By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
Barely four days after organised labour expressed concern about the precarious security situation in the creeks of Bayelsa State, tragedy struck Saturday in the troubled waterways when armed gunmen launched a deadly attack on some youths allegedly on a peace mission to Lobia community I in Southern Ijaw local government area of the state, killing eight of them.
The weekend killing occurred along the same axis where 12 policemen were gruesomely murdered sometime last month. The Joint Task Force code-named Operation Pulo Shield, it was learnt, had concluded plan to establish a military outpost in the troubled axis but the move has been stalled by funding.
No one¬† would have imagined that the narrow creek, giving its serenity and alluring vegetation on both sides which ordinarily would have been a luxury passage for river travellers, could be turned into a killing field by some disgruntled elements. About 20 lives have been lost in the last one month in the area due to the activities of rampaging hoodlums terrorising the waterways.
Vanguard Features, VF, learnt that Judah, the younger brother to a former militant leader, Mr. Reuben Wilson, popularly known as Pastor, was among the victims of the onslaught.
It was further gathered that five ex-militants, who had embraced the Amnesty programme of the Federal Government under Pastor, were among persons confirmed dead after the violence.
However, there were conflicting accounts to the tragic incident. While sources told our correspondent that the incident occurred on Saturday night, the Joint Task Force said it happened at about 2pm on Sunday. But it was gathered that the victims were tricked to the creeks by their attackers, who later shot them dead and abandoned their corpses along the Lobia 1 waterside. The killers were said to be the same gunmen who killed the 12 policemen.
While some persons said the victims were killed in cold blood after they were led to the spot by messengers of the gunmen, others said they died after an exchange of gunfire.
The Media Coordinator, JTF, Lt. Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, said the incident occurred when two armed gangs clashed in Lobia 1. He, however, said unspecified number of people died in the incident. He said: ‚ÄúThere was an armed collision between two armed groups at Lobia 1 in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, which led to the death of unspecified number of persons.‚Äù
Meanwhile, the Wilson family whose son, Judah, was one of the victims of the Saturday attack, insisted that the slain youths were murdered in cold blood, citing the alleged discovery of two corpses in a shallow grave by a search party at Lobia.
The corpses were believed to have been buried in the shallow grave by their killers. The Wilson family in a statement Monday signed by the Head of the Clifford-Wilson Family of Koluama 1 community, Comrade Joseph Wilson, dismissed the claim that the youths were killed after a gang war.
Discovery of the bodies
The family insisted that the discovery of the bodies in a shallow grave is a clear evidence that they were set up and murdered by the armed men. Contrary to the claims of the Joint Task Force that the eight youths were killed after a gang war in the area, search party set up by concerned youths of the affected Lobia community discovered the two bodies in a shallow grave and others missing. According to the Wilson family, Judah was shot dead¬† by some¬† yet-to-be known assailants while on a peace mission to Lobia Community in the Southern Ijaw Area of Bayelsa State.
The statement read in part:
‚ÄúIt is shocking and traumatic to note that the facts involved in the reported killing of our son and others are being twisted and distorted. The family wants to state categorically that the late Judah is the only one related to Pastor Reuben Wilson and is an indigene of Lobia community.
His presence in Lobia is not strange but his movement to his home community was to assist the other murdered youths to restore peace and settle some lingering youth leadership issues in the community. They were unarmed and defenceless when the armed men opened fire on them while trying to anchor their boat¬† by the Lobia Jetty.
‚ÄúThough we are not out to join issues with the authorities of the Joint Task Force and other relevant security agencies, but the reported involvement of the late Judah Benaibi Wilson and seven others in a gang fight is wrong and untrue. We, the Wilson family,¬† urge the security¬† agents to rise up to their duties and fish out the perpetrators of this heinous crime.
‚ÄúThe security agents should review the reported facts surrounding the Saturday killing at Lobia Community main town. To us, who are not security personnel, it appeared that the murdered youths were set up for ambush by the boat driver and the Chief Security Officer of the Lobia community.
After the incident, both the boat driver and the Chief Security Officer, arrived in Yenagoa and went into hiding from families of those killed. They did not deem it fit to contact anyone on the details of what transpired. It is indeed a set up.
‚ÄúTwo corpses out of that of eight persons shot dead were reportedly buried in a shallow grave in the bush near the Lobia community like they did to the 12 Policemen that were killed.¬† We are worried and appealed to the¬† security agents to use all, within their reach, to bring these killers of our son, brother and family member to book as our family have been thrown into mourning.‚Äù Organised labour had on the occasion of the workers day celebration in Yenagoa pleaded with the state government to beef up security in the troubled creek.
Insecurity in our waterways
‚ÄúInsecurity in our waterways in recent times has continued to be a threat to lives and property, especially the killing of some officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force who were ambushed in Southern Ijaw local government. Therefore, we call on the state government to beef up security in our waterways,‚Äù the state NLC chairperson, Mrs. Ebiwou Koku-Obiyai,¬† who spoke on behalf of workers had said.
Organised labour‚Äôs appeal came against the backdrop of the recent upsurge in piracy and the gruesome murder of 12 policemen in the creek of Southern Ijaw last month by renegade militants. But the state Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiohga John Jonah (rtd), who admitted the problem of insecurity in the waterways, assured workers of the state, of¬† government‚Äôs preparedness to tackle the menace. ‚ÄúInsecurity in our waterways is very sad. It is true that our waterways are insecure. It is true that we have demonstrated enough resolve to ensure that Yenagoa city is secured,‚Äù he said.
Admiral Gboribiogha who represented the Governor added: ‚ÄúWe have acquired some boats to ensure that the waterways are secured‚Ä¶ but it is very difficult; quite unlike roads, the creeks are so many that you may not be able to police all the creeks at the same time. Ours is to make sure¬† we reduce criminality to the barest minimum. If we can avoid it all the best. There are plans to make sure the waterways are secured so that when travelling you don‚Äôt have to be watching your back‚Äù.