By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South and Festus Ahon, Kokori
GUNMEN, armed with AK 47 rifles, suspected to be lieutenants of seized kidnap kingpin, Kelvin Oniarah, Friday, laid siege to the palace of the traditional Ovie of Agbon kingdom, HRM Ogurime-Rime, Ukori I, in Kokori on Friday and held the visiting Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, candidate for the October 12 bye-election in Delta Central senatorial district, Chief Emmanuel Aguariavwodo, former Minister of Information, Prof Sam Oyovbaire, and other members of the party’s Campaign Council, hostage, for more than one hour.
Also held hostage were two traditional rulers, chiefs and others, who thronged the palace to receive the campaign team.
Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, who was alerted about the situation contacted heads of the security agencies in the state. He told Saturday Vanguard that the army and police were immediately deployed.
The state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, also said the situation was under control when he spoke to Saturday Vanguard, adding, “the police received a distress call that hoodlums swooped on PDP people on campaign.”
He, however, said the police were supposed to have been appropriately notified about the rally for a good security arrangement to be put in place, saying, “This was not done, the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, in the area told me he only informed this (Friday) morning.”
Saturday Vanguard, nevertheless, learnt the few anti-riot policemen in the entourage of Chief Aguariavwodo were outnumbered, and they took cover when the attacking Kelvin boys arrived.
According to a source, “the few mobile policemen were no match for the armed boys and they also fled to safety with their guns. We were all locked in the palace.”
It was gathered that the youths reportedly stormed the palace of the monarch in a commando style and shot at motor tyres and windscreens. They also shot sporadically apparently to scare those being held hostage.
The traditional ruler, Ukori I and his guests, including Prof Oyovbaire, Hon Fred Majemite, Bernard Okumagba and other PDP chieftains had their hearts in their mouths while the shooting was on.
Prof Oyovbaire confirmed to Saturday Vanguard on phone at about 12.49 pm, when the coast was clear that they were relatively held hostage by some gun-wielding youths, who attacked the palace of the monarch, while party leaders were there to pay homage.
When Saturday Vanguard first called Prof Oyovbaire at12.15 pm, he said, “Give me five to 10 minutes, I will be in the position to speak to you.”
At the time, soldiers had taken over the palace, but the party chieftains were told to remain inside until they were sure there would be no danger to their lives.
Soldiers were supposed to be on “internal operation” in the community, but a journalist told Saturday Vanguard, “As at 10.00 am when I came into the community on Friday, I did not see any soldier on the street, we were driving into town, I and a colleague, to see what was going on when some youths stopped us.”
‘They asked me who I am, I told them I am a journalist, they asked for my identity card and permitted us to go inside and see what soldiers have done in the community,” he said.
He added, “It was when the boys started shooting at the palace, after more than one hour that soldiers came to the palace, they were not there when we came.”
An eyewitness said, “The grouse of the Kelvin boys is not against PDP, but against the monarch and elites of Kokori, who they alleged betrayed the community over the arrest of Kelvin. They are also angry at the militarization of the town”
He disclosed, “They did not come to harm or kill anybody, but just to make a statement that even if Kelvin is arrested; there are more than 1000 Kelvins in Kokori. If their aim was to harm anybody, they had all the opportunity to enter inside and shoot people, but they did not do that.”
“They searched the vehicles for valuables before destroying or setting them ablaze and while it lasted, we were all held hostage. We were inside the palace when we heard gunshots, mobile policemen, who were supposed to provide security, were all running into the palace, which was when I knew that there was trouble,” he added.
He lamented that the youths took advantage of the absence of the security men in the community, which had been under tight security watch, to attack the PDP campaign team, adding, ‘We have been here for over an hour now without rescue coming our way. Although we hear soldiers have been contacted, we are yet to see them.”
President-general of Kokori community, Barrister G.S. Avbunudiogba, told Saturday Vanguard when contacted, yesterday, that he was in Asaba and did not know about the incident in his community.
The senatorial flag bearer, Chief Aguariavwodo, did not pick the calls to his phone, Friday afternoon.
However, one the politicians, who was held hostage, told Saturday Vanguard at about 12.00 pm, “I am not too sure when we will leave, but we are still held up inside the palace, but soldiers are combing outside for the boys.”
“Really, what we are facing right now is like a hostage situation, but the boys are not here to kill, I think they are protesting against their monarch and leaders and the whole thing is over the kidnapper, Kelvin, that was arrested.
“They are not happy with the role their leaders played and the few mobile policemen that came with us, could not stand them, they ran for cover, they destroyed up to 10 cars and they were searching and looting them too,” he added.
“The traditional ruler, Ogurime-Rime and one other royal father, I don’t know his name, were already seated and the preliminary talks were on when gunshots exploded,” he said.
Prof Oyovbaire, who is the chairman of the PDP Campaign Council for the Delta Central senatorial bye-election confirmed that the campaign in Isiokolo had to be suspended because of the incident.
He said that according to the campaign itinerary, the next stop was Okpe and the council would move to Okpe.
Prof Oyovbaire said the council knew about the security situation in Kokori, but as at Thursday night, they were told there was no cause for alarm and they proceeded to the palace, yesterday.
“We were about to start when we heard gun shots and the palace was as if it was being attacked. Everybody ran for cover.
While it was embarrassing to everybody, including the traditional rulers, I want to tell you there was no injury, no harm to anybody, except for one or two cars that were destroyed,” he said.
Oyovbaire said, “We have just finished paying homage, we are supposed to leave Kokori for Isiokolo, but the next point according to our itinerary is Okpe, so we are suspending Kokori rally for now.”
As at the time of filing this report, men of the Joint Military Task Force, JTF, who arrived the community in over 20 Hilux pickup patrol vans, had rescued the politicians.
They were seen combing the nearby bushes with a view to tracking down the suspected hoodlums.
The army officer who does not want his name in print said; “We have set the PDP campaign team that was held hostage free. Security of lives and property is our concern.”
Commissioner Aduba also told Saturday Vanguard, “The situation is calm now, about four vehicles were burnt.”
The PDP candidate flagged off his campaign on Thursday in Oghara, Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State after which the campaign train began its movement to neighbouring local government. Kokori was their next point of call on Friday.