Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
The Nigerian military on Tuesday ramped up its organised search for some suspected militants who killed at least three soldiers, injured some civilians and carted off several ammunition and gunboats in the waterways of Nembe, Bayelsa State on Monday.
In keeping with its vow to smoke out the culprits, the Joint Task Force, Operation Delta Safe, headed by Rear Admiral Joseph Okojie, it was learnt, deployed several detachments of troops comprising mainly the maritime component of the security outfit in the area.
“Operation Delta Safe will go on the offensive to fish out all criminals,” Okojie pledged.
On a visit to the scene yesterday, the commander assured the people of Nembe that the perpetrators of the dastardly act would be made to account for their mindless actions, adding that his men were already on their trail.
He however, urged members of the community to volunteer useful information to the military authorities, stressing that innocent citizens would not be molested.
The operation, it was gathered, also led to the blockade of major entry and exit routes in the creeks of Nembe and its surroundings even as residents continued to flee the coastal town which also witnessed the murder of five soldiers at about the same time last year.
Other units of the JTF in the Niger Delta, including land and air were also said to be involved in the military operation to rout the hoodlums who, decked in white robes, disguised as mourners on Monday and opened fire on the unsuspecting troops at the checkpoint along the waterside.
One source told THISDAY that at least two military fighter jets had been hovering around the ‘Area of Interest’ since the military massively moved into the place after the incident.
But residents who started fleeing Monday morning have refused to return even as of yesterday evening despite assurances from the state government and the leadership of the JTF that their safety was guaranteed.
Deputy Governor of the state, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah (rtd), who visited the community yesterday to assess the situation, commiserated with the Nigerian military over the brutal killing of the soldiers by the armed bandits.
Addressing the people of Nembe at the King Koko Square, Nembe, yesterday, Jonah, who represented Governor Seriake Dickson, asserted that the killing of the innocent soldiers was senseless, barbaric and not in the best interest of the government and people of the state.
He described the incident as most painful and unfortunate, pointing out that a similar one occurred in July, last year, where soldiers were attacked at the same security checkpoint in Nembe, resulting in some deaths at the time.
Aside the deputy governor, others in the government delegation to the area were Rear Admiral Okojie, Ben Ololo of the state House of Assembly, representing Nembe Constituency I, Jonathan Obuebite , Commissioner for Information and Orientation and Chief Kuroghofa Ben-Wari , Chairman, Nembe Local Government Council.
The state government delegation asserted that the visit to the scene of the incident became necessary so as to console and engage the military authorities, with a view to dousing the palpable tension in the community.
While urging members of the community, who had fled to return home, the government called on youths and other stakeholders to collaborate with the military authorities in order to bring the perpetrators of the crime to book.
Other leaders of the community who spoke on the occasion, noted that since the coming of JTF to Nembe, the community had enjoyed relative peace.
They said members of the community would continue to cooperate with the military to ensure that perpetrators were apprehended and made to face the law.
However, a notable chief from the community, Wilfred Ogbotobo, said it had become expedient for the federal government to confront the militants with maximum force instead of pampering and indulging them.
He said treating criminals with kid gloves was the reason why they had become emboldened to carry out attacks.