By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
WHEN the people of Opuama, Ogbinbiri, Polobubor, Ofunama, Ajakuruma and other communities of Egbema Kingdom, Warri North Local Government Area, Delta State, cried out, early this month, over the siege to the riverine territory by the military Joint Task Force, JTF, little did they know that the soldiers were doing them good.
The annoyance of the people led by the President, Egbema Leaders of Thought, Elder Edmund Doyah Tiemo, was understandably justified by inconveniences that the unforeseen lock-down caused the over 45,000 villagers, who ran out of food and medical supplies.
On the other hand, fierce-looking soldiers allegedly combing for an infamous militant leader, sea robber, kidnap kingpin and his boys suspected to have attacked a military formation at Obodo, Warri South local government area and some soldiers were unwavering on their mission. They had intelligence information that the gangsters were taking cover in the kingdom.
The contention of most villagers was that the law-abiding people of Egbema had not committed any crime to merit the lock down and JTF should rather cut off the criminals and deal with them. It took the intervention of the Chief of Army Staff and other authorities for the military to lift the siege which started, July 2, six days after, following the outcries of the traumatized people. Nonetheless, soldiers maintained regular patrol of military boats on the Benin River axis, which still caused apprehension.
Military blockade turns blessing in disguise!
A week after soldiers eased the line of defense, specifically July 15, the unimaginable happened. The militant leader, who had gone into hiding and his gang, took members of Egbema Peace Keeping Force, a local vigilante headed by Mr Camp Steve Ayebo, which was on its routine patrol on the waterways by surprise.
Reports said the leader of the group, Ayebo, Tewei and five other peacekeepers working with ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, to sustain peace in Warri, were shot dead, but information later indicated that three of them were found alive three days after. In the ill-fated routine patrol were Ayebo, Tewei Kiti, aka Oyile, King Ceaser Jeff Agbe, Chucks Worwei, aka Igwe, Police Iteli and Ikiokenighan Gorroh.
Before the black Thursday, the suspected militant leader, who had been engaged in a running battle with leaders of Egbema kingdom and the peace keepers for setting up a militant camp in the area, had, June 18, attacked the vigilante group and killed a member.
Apprehension gripped the entire Egbema kingdom as families of the deceased persons and concerned villagers wept and demanded vengeance.
Chairman, Concerned Egbema Indigenes, CEI, Silas Toruwei, condemned the attack on the peace keepers, saying: “I will never support this because it is very bad, I am so ashamed of those deriving joy in killing each other. Let us stop this killing and be in harmony among ourselves, let love lead us.”
He urged security personnel to fish out the perpetrators and bring them to face the full wrath of the law.
Another community leader said: “The death of Ayebo and others has thrown their families and people of Egbema kingdom into mourning and sleepless nights. The people are crying because these were people who volunteered to protect our lives at the risk of their own. They have wives and children.”
Militant leader erected camp, refused to vacate
A source told Saturday Vanguard: “The notorious militant leader, who refused entreaties to vacate Egbema kingdom where he built a camp actually fled from Lagos, following a bombardment on criminals by soldiers and settled in Ondo state.”
“But some ex-militant leaders in collaboration with security agents used one of the boys working for his master to eliminate his boss. Piqued, he organized and carried out a retaliatory attack, killing the member that led them to his master, after which he relocated to Egbema kingdom.
“Initially, people did not know what he was doing in Egbema until he set up a camp, engaged in kidnapping activities, sea piracy and indeed, foisted a reign of terror on the kingdom. But all attempts to dislodge him failed as he refused peace overtures from Tompolo,” the source revealed.
Why we back 2nd lock down – Asekutu, Warri North chair
Chairman of Warri North, Hon. Captain Smart Asekutu, declared the local government’s support for a second lock down on Egbema kingdom by JTF.
Asekutu, in a statement, July 16, at Koko, headquarters of the council, said: “The latest lock down along our waterways was as a result of a fresh fatal shooting along the Benin River axis of our waterways, last Thursday night, by some criminal elements who ambushed our local vigilantes whereupon some of these gallant men lost their lives in a very gruesome manner.
“That in an attempt to help save the lives and property of our people, security personnel have launched this second blockade to enable them go after these undesirable elements who masterminded the ambush and killings of these men.
“That the security men also wish to appeal to the general public to show some understanding, noting that the blockade on the river way is not done to target anyone, but was done in the interest of everybody as more lives would be saved than lost under the present operation, both the local government area and the military will not be happy to see the ban lifted today, while these same criminals take over activities around our waterways so soon.
‘Frankly speaking, no responsible government would take such risk and we, therefore, appeal for some more time to enable the uniform men do a thorough mop –up operations to ensure some measure of safety before committing anybody to the waterway.
“That the local government council wishes to express her deepest condolences to the families and colleagues of these gallant vigilantes who were murdered in their prime in the line of duty and promise not to forget their efforts.
“Above all, while empathizing with our people under this difficult time, we wish to still plead that we keep the peace, avoid any form of protest/procession, but to support and cooperate with security agents to speed up their job so the waterways can be opened very soon for the good of all,” the local government boss said.