Military to escalate operation,  as searchlight on suspected militant leader, associates intensify


From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa and Ben Dunno, Warri

Following the unprovoked killing last week of 16 officers and men of the Nigerian Army by suspected militants in Okuama community in Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State, the military will, in the coming days, escalate ongoing efforts to nab the killers.

Findings from military sources indicate that the operation would intensify in the coming days as the military intends to ‘smoke’ out the wanted militant leader. According to the source, the military operations in the coming days would be diverse, using both land and the water to ensure there is no escape route for members of the criminal gang that killed the soldiers. The source, who stated that the military was working on intelligence tips and would follow all trails to capture those that carried out the brutal killing, said the search light was being beamed on close associates of the militant leader, including those presently occupying public offices.

He said the action of the military is in line with the directives of President Bola Tinubu and the Chief of Defence Staff to ensure that the killers are apprehended. 

Meanwhile, some communities in Bayelsa State have been living in fear. The tense situation in Bayelsa communities, especially Igbomotoru and Peremabiri, which are both in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, is linked to the manhunt for a particular militant leader (named withheld) who is suspected to have led members of his group to carry out the killings.

The wanted militant leader, Saturday Sun learnt, hails from Igbomotoru in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, although he has his maternal roots in Okuama in Delta State, where the ambush and attack on the soldiers took place. Since the incident and with reports linking the said militant leader to the killings, uneasy calm has been the lot of the people in Igbomotoru and Peremabiri. The military had invaded and cordoned off Igbomotoru few days after the killings. Although there has been no confirmation from official sources, there have been unconfirmed allegations, including some videos on the social media, that no fewer than 11 persons believed to be loyalists of the militant leader have been neutralised by the military in the Bayelsa communities.

Investigations revealed that the military has cordoned off the community, making it impossible for people to go in or out of the community. Military sources said the action was to ensure that the militant leader and his gang members have nowhere to run to.

Residents of the affected communities in Delta and Bayelsa, it was gathered, are living in fear.

Even though the military and the Bayelsa State governments have allayed their fear, insisting that innocent people have nothing to fear, tension is at an all-time high in the area. The apprehension in the community is palpable. A councillor representing the area, Ayibakipriye Solomon Suobo, in an interview, said the military operation had negatively affected the lives of the people. He told Saturday Sun: “The situation has not improved since the military invaded the community. Now the community has been cordoned off. Nobody goes in and comes out. The people are stranded. Many are still living in the bush over the fear of the military. Some with bullet wounds have nobody to treat them.”

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A resident of Igbomotoru, Madam Pratricia lamented that the presence of the military was preventing many from engaging in farming and fishing activities, making living unbearable for the people. 

In neighbouring Peremabiri, residents expressed apprehension, noting that the military operation had extended to the community. Youth President of Peremabiri, Benjamin Ebinibo said military personnel in gunboats invaded the community earlier on Wednesday and Thursday in search of the wanted militant leader, a situation he said had caused panic in the community. He noted that the community had no history of harbouring militants.

His words: “On Wednesday and Thursday, the military came in two gunboats to the community. During their first visit, they searched houses but they did not find those they were looking for. The people of Peremabiri are living in fear. We do not harbour militants. Our community is peaceful.”

Mr. Alagoa Morris, who is also from Southern Ijaw, pleaded that the military should not allow the innocent to suffer.

“With restrictions in Igbomotoru, which has caused a situation where nobody is allowed to go about and engage in the people’s traditional means of livelihood – fishing and farming – the people may die of hunger if not by a bullet. “The federal and state authorities should step in and save the lives of innocent law-abiding Nigerians in the community. Even in the ongoing war in Gaza, humanitarian workers are going in with drugs, food and water. While criminals should pay for their crimes, the innocent should enjoy protection of the law.”

Many residents of Okuama community in Delta State where the military personnel were ambushed and murdered, it was gathered, have since fled to nearby communities, including Okwagbe, Ewu, Orere, Evwreni, Ughelli, Isoko and other adjoining settlements.

Some of the persons, who spoke with one of our correspondents, lamented that they never planned for their long ordeal. They stated that there was little provision for food, stating that many of their young children and the aged could no longer bear the hunger they were experiencing in their new locations.

They pleaded with the military authorities to allow them return to their home, as they do not have a means of livelihood to survive in the places they were currently hiding.

A human rights activist and an indigene of the neighbouring Ewu in Delta State, Comrade Edewor Egedegbe, appealed to the military authorities to ensure that innocent people do not suffer. He urged the military to rather deploy intelligence to fish out the perpetrators of the dastardly act.

“I wish to condemn the killing of these experienced soldiers. I hereby commiserate with both their families and the military authorities for this great loss. I also want to sympathise with the families of the civilians, especially the people of Okuoma community who lost their families since the hostilities broke out in the area.

“At this stage, I would like to urge the military authorities to relax their onslaught on the community. They should allow the displaced people to return to their homes, as a serious humanitarian case is beginning to be experienced within the neighbouring settlements.”