Tension heightened in Rivers State on Thursday after a Major in the Nigerian Army and two other soldiers were killed during a shootout with a group of gunmen.
It was learnt that the incident, which occurred at about 11am in Abonnema in the Akuku-Toru Local Government Area, lasted for about 40 minutes as the soldiers and the militants exchanged gunfire.
Sources said the soldiers were ambushed by the gunmen, who later escaped through the waterways in Abonemma after the encounter.
The soldiers were said to be on a routine patrol of the area when they ran into the militants’ fire on Thursday.
A source in the area explained that some residents fled the community when they heard the booming of guns in the area.
“We learnt that a Major and two soldiers were killed when soldiers and the gunmen started shooting. Though we were far away, we heard the sound of the gunshots and people were afraid,” the source, who gave his name as Charles, said.
But the 2 Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, said one officer and a soldier were killed during a gun battle.
In a statement on Thursday, the Assistant Director, Army Public Relations of the 2 Brigade, Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, Captain Eli Lazarus, said the officer and soldiers (names withheld), who sustained varying degrees of injuries, lost their lives.
“At about 11am today, Thursday, March 17, 2016, troops on patrol in Abonemma, Akuku-Toru LGA of Rivers State, had a fierce encounter with unknown gunmen. Our troops displayed extraordinary valour.
“Unfortunately, an officer and a soldier, who sustained varying degrees of injuries during the encounter, lost their lives,” Lazarus said in the statement.
He, however, pointed out that security operatives were currently in pursuit of the hoodlums, promising that the army would apprehend them.
Lazarus stated, “All law-abiding citizens are urged to go about their lawful activities. The Army will continue to make necessary sacrifices to ensure sustainable peace, security of lives and property of all.”
Meanwhile, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in the 2015 election, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, has condemned the killing of the Major and two soldiers.
Peterside blamed the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, and the Peoples Democratic Party for the killing of the soldiers.
He explained that Wike and the PDP were culpable based on their proclivity for provocative statements and threats, both to the citizenry and security officials.
Peterside 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 rerun election, not war. We have all watched in the last couple of weeks, the governor’s utterances and instructions.
“We know that the fruits of 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.”
The state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Dr. Austin Tam-George, however, disagreed with Peterside, saying the governor and the PDP knew nothing about the ugly incident.
Tam-George specifically blamed the APC for the death of the Major and the soldiers, alleging that the opposition party in the state did it in order to blackmail the PDP.
“The APC is responsible for their (major and two soldiers) death. Those soldiers may have been killed by the APC in order to blackmail the PDP,” Tam-George stressed.
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In continuation of the killings in the state, however, some daredevil gunmen invaded Mgbuitanwo community in the Emohua Local Government Area of the state on Thursday, and beheaded a 28-year-old man, identified as Mr. Ukeoma.
The gunmen also kidnapped one Mr. Eruchi during their operation that began at about 5.30am.
It was gathered that the gunmen, who were suspected to be cult members, took revenge after the alleged killing of their member by a rival cult group.
Eruchi was said to have been abducted when it became clear that their second target was not anywhere within their reach.
“They severed Ukeoma’s head and legs from his body before they left with Eruchi. They broke into the house early in the morning before attacking their victims,” a source, who did not want his name mentioned, said.
The mode of operation of the assailants was said to be similar to that of the attack that led to the recent killing and beheading of Franklin Obi, the Chairman of the APC, Ward 4 and two members of his family in Omoku in the Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni LGA.
However, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Ahmad Muhammad, said he had yet to receive the report of the attack in Emohua.
Meanwhile, the national leadership of the PDP alleged on Thursday that the crisis in Rivers State was caused with the aim of imposing emergency rule in the state.
It therefore warned that dire consequences would follow any attempt by the APC to push its alleged plot to impose a state of emergency on the state.
The party said it had also rallied all its formations in the state to strongly resist, by all means necessary in a democracy, any move to scuttle the Saturday’s National and State Assembly reruns in the state.
The PDP, in a statement by the National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, said, “The party is privy to a grand design by the APC to orchestrate violence in the state with a view to truncating the election, having realised that the PDP and its candidates are more popular and ready to win overwhelmingly the rerun.
“We are aware that the orchestration of violence is designed to serve as a stimulus to the planned imposition of a state of emergency to enable the APC to forcefully take over the state, which it failed to get through the ballot box.
“We also know the design to unleash violence is behind the recent infamous call by the APC spokesman in Ondo State, Omo’ba Abayomi Adesanya, for emergency rule in Rivers State.
“What else, apart from the execution of this plot explains the complaints from our candidates and members in Rivers State of constant threats by partisan security operatives as well as the recent gale of arrests, attacks and killing of PDP supporters in the state?”
Metuh said Rivers State “is a stronghold of the PDP and that such profane quest would be squarely and comprehensively greeted with intense resistance and very dire consequences.”
But the APC accused Governor Nyesom Wike of issuing fresh death threats against officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission and security agencies, especially the Army, deployed in Rivers State for the election.
A statement by the APC National Secretary, Mai Buni, in Abuja, on Thursday, expressed worry with what he called a “fresh, reckless and irresponsible statements including death threats” issued by Wike.
Buni said the APC considered the governor’s petition to the United Nations, European Union, Africa Union and the governments of about 50 countries, demanding “global surveillance” of the Rivers re-run, as an affront to the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the INEC and the sovereignty of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
The statement reads in part, “On Tuesday, Nyesom Wike accused INEC Commissioner, Mrs. Amina Zakari, of an unsubstantiated and cooked up plot to swap election result sheets in the yet-to-be-conducted election. He went ahead to issue a death threat to the INEC Commissioner over the unsubstantiated and cooked-up plot.
“The APC takes Nyesom Wike’s death threats and campaign of calumny against critical national institutions, including the Nigerian Army, very seriously.
“Under Nyesom Wike’s watch, the country and indeed the international community have been traumatised by the daily lynching, maiming, killing and beheading of APC members and supporters in Rivers State.’’
It also enjoined relevant security agencies to hold Wike responsible for any breakdown of law and order before, during and after the March 19 rerun.
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