Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
Soldiers attached to the Joint Military Task Force (Operation Delta Safe, OPDS), have allegedly shot dead Shooting Stars defender, Izu Joseph.
The player who was on vacation in his home town of Okakhi, a border town between Bayelsa and Rivers states after the 2015/2016 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season was shot dead last Sunday.
THISDAY correspondent in Bayelsa reported yesterday that the incident has heightened tension in Okakhi, the community where the deceased footballer hailed from with restive youths expressing anger over the killing.
Eyewitness account reported that the soldiers were said to have been on a raid of some parts of the community in search of suspected militants when the encounter led to the death of the central defender who moved from Bayelsa United Football Club to the Ibadan-based 3SC took place.
THISDAY further learnt that Izu who helped Shooting Stars retained their NPFL status, died after he was shot three times by the soldiers.
“He was an easy going person loved by many in the area. He owned a house in this community,” a friend of the late footballer recalled monday.
It was learnt that the shooting incident threw the community into panic, while soldiers shot into the air intermittently to keep residents indoors.
Another friend of the deceased footballer, who identified himself as Nyieye, said the deceased along with an unidentified number of friends in the community were shot dead in retaliation as some of the community youths “angered” the troops a day before the incidence.
“Though Okakhi community is known for hosting some bad boys, they are not militants. They smoke and drink in the area but do not take part in the militancy prevalent in the Niger Delta region.
“As an established footballer from the community, many of the youths usually hang around him anytime he was in town from his base in Ibadan and he would reciprocate by buying them drinks.
“We gathered that some of the youths had the previous days angered some soldiers with Operation Delta Safe and they choose to strike when Izu Joseph was hanging out with his people. He was shot three times before the soldiers left him for dead. Other youths also died in the shooting but we only heard about the case of Izu,” Nyieye confirmed to THISDAY.
Deputy Coordinator of the Joint Media Campaign Centre of OPDS, Lt. Cmdr Thomas Otuji, denied knowledge of the incident but said he would investigate and make a position known soon.
“We are just coming out of a meeting and nothing of such was mentioned. I am just hearing it from you and I am going to investigate and let you know the outcome”, the joint task force spokesman stressed in a reply to THISDAY enquiry.
Police Spokesman in Bayelsa State, Mr Asinim Butswat, told THISDAY that Okakhi though around the border between the two states, fell in the jurisdiction of the Rivers State Police Command, noting that he couldn’t make any official comment on the issue. Okakhi is located in the Ahoada West Local Government Area of Rivers State.
In his reaction, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) President, Amaju Pinnick, was much grieved when he learnt of the incident, and immediately put a telephone call through to the father of the late footballer, who agonizingly narrated the tragic circumstances in which the young Joseph was killed.
Pinnick said afterwards: “I am sorely distraught with what has happened. It is a most unfortunate incident that has brought sorrow to the Nigeria football family, barely a week after we were celebrating victory in a World Cup qualifying match.
“What has happened is most painful. I want to appeal to our football players to always be mindful of the company they keep and the places they go at all times, because they are special assets. At the end of the day, each and every one of us will die, but we don’t want to be losing footballers in the manner Izu Joseph has died.”
The NFF boss prayed for the repose of the soul of the late Izu Joseph, while also praying that God will give the family he has left behind, the Shooting Stars Sports Club and the Nigeria football family the fortitude to bear the loss.