Invasion: 5,000 houses razed, 30,000 rendered homeless as soldiers hunt for militant leader in Ondo

Buratai and his men

AJAPA  in riverine   Ese-Odo local government  area of Ondo State  is boiling, no thanks to alleged reprisal attack by the military over the killing of a soldier and wounding of three others during a battle with  suspected  militant leader Ossy Ibori.

Reports  say over 5,000 houses have been razed and  30,000 persons rendered homeless by the alleged action of the military . Ibori,who had been on the wanted list of the Joint Task Force, operating  under the code name “Operation Delta Safe”, was, however, killed during the gun duel, last Tuesday, while 15 of his boys with  injuries  escaped. The gun battle lasted  over one hour in the creek. Ibori had, reportedly, coordinated high profile kidnappings, bank robberies and vandalizing of petroleum pipelines in Edo, Ondo, Ogun, Lagos and Delta states.

Many of the residents, according to reports, fled to neighboring communities for fear of indiscriminate arrests by security operatives. The villagers were said to be jittery that members of the Ibori gang, who fled during the clash, may  return to   cause havoc in the community following of the death of their leader. Coupled with this is the heavy presence of security operatives in the community. Their spokesperson, a retired Commissioner of Police, Tonye Ebitibituwa, after visiting state government officials in Akure on the alleged siege on their community, appealed to the military to stop the wanton destruction of properties. Ebitibituwa alleged that the military invaded the community in six gunboats after the Ibori gang killed the soldier  and wounded three others in the duel. Denying the community’s support for criminality, he  condemned the  activities of Ibori.

Militants “The  only buildings still standing  in Ajakpa community after the military invasion are churches,”the spokesman stated. “The on-going military action in the community should wear human face and the rule of  engagement strictly adhere to”. The community appealed to Ondo State government to “interface  by stopping the military action which had rendered over 30,000 innocent inhabitants homeless.” Ebitibituwa asked the state government to also put in place a rescue and rehabilitation   committee to save the lives of the people still trapped in community. Contacted,  the spokesperson for the  32 Artillery Brigade of the Nigeria Army, Akure, Captain Ojo Adelegan, denied that the military was involved in the destruction of houses in the community. Adelegan said: “ The military was never involved in the burning of houses in Ajakpa community. The allegation is unfounded. If they have any crisis,   the people of the community should trace it to whoever they have issues with and not lay the blame at the door steps of the military. He maintained that the military is conversant with the rule of engagement and rule of law and would never be involved arbitrariness.

According to him, the military would not be blackmailed on it’s efforts to rid the creeks of militants and create a peaceful atmosphere in the Niger Delta.   The army spokesmen  said  normalcy had returned to Ajapo and denied that there was tension in the community. Asked why residents were moving out of the community,   Adelegan said, “ It is not impossible to have such  a  thing in a circumstance like this but we are there to ensure peace returns to the area and that is what we are doing right now.”

Meanwhile, condemnation continued, at the weekend, to trail the  alleged reprisal attack on Ajapa  after the Tuesday clash between the military and  militants. The Foundation for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade (FHRACC)  asked the military to stop the bombardment of the community. The National President of  FHRACC, Alaowei Ebikonbowei Cleric,  said the world  should rise in defence of the Ajapa people. “The military high command should call their boys to order before they commit genocide”, Cleric said in a statement. “This is what we have been saying that there is a sinister plan to wipe out  Niger Delta communities in order to protect their oil interest. “Government values oil more than the people of Niger Delta. Why must Ajapa  be sacrificed for the sins of one man? The invasion is beyond the criminal syndicate that has been terrorizing Lagos and environs. “This is purely an act of aggression against innocent and peace-loving Nigerians.

“Our source informed us that the reprisal attack  is a fallout of the military engagement with one Ossy Ibori, a militant leader who had been terrorising Lagos, Ogun and Ondo states.“There is no justification for this gross abuse of human rights. This is purely a war of aggression and, perhaps, a crime against humanity.“We are calling on President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Assembly and the international community to call the military to order. The Ajapa people have the right to life and must be protected by all and sundry”.IPDI National President, Comrade Ozobo Austin, in another statement, described “this continued  invasion of innocent Ijaw communities  as barbaric and baseless”. Ozobo went on: “Ossy never lived in Ajakpa, despite  the fact that he hailed  from the community. This  continued military invasion is capable of truncating government’s   peace effort. “The reason  for the invasion is linked  to the late ex-militant leader who they alleged to have had a shootout with the military. Since yesterday, there has been pandemonium . Some persons have been arrested, others missing.

“The number of the casualty of the reprisal attack is unknown but hundreds  of persons, including children, women and men are trapped  in the mangrove forest. The entire community is now  under military siege. “Burning of houses is  going on. Gun shots are still heard in the community. The military came in  about seven gun boats and began to burn houses in Ajapa. “The Ijaw is not at war with the federal government to warrant this everyday burning and invasion  at the  slightest provocation. “We are disappointed. Life in Ijaw land is so cheap. “We are calling on the chief of defence staff, the National Assembly, Ondo State and federal governments to investigate the unlawful invasion of Ajapa and killing of innocent people.”Vanguard

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