Three soldiers were yesterday killed in an ambush by militants at Nembe, Bayelsa State. The militants were said to have ambushed the soldiers at the newly established Joint Task Force (JTF), Operation Delta Safe (ODS) checkpoint around 9:30am.
Reacting, JTF said it would, henceforth, go on the offensive to fish out militants operating in the creeks of Niger Delta.
The militants carted away military gunboats, riffles and ammunition after sacking JTF operatives at the checkpoint.
The checkpoint, it was gathered, is at the entrance of Nembe community and has been there since militancy began in the Niger Delta.
The checkpoint had been attacked in the past by gunmen who also killed JTF operatives and carted away their weapons.
It was gathered that sounds of gunshots unsettled the community during the attack that lasted for about 30 minutes.
There was pandemonium in the community as residents, who initially thought that their area was under siege, scampered for safety.
The gunmen, who operated in many speedboats, were said to have dressed in white robes to deceive the soldiers.
Their outfit, it was gathered, was designed to create the impression that they were on a funeral procession.
A Nembe resident, who spoke in confidence to The Nation, said there was apprehension in the community.
He said: “The attack was deadly and well-planned. Nobody had expected that such a thing would happen at such time when the jetties were busy with people preparing to go about their normal business activities.
“I am sure even the soldiers did not expect such an incident to happen at that time. Some persons who were already sailing out of Nembe said they saw the gunmen but dismissed them as mourners because they were dressed in white robes”.
The source said some residents had started fleeing the community, with others contemplating doing so because of fear of reprisal.
“We are leaving in fear because the military may decide to raid the community. Some persons are already leaving while others are thinking of doing so because of the tension in the Niger Delta”, he said.
It was gathered that the military was jolted by the incident.
ODS Commander Rear Admiral Joseph Okojie was said to have convened a meeting of top military officers at the command to deliberate on the incident.
He was said to have ordered full investigation into the incident and dispatched special patrol to comb the creeks for the miscreants.
Leaders in the state were said to be afraid that the incident could lead to full-blown militancy and military operations.
A Niger Delta activist, Mr. Alagoa Morris, lamented that the region was gradually sliding back to full-scale militancy.
He said: “The land is gradually sliding back to full scale militancy and it is an unhealthy scenario; an ill-wind which will blow no one any good. Definitely, residents will be scared and will even begin to relocate or contemplate to relocate.”
Bayelsa State Deputy Governor Rear Admiral John Jonah (retd), who hails from Nembe, has visited the area on assessment.
Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) President Udengs Eradiri condemned the incident, saying there was no alternative to peace in the region.
He advised youths involved in violence to stop forthwith in the interest of the region and residents in coastal communities.
According to him, it is criminal and suicidal to think of attacking security personnel. He urged the security agencies to go after the culprits.
Eradiri said the IYC would support only a peaceful and intellectual approach to the agitation for a better Niger Delta region.
He said: “I am not happy with this development. I want to appeal to all the youths involved in this violence to sheathe their swords and allow peace to reign in this region.
“People should stop undertaking actions to portray the Niger Delta as a region of violence. We need peace and on the platform of peace the IYC stands.
“I am also calling on the security agencies especially the military to investigate the incident thoroughly and go after the real culprits.”
Though no group claimed responsibility for the attack, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) has been leading a violent campaign to cripple oil installations in the region.
Soldiers and oil workers had been killed in the region in similar operations since NDA started its violence, but the group denied responsibility for the killings.
The ongoing dialogue to end hostilities in the region has generated tension and resulted in the breakaway of the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers (RNDA) from the NDA.
A statement by the RNDA naming prominent leaders from the region as its sponsors has further deepened anxieties.
The government and the military have also said they would not rule out force if the ongoing dialogue failed.
All the military formations have hinted that they were on’red alert’ for a full operation if the negotiations collapsed.