Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
Soldiers attached to the Joint Task Force, the security outfit fighting insurgency and other criminalities in the Niger Delta, have shot and killed a boat operator in the waterways of Bayelsa.
THISDAY gathered that the young man who hailed from Olugbobiri, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, Bayelsa State, was allegedly cut down in error by the security operatives after mistaking him for a militant.
The shooting of the man identified as Ernest is consequent upon the disquiet that has pervaded the Niger Delta waterways as a result of the activities of militants who have recently begun the destruction of oil facilities in the region.
It was learnt that the victim worked with one of the oil servicing firms in the region before the encounter with the security operatives.
The troops were reportedly patrolling the waterways in search of militants when they mistook the occupants of the speedboat operated by Ernest for hoodlums and fired at it.
A source noted that the banned 200 horsepower boat engine attracted the troops who attempted flagging down the boat which was moving from Brass to an undisclosed location.
The occupants of the boat on noticing the patrol boat and armed uniform soldiers, however, suspected them to be another gang of pirates that had in recent times attacked commuters in the waterways.
It was gathered that the mode of operation of the sea robbers was usually to dress in military camouflage, a situation that the occupants of the boat tried to flee from.
“Ernest was coming from Brass when he noticed a patrol boat. But all the occupants of the boat thought the patrol boat belonged to pirates. They reasoned that pirates have always disguised like soldiers to attack unsuspecting members of the public.
“They ignored all the efforts by the patrol boat to stop them. While they were speeding out of perceived danger, the soldiers released a warning gunshot into the air. But the speedboat kept moving. Out of fear the occupants jumped into the water and swarmed into the mangroves”.
He, however, said Ernest was the only one left in the boat when the soldiers fired at it, adding that the bullet hit the boat operator who died on the spot.
He said the soldiers later approached the boat and discovered that the dead driver was harmless.
“They took the remains to a morgue in a hospital in Yenagoa, the state capital’’, the source added.
A human rights activist and state representative, Environmental Rights Action (ERA), Mr. Alagoa Morris, condemned the shooting and killing of the young man.