By Kingsley Omonobi, Daud Olatunji & Angela Okpe
Many people were feared dead, yesterday, as the Military commenced bombardment of Iroko creeks in Arepo area of Ogun State, suspected to be inhabited by militants.
This is just as gunmen, suspected to be militants, stormed Isawo area of Ikorodu, Lagos, and abducted a man identified simply as Hyginius.
The bombardment, it was gathered, was carried out by the Military and police but it was not clear, last night, if those killed included civilians living around the creeks.
Details of the operation, said to have lasted 20 minutes, was sketchy at press time. But unconfirmed report had it that several lives were lost with about 30 houses destroyed.
It was gathered that some helicopters were sighted hovering around the creeks at about 5.30p.m., followed by sporadic gunshots, which jolted the militants. Some of them were said to have hid inside the river.
Residents of Elepete area, who apparently thought it was another attack from militants, scampered for safety.
Police sources said “it was a joint operation.”
It was gathered that the helicopters deployed in the operation were of the Air Force, while personnel of the three forces, comprising the Army Navy and Air Force and Police were on board the boats that combed the creeks.
A source said: “These militants are responsible for the attacks on residents at Elepete and Igbolomu areas of Ikorodu. It is an ongoing operation.”
Several were killed—Resident
A resident, Nmadu Chionye, said: “We heard the gunshots and took cover. But when we contacted the security men, they told us they were in charge. We learned several persons were killed, but none can tell the exact number.”
Effort to get the reactions of the military and police failed as they kept mum.
However, a senior Army officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “It is too early to speak on such sensitive exercise. You will be briefed at the appropriate time please. There is no cause to panic.”
Ogun Police Commissioner spits fire
However, new Ogun State Police Commissioner, Ahmed Illiyasu, who resumed yesterday, had given a hint of what lay ahead when he threatened a showdown with militants and other criminals in the state.
The commissioner, who spoke during the handing over ceremony by the immediate past Commissioner of Police, AIG Abdulmajid Ali, in Abeokuta, disclosed that the command had already made tactical deployment of policemen to the affected areas to flush out the militants.
He said: “These people (militants) are hoodlums and already a very detailed report had been written and studied on them. We have made tactical and covert deployment of our men to flush them out of that place.
“Several operations are going to be carried out and the process has begun. We are assuring the people of their safety.
“We want to raise the security we met to the next level. We want to make the state safer and more secured than ever before.”
Reacting to the development, Defence Headquarters, Abuja, said there was no aerial bombardment of the Arepo because of the critical infrastructure which involved oil and gas pipelines playing pivotal services to the nation’s economy.
Acting Director of Defence Information, Brig-General Rabe Abubakar, who gave the clarification last night, however, said what happened was that the military and security agencies, in a joint operation codenamed Operation Awathe, under the Command of the Defence Headquarters, carried out a normal security operation to wipe out pipeline vandals and oil and gas criminals bent on sabotaging the economic assets of the nation.
He noted that there was no way the military could have bombarded the area because of the environmental damage that would also be inflicted on the area.
Abubakar said: “Arepo is of critical importance to the nation and the infrastructure on ground has cost the nation huge resources to put in place. It is true we have received complaints and petitions about the activities of vandals and criminals causing problems and destroying pipelines and siphoning crude.
“But the military did not and cannot bomb the critical economic infrastructure in place there.”