By Emma Amaize, South-South Editor, & Davies Iheamnachor
PORT HARCOURT—CONFU-SION reigned at Abonnema town and neighbouring communities in Akuku-Toru Local Government Area, Rivers State, weekend, as over 10,000 residents fled the troubled areas, following the killing of two soldiers by gunmen.
Reports from the area said soldiers locked down the Abonnema waterways yesterday, over the incident, forestalling movement by boat in the entire local government area.
No fewer than 5,000 panic-stricken residents, including mothers and children, trekked from the community to neighboring towns, sparking fears of humanitarian crisis.
On February 23, during the presidential and National Assembly elections, suspected hooligans shot dead a Lieutenant, leading to the killing of over 10 persons by security agents.
However, late Saturday, thousands of women drawn from different communities in the local government area, stormed the palace of the Amanyanabo of Abonnema Kingdom, His Royal Majesty, King Disrael Gbobo Bob-Manuel, alleging that soldiers massacred over 30 persons and called for barring of soldiers from the community during elections.
The protesting women said soldiers should not be deployed in the area for the March 9 governorship and state House of Assembly elections, but in a counter demonstration, a different group of women insisted on military presence in the area during elections to moderate activities of bandits.
Vanguard learned that on Saturday night, unknown gunmen again invaded the area and killed three soldiers in the area, causing another round of apprehension.
A resident of the area, who did not want his name mentioned, disclosed that the unknown bandits killed the two soldiers around Obonoma community.
He said: “As we speak, we are living in fear. Some gunmen, who I do not believe are from our place, killed two soldiers at Obonomo Road.
“There is fear now because we perceive that military will invade here to carry out reprisal attack.
“I can also confirm to you now that some people are leaving to other communities. Some have moved to the nearest communities in Degema Local Government Area.”
Another villager, who corroborated his claim, told Vanguard on phone: “They said two soldiers were killed, so soldiers are planning reprisal attack.
“As I speak to you, over 5,000 persons have trekked out of Abonnema today (yesterday). They left heir homes without extra food or clothing; they need relief materials wherever they have gone to take refugee.”
Killers not from Abonnema— King Bob-Manuel
Meanwhile, the Amanyanabo of Abonnema Kingdom, His Royal Majesty, King Disrael Gbobo Bob-Manuel, who denounced the killings, said the killers of the military men were not from his community.
He asserted: “The information I am getting is that criminal elements attacked the military check points between Obonoma and Abonnema and killed soldiers.
”We are taken aback at this news, we condemn it in its entirety, this is not the attitude of our people because we have lived with the military for years.
“We are shocked about these attacks on military, I am telling you that the people who killed the military men are not our people. They are criminals who invade our community from time to time for oil bunkering and stealing of other valuables.
“They are bandits who cause us trouble; we are pained by the development. We have asked our people to be vigilant and report any suspicious person to us and the security so that they will be arrested.”
Council of Chiefs, Ruler beg Army to recall soldiers
Chairman, Council of Chiefs, Obonoma, and the Paramount Ruler of Agu group of House, High-Chief Philip Brown Agu, also slammed the killing of soldiers, which he described as disheartening.
Agu expressed regrets that angry soldiers have taken over the community, pleading with the Nigerian Army to caution its men.
He said: “I got the information that the gunmen, who are not from my place, killed military men. My people are now living in fear because of the incident.
“Obonoma has been a peaceful place and we do not harbour criminals, but because of the incident of 23 February, where some people that we do not know killed army men, we now live in fear.
“We are not happy with the demise of the Army men that were killed. I condemn this development. Nobody has the right to take the life of another person.
“I am pleading with the Nigerian Army to call their men to order. I hear that Army is now on rampage in my community and it is bad. My subjects are now leaving in fear,” he added.