting of the people and the region”.
Ogbotobo said the militants’ action did not represent the ideals of Ijaw heroes such as King Koko of Nembe Kingdom and Isaac Adaka Boro.
“Hence, if the motive is the prevalent delusion that every piracy, kidnapping and destruction means a rational continuation of the Boro militancy, it is warped and unacceptable.
“The Niger Delta comprises different nationalities and cultures, hence, we must be careful about the image with which we brand our identity.”
“Any attempt, under a warped and distorted delusion to make the region ungovernable for President Muhammad Buhari would only isolate the Ijaw further.
“Boro certainly would have opted to build a national political party to project the interests of the Ijaw and pursue the aspirations of the people of the region.
“This should not be a period of militancy rather it should be a period of reflection considering the unprecedented corruption and ineptitude of the past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw man.”
The Nembe chief said under the present circumstance the people should hold their traditional, local and state governments accountable.
He said: “It is abundantly clear that the youths spearheading these dangerous ventures have not been adequately cautioned about the full implications and wrath associated with the kind of things they are doing.
“The Federal Government should, therefore, declare a state of emergency in the affected areas and apply maximum force to dislodge ever criminal tendency and restore the region back to safety to fast-track development”. The Nation