Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
At least one person was injured yesterday when troops attached to the Joint Military Force (JTF), Operation Delta Safe (ODS) clashed with hundreds of protesting ex-militants who erected a blockade on the popular East-West road over their unpaid monthly stipends.
It was learnt that the protesting youth, who sustained wounds during the demonstration was hit by a stray bullet, which was used to disperse the angry demonstrators.
Many of those who participated in the exercise, were also reportedly flogged with horsewhips by the soldiers deployed to halt the protest.
The ex-militants under phases one to three of the amnesty scheme blocked the Mbiama axis of the East-West Road, hindering the movement of motorists and commuters.
However, armed troops of the JTF, who arrived at the scene in two patrol vans immediately attempted to remove the blockade, leading to a confrontation.
When the situation started getting rowdy, the soldiers fired several warning shots in the air which compelled the protesters to scamper to safety in several directions.
But after the dust settled, one person among the protesting ex-fighters was left with wounds, prompting his being rushed to a nearby health centre for treatment.
But when contacted, Lt. Cdr. Thomas Otuji, spokesman of ODS, said the claims that protesters were shot was untrue, noting the soldiers were very professional in dispersing the crowd.
“Our troops were sent to the scene to ensure free flow of traffic and they went there to clear the blockade on the East-West Road and there is no such report at my disposal as we speak, the protesters were professionally dispersed,” Otuji said.
He added: “There was an attempt by some ex-militant youths to block the Mbiama and East-West Road with vehicles. At a point some of the boys were confrontational and were prevailed upon.”
Also, Mr. Piriye Kirayamo, Liaison Officer at the Amnesty Office in Yenagoa said that the office was aware of the money owed the militants but assured that efforts were underway to clear the backlog of stipends.
“We have been in discussions with the ex-agitators and have been appealing to them to remain calm. The office is doing everything to ensure that their stipends are paid,” Kiyaramo noted.
But Elliot Seimiebo, an ex-militant who is on the phase one of the amnesty scheme told journalists that the soldiers used firearms to disperse the peaceful protest aimed at drawing the attention to the neglect of their welfare.
“We had renounced violence and remained peaceful in all our approaches. Our intention was to draw attention to the non-payment of our stipends for four months.
“We were not armed but the soldiers turned their weapons on us and there was confusion as people ran for their lives, one of the protesters was hit by a stray bullet and got injured on his leg,” Seimiebo said.
Another ex-militant youth, identified as Bobra Angese, claimed that the soldiers shocked many of them by ambushing the procession, flogging them with horsewhips.
“When I saw the rowdy scene, I retreated and moved away. But it is not fair that we cannot express ourselves under this democracy. This is the second time, the troops of the Nigerian Army will be doing this to the aggrieved beneficiaries of the Amnesty initiative of the federal government,”, he said.
Many of the aggrieved ex-militants called on the President, Muhammadu Buhari to intervene and ensure that the allowances owed them are paid.