By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
JUST as many were ruing the unfortunate event of last Monday when ex-militants in their hundreds barricaded the Mbiama bridge end of the East-West road in Rivers State, a border area between Bayelsa and Rivers some yet to be identified gunmen in the wee hours of Friday yet again violated the peace of the riverine settlement of Opokuma in the Kolokuma-Opokuma Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, leaving in their trail death and destruction of properties.
The Friday attack on the country home of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Federal Government Post Amnesty programme, Mr. Timi Alaibe in which a police constable identified as Darego was brutally killed has again brought to the fore the deteriorating security situation in Bayelsa where some unscrupulous persons are bent on plunging the state into anarchy.
Ironically, five days earlier at Mbiama, bordering Bayelsa, thousands of innocent commuters travelling to distant places like Lagos, Warri, Benin, Port Harcourt, the Eastern part and the South South state of Akwa Ibom were stranded for about six excruciating hours in what could be described as the worst gridlock caused by fellow man on this all important federal highway.
It however took the use of diplomacy on the part of the Commander of the Joint Task Force, Maj General Charles Omoregie to dislodge the hundreds of ex- militants who barricaded the route in protest over their alleged exclusion from the federal government amnesty
Rage of gunmen
While the Monday incident could be described as unpleasant given the suffering it caused commuters on that fateful day, the Friday attack was tragic in the sense that a life was lost with properties running into millions of naira destroyed.
Though the motive of the invaders could not be immediately ascertained but it was clear that they meant business given the caliber of weapons with which they stormed sleepy town of Opokuma.
A Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher rifle otherwise known as RPG rifle or bazooka was abandoned by the invaders when soldiers deployed at Kaiama town raced to the scene on receiving distress call from the terrified indigenes of Opokuma.
The latest attack is being viewed by most analysts as a dangerous signal for the young state still struggling to overcome the pain inflicted on it by youth militancy.
The gunmen were said to have sneaked into the sleepy riverine settlement at about 1am through the Nun River when rural folks had retired to bed so as to beat the security operatives recently deployed to Kaiama to protect the bridge who are constantly patrolling length and breath of the federal structure which some unscrupulous elements had threatened to blow up alongside that of Patani bridge where soldiers are presently stationed.
Tension in the creeks
In the last four weeks tension had been brewing in the creek of the state in the wake of the twin blasts recorded at an Agip facility at Osiama in Southern Ijaw council area in which pipelines conveying crude oil to the Brass terminal were destroyed by unknown gunmen coupled with the threat to sabotage the two above mentioned federal structures.
Interestingly, the recent constant hovering around the state airspace of the Joint Task Force helicopter gunships ostensibly on surveillance had boosted the confidence of residents to the extent that nobody expected that some hoodlums would still have the temerity to dare the security men to carry out such dastardly act.
Jolted by explosions
But residents of the serene town of Opokuma who spoke to Vanguard Metro said they were jolted from their slumber when the sound of explosions and sporadic gun shots rented the air.
Some of the natives who spoke on condition of anonymity said they thought war had broken out given the deafening explosions and sustained sound of gunshots that heralded the presence of the invaders who reportedly came through the Nun River in speedboats.
By the time it dawned on the natives that they had unwanted guests in their midst nobody could summon the courage to venture out into the quiet night to challenge the gunmen.
The invaders were said to have marched straight their target which is the country home of Alaibe. One of the policemen allegedly on guard was killed while the whereabouts of his partner could not be ascertained and has since been declared missing by the police authorities.
It could not be ascertained if the missing police man bolted away on noticing that the invaders meant business given the alleged sophisticated weapons in their possession, including the deadly RPG rifle reportedly left behind by the gunmen in their haste to retreat to the waiting speedboat with which they came when men of the Joint Task Force rushed to the scene on getting a distress call from of the natives.
However, this was after the invaders who were bent on inflicting collateral damage on their victim’s properties had broken into the premises and detonated a dynamite to blow up the main door for them to gain access into the apartment.
Sources told Vanguard Metro that no property was carted away by the invaders who from all indication appeared to be in search of money given the way they (gunmen) ransacked the entire rooms and even kitchen.
The septic tank/pit behind the house was not spared as the invaders tore open the slab covering it.
The intervention of the soldiers however prevented the hoodlums from inflicting more damages on the other buildings within the compound as they retreated to their waiting boat and escaped through the Nun River
When news of the attack filtered into town and newsmen visited the scene of attack the area had been condoned off by heavily armed security operatives who prevented residents and visitors from going close to the premises.
The Opokuma incident is the latest in the series of attacks on public office holders in the predominantly riverine state after about three months lull in attack which has further heightened the fear of insecurity among residents.
Attempts to speak with the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, Mr. Timi Alaibe proved abortive as his line was not going through but the state Commissioner of Police, Aliyu Musa confirmed the incident.
The visibly disturbed police boss said he lost one of his men in the attack and the whereabouts of another officer could not be ascertained.
He said the command had commenced investigation into the matter with a view to tracking down the attackers.
A visibly disturbed Bayelsa State deputy governor, Werinipre Seibarugu who visited the scene weekend expressed concern about the development and called on the security agencies to ensure those involved are fished out and prosecuted.
Accompanied by the Chief of Staff, Government House, Mr. Samuel Ogbuku the deputy governor condemned the attack describing it as ‘one too many.’
He said the state governor and the people of the state were shocked and disgusted by the report of the attack and have immediately condemned it as “barbaric” and a “sad moment “in the history of the state.
“The people of the state are disappointed by the act. The whole state condemned the act. I don’t even know what the mission of the attackers is. By what was done here, it has shown that many prominent indigenes may be discouraged from developing their home community. This is not the first of such criminal act; we have to look at it seriously,” he lamented.
Meanwhile, a group the Initiative for Peace and Social Orientation has described as unacceptable the latest attack on the home of another prominent citizen of the state.
Executive Director of the group, Mr. Akinika Richards, while reacting to the incident said the major challenge before the state government and the security agencies was to fish out the perpetrators of the heinous crime.
“We must say the salient truth, the government and the police should live up to their responsibilities of protecting the lives of the people. We challenge the government to come out with a solution to this problem. It’s a challenge to the state,” he noted with concern.
Since May this year when the orgy of attack on political office holders and prominent citizens in the state reared came to the fore several lives have been lost in the unending violence.
Apart from the country home of the former deputy governor, Peremobowei Ebebi and family home of the state Governor, Chief Timipre Sylva that was attacked.
Others included the Speaker of the House Assembly, Chief Nestor Binabo and a traditional ruler, King Amalata Turner.
Also in the past few weeks, several politicians have made allegations of threats to life, and counter allegations have followed from their opponents.
A governorship aspirant, Chief Beimo Spiff, had also raised alarm that there had been an attempt on his life and that of his aides. As it is, nobody is sure who the next target will be as fear and uncertainty pervade the land.