By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
Bayelsa State which prided itself as the ‘oasis of peace’ in the once turbulent Niger Delta is gradually losing its tranquility due to the unnecessary shedding of innocent blood by rampaging cultists.
Vanguard Metro, VM, investigation revealed that the on going gang war in Yenagoa has officially claimed no fewer than 11 lives in the last one week. This figure is, however, being disputed by some who claimed the death toll from the senseless killing is quite higher, citing the pathetic case of a baby strapped on its mother’s back who was reportedly hit by flying bullet during one of the orgy of violence that rocked the capital city recently.
Though the cause of the renewed violent skirmish which recently pushed the capital city to the edge had been blamed on supremacy tussle between rival cult groups, but informed sources have argued that it transcend supremacy struggle as claimed in some quarters.
They insisted that the resurgence of the cult war may have been fuelled by some desperate politicians who have perfected plans to either instigate violence or use the cultists to pursue individual interests and achieve some political ends.
Cult related violence and senseless killings, which had hitherto subjected residents of Yenagoa to fear even during the days of the disbanded special security outfit, Operation Famou Tangbe had subsided to a reasonable level.
Yenagoa could be described as the ‘oasis of peace’ given its relative tranquility. Residents could walk freely without any of fear of attack or harassment even in the dead of the night while relaxation spots in this predominantly civil servant city where everything revolves around the government were making brisk business.
However, the tranquility of the capital was penultimate Sunday violated when renewed cult war claimed the lives of five young men at the Edepie suburb of the state capital.
In what could be described as a scene out of Hollywood action-packed movie, some suspected cultists armed with the deadly AK 47 assault rifles stormed a relaxation joint, ‘PHIL Collins Bar’ in a black Mercedes Benz, around 8.15pm and gunned down their target who was hanging out with friends.
Having succeeded in cutting down their target, they confidently dragged his blood- soaked, bullet-riddled body into their vehicle and embarked on another round of shooting spree ostensibly to scare away residents who may want to dare them and made good their escape.
The operation which sources said did not last more than five minutes threw the area into pandemonium as shop owners hurriedly shut down their businesses while residents quickly retired indoors for fear of being hit by stray bullets.
When the sound of gunshots finally ceased, the terrified residents came and found four other persons dead, hit by the cultists bullets.
Barely two days after the Edepie attack, Tombia also had its share of attack as gunshots reportedly rent the air in the serene settlement, sending jitters down the spine of the residents.
Just as terrified residents were trying to overcome the shock of these incidents, a more vicious attack was launched on Ekeki, another suburb of the capital city Wednesday night.
Though the motive for the attack on the Ekeki motor park which triggered pandemonium in the state capital could not be ascertained but unconfirmed report said it was a reprisal attack by a rival gang over the Edepie killing.
The gunmen were said to have stormed the park located in the heart of Yenagoa some distance away from the B Division of the Nigeria Police Force at about 7.15pm and embarked on shooting spree, leaving in their trail deaths and anguish.
Two persons were reportedly hit by the invaders bullet, killing them on the spot while two others who sustained gunshot injuries later died at the Federal Medical Centre where they were taken for treatment.
Although the police said four persons were killed but eyewitnesses said the number of persons killed was more than the figure given by the police, alleging that a baby strapped on the mother’s back was also fatally hit that fateful night.
Eyewitnesses said it was a moment of madness as motorists approaching the scene of shooting were forced to make U-turn and drove against traffic, while others abandoned their vehicles and took to their heels for fear of being caught in the cross fire.
Also, residents relaxing outside their homes were forced to beat a quick retreat to the comfort of their homes. The timely intervention of men of the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta codenamed Operation Restore Hope and the police prevented the situation from resulting in what could have been a massacre. Three suspects were, however, arrested by security operatives who not only succeeded in repelling the rampaging gun totting cultists but ensured the return of normalcy in the area.
Barely 24 hours after the Ekeki attack the spectre of killing again reared its head at the Yeniue-Gene suburb when gunmen suspected to be cultists struck at about 7.30pm along Erepa road leaving two persons dead.
The usually busy area was completely deserted as residents were forced to take refuge in their homes while shops were hurriedly shut down.
Also at about 12.30pm Friday, the sound of gunshot rent the air around Amarata and the OMPADEC area. Commuters and shop owners around the area ran in different directions. Some parents had to rush to their children’s schools after the incident to fetch their kids.
But the state police command through its image maker, Mr. Eguavoen Emokpae (an ASP) said some arrests have been made and that the suspects are assisting the police in ongoing investigation with a view to bringing to book all those involved in the heinous act.
He assured that the police are on top of the situation as men of the command are working round the clock to ensure peace and tranquility in the state and urged the people to go about their normal businesses.
Reacting to the development, the National Youth Leader of the Action Congress, ACN, Ebikibina Miriki, an indigene of Bayelsa State condemned the series of attacks and the loss of lives. His words: “Our party condemned in its entirety the killings in Yenagoa. We describe the act as not only a theatre of absurdity, but also a grave ineptitude and indictment of the PDP led administration of Governor Timipre Sylva and Bayelsa State police command over their failure to protect lives and property of the citizenry. This ugly trend reaffirms ACN’s position for the urgent need to convene a stakeholders meeting as a build up to the 2012 governorship election in the state.”
According to him, “it is even more worrisome and disheartening to know how the fierce gun duel around Ekeki, which lasted for quite some time, was carried out with impunity given the closeness of Ekeki police station.”
He called on the people especially the youths to shun any group of persons or politicians, who are bent or desperate to use them as cannon fodder to unleash mayhem on the state, stressing the need for peace, which is germane to healthy socio-economic and political growth of the state.
Night life is gradually grinding to a halt in Yenagoa, a city known for its tranquility except for the pocket of petty crimes before the sad turn of event. Presently, people are being cautious of staying late outside once it is dark given the pattern of attack in the last one week.
The development, though disturbing to residents, has turned out to be a blessing to most married women whose husbands are in the habit of coming home late in the past.
Some women it was also learnt have stocked their fridge at home with drinks so as to ensure that their husbands do not come up with the excuse of wanting cold drink to sneak of out from home once it is dark.
The high number of security operatives on the streets of the capital city notwithstanding, night crawlers have resorted to retiring home early these days for the fear of the unknown, a development that is having its toll on the socio-economic life of the city.