News

April 21, 2024

Manhunt for Okuama killers: Many dead as gunboats opened fire on approaching our community

Okuama

…Igbomotoru returnees relive horrors of military dawn invasion

•Soldiers lay siege to three burnt buildings allegedly belonging to Amagbein, militants

By Samuel Oyadongha & Emem Idio, Yenagoa

Normalcy has returned to  Igbomotoru in Southern  Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa which was deserted on March 17, 2024, following the dawn invasion of the area by armed soldiers in search of the masterminds of killing of 17 soldiers at Okuama, Delta State.

About 20 youths were reportedly killed in Igbomotoru 2 community during the military invasion.

Although there is still heavy military presence in Igbomotoru 2, the base of the fleeing wanted militant leader, Amagbein, with a gunboat stationed at the community jetty, however, there is no such military presence in Igbomotoru I which lies opposite.

While the sight of the armed soldiers is intimidating, community folks said they are going about their normal businesses as the military has made it clear to them that they are only after suspects.

Though many of the residents have returned home to pick up the pieces of their lives, others are yet to summon the courage to return for fear of the unknown, a source said.

Movement to the three buildings razed during the military operation in the community allegedly housing militants, it was learned, is restricted.

It is expected that the Tuesday visit of Governor Douye Diri, alongside the Commander of the 16 Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Brig General Oluremi Obolo, and other top Bayelsa government officials and stakeholders, to the area and Diri’s call on the people to return home will encourage them to return.

Meanwhile, the community folks, men, women, both young and old, youths, children and infants were seen moving freely in their numbers. 

At the town hall and community square where Diri separately addressed the people, the whole strata of the communities came out in their numbers to see the governor.

Many left their farms, engagements and even their cooking to have a glimpse of the governor.

 Fateful Sunday

 An indigene who spoke anonymously told Sunday Vanguard: “Though the situation is now calm, those who lost their loved ones will not forget that fateful Sunday.

“I lost two of my relations who were at the jetty when the gunboats opened fire on approaching our community.

“As we speak, I am saddled with the responsibility of assisting those they left behind. It’s really a difficult time to me.”

Also, a youth, who identified himself and Ebi, said although most of the people fled to nearby communities like Peremabiri, Ekowe, Sangana and others, they returned home when it was clear that the soldiers were looking for only suspects and not innocent villagers.

He said: “The force the military came with that day frightened everyone in the community.

“We were all confused because we didn’t know what was happening and who they were looking for, so everyone panicked and started fleeing the community.

“Few days after, we now became aware of their mission and started coming back to our homes; although some people are yet to come back, we here are doing our own things.”

At the town hall meeting, an indigene of the community and former member of the House of Representatives, Mr Henry Ofongo, said what he heard was different from what he saw when he arrived the community.

Ofongo said: “When the incident happened, the narrative was that the entire community had been razed and people were being killed indiscriminately and all that, that enabled me to come because I was worried hearing that the community was razed.

“So I had to come down and see things for myself. I came down, saw things for myself; thank God the military were very professional.

“I must continue to state it because the narrative was that the entire place was razed, because the first fear was what happened in Odi, is it happening in Igbomotoru?

“After I arrived here, we can now see that it is only the place where the prime suspect was that was burnt down.

“Today, I am glad that the governor is here to see things for himself.”

Another native, Zion, said, “Although we have good rapport with the soldiers, it is just that some persons close to the soldiers are using the situation to witch-hunt perceived opponents.

“Innocent persons should not be punished for the wrong they knew nothing about. The governor’s visit has no doubt doused tension in the area and his call on all those who fled to return and go about their legitimate businesses (fishing farming and trading) is a welcome development.

“But will things be normal as soon as possible, won’t there be with-hunting? “People will still be skeptical not because they are guilty but because they are afraid. Staying away from one’s community as a refugee elsewhere is not easy.

“They don’t know what the people are going through. Looking at young men being cut down for a crime they know nothing about.

“Something happened at Okuama and not the whole community was involved but when the repercussion came, the entire community was made to suffer.

“This is an aberration. And I pray it should not happen to any other community.”