FROM MOHAMMED ABUBAKAR, TERHEMBA DAKA, BRIDGET CHIEDU ONOCHIE, (ABUJA), WILLIE ETIM (YENAGOA) AND NJADVARA MUSA (MAIDUGURI) (WITH AGENCY REPORT)
‚Ä¢ Residents search for missing relatives after Borno clash
‚Ä¢ Rescue workers battle to reach bloodbath site
‚Ä¢ Senate, Reps seek probe, military defends self
‚Ä¢ Jonathan replaces Sani with Wakil on amnesty panel
A BAYELSA community is on edge as it wonders if the tragedies of Odi and Zaki Ibiam will be replicated in it. Odi also in Bayelsa and Zaki Ibiam in Benue State were communities invaded by soldiers in retaliation against the¬† killing of security operatives.
Now, Azuzuama is tense, but hoping to wake up and discover that it has only been hemmed in by soldiers in a nightmare. The soldiers have one mission:¬† To avenge the killing of 12 policemen by suspected militants.
Azuzuama is in Southern Ijaw Local Council of Bayelsa State. Since Monday night, it has been thrown into confusion following the invasion of the community by operatives of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta codenamed Operation Restore Hope ostensibly in pursuit of suspected kidnappers and sea pirates.
It was learnt, however, that the operation may actually be in search of those who killed 12 policemen a fortnight ago at Lobia II, also part of the community.
The heavily-armed soldiers were backed by two gunboats and a military helicopter that provided aerial cover and identification of likely hide-outs of the hoodlums who carried out the killing.
The invasion, however, led to panic and mass movement of indigenes to neighbouring communities and the mangroves as many buildings were alleged to have been destroyed, among them that of Jackson, aka Virus, the alleged mastermind of the killing of the policemen, now of the Adaka Boro group. Buildings said to belong to his uncles and others were also destroyed.
The policemen were on their way to Azuzuama to provide security at the wake of the late mother of ex-militant leader, Kile Selky Toughedi, a.k.a. Young Shall Grow, when they were ambushed and killed by gunmen who allegedly had parted ways with Toughedi¬† over sharing of funds accruing from the Federal Government‚Äôs amnesty programme for repentant militants.
Azuzuama community, it was learnt yesterday, had been deserted with most of the natives taking refuge in the mangrove swamp.
But the JTF, through its spokesman, Lt. Col Onyema Nwachukwu, said the raid was a routine exercise targeted at riding the region of miscreants.
He dismissed suggestions that the JTF operatives invaded the community to search for the killers of the 12 policemen, insisting that the operation was to dismantle criminal hide-outs where kidnappers and sea robbers hibernate.
He said four of such places had been destroyed at Azuzuama.
His words: ‚ÄúPainstaking investigations by our operatives revealed that kidnappers, sea robbers and other criminals have clandestinely developed hide-outs in some parts of the creeks along Southern Ijaw Local Council of Bayelsa State, from where they launch attacks on unsuspecting victims going about their legitimate businesses in the water ways.
‚ÄúGiven our mandate to rid the Niger Delta of criminality, we are spurred by this unwholesome development to commence today, a clean-up operation of criminal hide-outs where kidnappers and sea robbers hibernate.
‚ÄúOur troops have successfully clamped down on four criminal hide-outs at Azuzuama in Southern Ijaw.
‚ÄúAll law-abiding citizens must steer clear of such criminal hide-outs and partner our operatives in ridding the region of criminals.‚Äù
Meanwhile, the Senate Tuesday demanded a full investigation into last weekend‚Äôs massacre in the border town of Baga Village, Borno State, that left over 185 people dead and property worth millions of naira destroyed.
Three standing committees of the Senate, Police Affairs, Defence, National Intelligence and Security have been given the order to investigate the alleged massacre and turn in a report on the incident for consideration by the entire Senate within two weeks.
The upper legislative chamber in a reaction to a motion by Senator Maina Maji Lawan, who represents Borno North where the massacre allegedly took place, mandated the joint committee ‚Äúto look into the matter with a view to confirming reports being aired by the media on the massacre.‚Äù
A clash between members of Boko Haram¬† insurgents and members of the Joint Task Force in Baga metropolitan community of Borno State last weekend was said to have left over 185 people dead, over 2,000 houses burnt and property destroyed, leading to¬† the desertion of the community.
Although the President of the Senate, David Mark, kicked against debating the matter on the floor of the Senate since the Federal Government had earlier set up an enquiry into the massacre, he described the killing of such a number of innocent civilians as unacceptable irrespective of who perpetrated the act.
Accepting that the JTF operation in the area was quite a difficult task, Mark, however, condemned cases of extra-judicial killings in all their ramifications. According to him, it is contrary to the military rule of engagement.
The House of Representatives has also urged President Goodluck Jonathan to set up a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the Monday killing .
This came following the adoption, without debate, of a motion brought by Mohammed Tahir Mongonu who raised the alarm on the urgent need to probe the circumstances that led to the killing as a matter of urgent attention on the floor, noting that about 200 houses were burnt in the ensuing confrontation.
Consequently, the House presided over by the Speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, yesterday also called on Boko Haram¬† members to embrace the amnesty offered by the Federal Government, just as it further urged the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to provide relief materials to the victims who lost their property.
Also, the parliament yesterday directed its Committee on Federal Character and Inter-governmental Affairs to investigate the alleged breach of the Federal Character principles in the appointment and inauguration of 120 Nigerians as chairmen and members of the governing councils of federal universities.
This was sequel to the adoption of a motion introduced by Bitrus Kaze who decried the alleged discrimination against the people of Plateau State by the Federal Government in the said appointment in which he lamented that no person from the state was considered.
And with barely 24 hours to the inauguration of the recently-named Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North and Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons, the Federal Government has added a fresh name to the list. She is Aisha Wakil. This is just as the Presidency yesterday brought forward the inauguration of the committees by one hour.
The inclusion of Wakil, a lawyer from Borno State, may have been necessitated by the decline of Malam Shehu Sani, a civil rights activist and Dr. Datti Ahmed, the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Shariah Affairs (SCSA), to serve on the Kabiru Tanimu Turaki-led committee. She is said to be representing the civil rights group, just like Sani. But it was not clear Tuesday if the Presidency would add another name to complete the initial 26-member committee.
Besides, rescue workers yesterday struggled to reach Baga where the Monday bloodbath took place.
Red Cross disaster management co-ordinator, Umar Abdul Mairiga, told Agence France Presse (AFP) that relief workers had struggled to reach Baga because the military had not been able to guarantee their safety amid continuing tension.
‚ÄúNow, they have given us permission to move,‚Äù he said, adding that a full team was expected to deploy early today.
Much of the town remains deserted after the fighting on Friday, which forced thousands of people to flee, said a resident who asked that his name be withheld.
‚ÄúBaga is still under military siege,‚Äù he told AFP. ‚ÄúThe town is at a standstill with little food and water, which has forced even those of us that stayed behind to start leaving.‚Äù
The residents of Baga are still in search of their relatives who have gone missing.
The Guardian also learnt yesterday from the town that searches were continuing for some of the unspecified number of fleeing insurgents from the fishing community.
Some of the residents of Baga who sneaked into Maiduguri Tuesday told The Guardian that they had found it difficult to get to their people in the troubled town as they had to run for their safety against the insurgents.
One of them, who simply identified himself as Aisami, said all attempts to get to the people back home had proved abortive. He said the last he heard from them was that many people were still missing and that there was ‚Äúhouse to house‚Äù search for the group‚Äôs members.
In a related development, the military yesterday came out with the total number of casualties recorded in the two-day clash at Baga.
In a statement yesterday by its commander, Brig.-Gen. Austin Edokpaye, claimed that 37 persons, including a soldier, were killed, including 15 persons, five soldiers and 10 civilians.
Among the Baga residents killed, Edokpaye said 30 were Boko Haram insurgents while the other six civilians were caught up in the cross-fire.
He further disclosed that recovered arms and ammunition included three rocket-propelled grenade launchers, two rocket-propelled grenade bombs, four Kalashnikov rifles, 435 ammunition, several quantities of IED materials; and three damaged Land Cruiser vehicles belonging to the terrorists.
The commander said contrary to media speculation that hundreds of houses were burnt; it was the explosion from the Boko Haram terrorists‚Äô bombs that triggered the fire that torched ‚Äú30 thatched houses in the predominantly fishing community of Baga town.‚Äù