Between Thursday, March 17 and Friday, March 18, no fewer than three soldiers, including a Major were killed by unknown gunmen in two communities in Rivers State.
The first incident, involving a Major and another soldier occurred along the creeks off Abonnema, headquarters of Akuku-Toru local government area of the state, while the other occurred at Egi community in Ogba/Egbema/ Ndoni local government area of the state.
According to Captain Eli Lazarus, the deputy director, Army Public Relations, 2 Brigade, Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, the two soldiers were killed while another two were injured when they were ambushed by suspected sea pirates off the Abonnema at about 11:00am.
A statement, which was issued by Lazarus reads in part, “At about 11am today, Thursday, March 17, troops on patrol in Abonnema, had a fierce encounter with a group of unknown gunmen suspected to be sea pirates.
“Our troops displayed extraordinary valour. Unfortunately, an officer, and a soldier, who sustained various degree of injury during the encounter, lost their lives. We are in pursuit of the criminals and will surely get them.”
He urged members of the public to go about their lawful activities, assuring that the Army would continue to make necessary sacrifices to ensure sustainable peace, security of lives and property.
Less than 24 hours later, Lazarus issued another statement alerting the public about the killing of another security agents by unknown gunmen at Egi community, in the volatile Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area of the state.
The statement reads in part, “A joint security team consisting of the army, police and DSS while on conducting patrol today at Egi in Omoku Community of Ogba/Ndoni/Egbema local government area of Rivers State were attacked by unknown gunmen.
“The criminals engaged the security team for several hours before they were eventually dislodged. Sadly, a security agent lost his life in the unfortunate incident. Reinforcement has been sent to beef up security in the area and normalcy has been restored.
“The general public is hereby advised to remain calm and be law abiding throughout the election period and beyond as security agents will continue to work assiduously to ensure security of lives and property.”
However, there seems to be disagreement between Abonnema community in Akuku-Toru local government area and Bille community in Degema local government area of the state, over the actual place where the two soldiers were killed on Thursday, March 17, 2016.
While the people of Abonnema are insisting that the soldiers were not killed in their community but were ambushed and killed along the creeks, close to Bille community, the people of Bille denied that the incident happened in their territory.
Annkio Briggs, an environmental right activist and indigene of Abonnema, said, “The soldiers were not killed in Abonnema town. What ever happened, happened in the creeks. However we condemn the killing of the military men at this time.”
But, in a swift reaction, Asatubo Igbamibo Kemuel, chairman, Community Development Committee (CDC), Bille community, said, “From what we gathered, the soldiers were chased from the Abonnema axis of the Sombreiro River into the Bille territory.
“Whereas we call on the authority of the Nigerian Army to carry out proper investigation of the incident, and bring the perpetrators to justice, we do advice the general public to be cautious in making unconfirmed statements about Bille.”
To Governor Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike, the death of the soldiers in a gun battle with sea pirates was unfortunate but had nothing to do with the National and State Assembly rerun election, held on Saturday, March 19, 2016.
However, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the main opposition political party in the state, disagreed with Wike, but fingered the governor and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the incident.
According to Chris Finebone, the publicity secretary of APC in the state, “Governor Wike said the killings in Rivers State were amongst cult groups. Now, were the Major of the Nigerian Army and the other soldiers killed cult members? Wike and his evil deeds will soon be exposed.”
To Dr. Dakuku Adol Peterside, the director-general of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the killing of the soldiers was condemnable, as he also accused the state governor and the PDP of being culpable for the ugly incident, following their alleged proclivity for provocative statements and threats, both to the citizenry and security officials.
Peterside, who was the APC governorship candidate in the 2015 election, said, “What has happened today reinforces our earlier position on the conflagration that is capable of resulting from the hate speeches of Wike and members of the PDP.
“How can this needless loss of lives be explained on the eve of an election? Those who are responsible for these unnecessary deaths and violence in Rivers State have indeed taken Rivers State and the entire country for a ride for too long.
“But we must not continue like this. This is a re-run election, not war. We have all watched in the last couple of weeks, the governor’s utterances and instructions and we know that the fruits from his inciting speeches would be harvested in a matter of time. The world can now see the consequences of those statements.
“I think this madness must stop. Even as we prepare for this re-run election, there are information making the round that over 3000 boys have already been imported into Abonema for Saturday elections from neighbouring Delta and Bayelsa states. This is where we find ourselves today but we must all wake up and save Rivers State before it is too late.”
On its part, the PDP and the state government blamed the APC for the incident, alleging that cultists sponsored by the opposition political party was plotting to pitch the people of the state against the military.
The state commissioner for Information and Communications, Dr. Austin Tam-George, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt, called for an independent international investigation into the condemnable killing of two soldiers near Abonnema.
Tam-George said, “The Government and people of Rivers State are saddened by the unfortunate killing of the officer and soldier.
We call for an independent international investigation to ascertain those behind the killings.
“However, we strongly believe that APC sponsored cultists may be behind the killing of these soldiers in their ugly plot to pitch innocent Rivers communities against the military.”