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Azagbene community recounts loss, pain of military ‘visit’

Burnt buildings in Azagbene
Burnt buildings in Azagbene

More condemnations have continued to trail last week’s soldiers’ invasion of Azagbene community in Ekeremor Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, where more than 50 residential houses were razed and people displaced from the community.

The soldiers from the 16 Brigade of the Nigerian Army were said to be searching for suspected militants who allegedly killed two of their colleagues guarding an oil facility in the area.

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When Daily Trust visited the community, the whole place was almost desolate, as residents were said to have been moved to a nearby community to take shelter.

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It was gathered that suspected militants who came in a speedboat, struck on Monday night, leaving two soldiers dead, one other missing and carted away their riffles.

Business activities in the community are at zero level as most people have left the community for safety.

A community source who craved anonymity had said, “When the soldiers entered our community, they directed us to leave because they were going to burn everything to the ground and that anybody that fails to comply with the directive would be killed.

“Before some of us left the community, I saw the building of our paramount ruler on fire; even my family house has been burnt to the ground. As I speak with you, we are suffering for a crime we didn’t commit.”

Attacks on security personnel in Bayelsa State have become rampant in recent times. Last year, airmen of the Nigerian Air Force were attacked at their Helipad in Igbogene axis of Yenagoa, where two officers were killed and their guns carted away. Just last month, a police division in Ekpetiama clan was also attacked and the DPO and four other cops, including a pregnant officer, were killed and their guns taken away.

Incidentally, this is not the only community in Bayelsa State that has suffered military brutality as a result of killing soldiers. Odi community in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of the state and others in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, have also had their various experiences.

An indigene of the community, Mr. Ebi Isedirikonghen, in an open letter to the representatives of the area in both chambers of the National Assembly, urged the authority to direct the Nigerian military to only go after the criminals and stop further invasion of Azagbene community.

He said: “Everybody is aware that on 23rd July, 2019, the Nigerian soldiers invaded Azagbene community in Ekeremor local government, beat anyone in sight and burned down not less than 54 residential houses, thereby making the place a ghost town at the moment.

“According to available information, this unprofessional conduct and barbaric act of the Nigerian soldiers is because gunmen suspected to be indigenes of Azagbene community stormed an army base, which provide security cover for Azatito – ‘A’ well head belonging to Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in the area, shot and killed three soldiers on duty and zoomed off with their arms ammunitions.

“In as much as the provoked killing of soldiers by the gunmen is unjustifiable and highly condemnable, the action of the soldiers in burning down the whole community for a sin of suspected few is unimaginable and highly condemnable as well.

“Just few days after the soldiers’ invasion, we heard that soldiers have once again gone back to Azagbene, using megaphones to announce to the few villagers still living in perpetual fear that if they don’t provide the killer gunmen, they will cause more damage to the already damaged community.

“That is why on behalf of the community, I call on our representatives to call on the Nigerian military to only go after the criminals and stop further invasion of Azagbene community and also, that the Nigerian government should take inventory of all property destroyed at Azagbene community and take responsibility of rebuilding all houses burnt down by the soldiers,” he said.

A human rights activist and member of the Civil Liberty Organization of Nigeria, Bayelsa State chapter, Mr. David West, while condemning both the attack on soldiers and invasion and burning down of Azagbene community by soldiers on reprisal attack, urged the military to always imbibe the rules of engagements in carrying out their operations.

West, who decried the burning and displacement of innocent people by the soldiers, advised all communities in Bayelsa and the Niger Delta region to always help security agencies with information about the criminal gang who may take advantage of the terrain and hide in their communities.

He said: “While condemning in totality the dastardly act that was perpetuated by hoodlums in killing soldiers, the military should always remember the rule of engagement in their operations, so that innocent citizens will not suffer from what they don’t know.

“No matter the provocation, the military shouldn’t invade the community, burning down houses and displacing harmless people. They should abide by their rules of engagements and properly fish out the criminals through proper intelligence and information gathering.

“Then on the part of the community too, it is the citizen’s responsibility to assist the military and other security agencies with proper information that will lead to the arrest of those criminals, because they are not only threat to the military but also to members of the community.

“The guns they have stolen from the military could be used against the members of the community, so that is the more reason they should help security agencies to arrest the hoodlums,” he said.

However, the Bayelsa State House of Assembly has passed a two point resolution condemning the killing of two soldiers and invasion of Azagbene community by soldiers in obvious retaliation.

The state legislators also called on the State and National Emergency Management Agencies to send relief materials to the displaced persons as part of palliative measures to rebuild the community and resettle the displaced persons.

The resolutions were sequel to a motion of urgent public importance moved by the member representing Ekeremor Constituency III, Mr. Michael Ogbere, who informed the house that following the killing of two soldiers at an oil installation at Azagbene community, soldiers invaded the community and razed down over eighty percent of the houses, thereby rendering the people homeless.

The lawmakers urged the military to be more professional in its conduct and always stick to the rules of engagement, stressing that with a little more patience and recourse to intelligence, the real culprits would have been apprehended.

Spokesman of the 16 Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Major Danjuma Jonah, did not respond to his calls, but had confirmed the death of two of their soldiers, but denied burning down of houses in the community.

He said: “Our men did not burn down houses in Azagbene community. We are only combing the community and neighbouring towns in search of one soldier that is missing as a result of the attack that led to the death of two soldiers. And we are carrying out the search for the missing soldier in conjunction with leaders of the community,” he had said.

 

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