A number of local houses have been reportedly burned down in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria during an invasion by military operatives.
There is pandemonium in Touma community, Bille Kingdom of Degema Local Government Area, Rivers State, following the invasion of the area by armed men believed to be troops of the Nigerian Army.
It was gathered that security personnel alleged to be operatives of the Joint Military Task Force, JTF, stormed the community with heavy gunfire, on Monday, burning down 15 houses and leaving several people with bullet wounds.
Four days after the incident, residents of the community are still on the run for fear and alleged report that the military would return to attack more communities in the kingdom. It was gathered that unknown gunmen had last week attacked an Army House Boat stationed in Touma and killed three persons, two civilians and a military man.
It is believed that the invasion was a reprisal attack. Mr Akpoebi Dino, who ran out of the community during the incident, said:
“It was around 10 a.m., on Monday when we saw over seven gunboats coming to the area. When they got to our community they started shooting into the community. They wounded many people and burnt over 15 houses.
“Hoodlums who are not from our area attacked one of their camps around our community. Because of that, they (Army) said our community connived with the criminals to attack them. We don’t know what they mean by that.
“We have been living happily with soldiers in the area, we don’t know the cause of the sudden change. When the unknown gunmen attacked the military base, the community helped to take those who sustained bullet wounds to the hospital and deposited about three corpses in the mortuary.”
However, the Bille Kingdom in a statement yesterday in Port Harcourt, by the Chairman, Community Development Committee, Asatubo Kemuel, and the Youth President, Obirabi Sylvanus, described the invasion as unwarranted and expressed fears over reports of further attacks by the military.
The statement said:
“Residents of Touma community are forced to flee for safety and at present, many persons are reportedly missing. At least, one person, Mr. Profit Joseph, a resident of Touma community sustained severe bullet injury from gunshot by the soldiers. It is alleged that there are also plans to invade and burn down other communities in Bille Kingdom, namely Jike-ama, Kirikama, Gogobo-ama, Opu Bille Bokoama, etc.
“We wish to put on record that Bille people, and Touma in particular, have not and will never attack any Army or other security personnel. We, therefore, strongly condemn this unprecedented attack and maltreatment of innocent civilians, and wanton destruction of properties.”
Meantime, all the Army authorities contacted as at the time of filing this report declined to comment on the incident.
The Public Relations Officer of the 6 Division, Port Harcourt, Col. Aminu Ilyasu, told Vanguard that the JTF PRO is in a position to comment on the issue.
When contacted, the acting PRO of JTF, Lieut. Commander Otuji kept sealed lips. Similarly, the Public Relations Officer of the State Police Command, Mr Nnamdi Omoni, said he would get back to this reporter when he is briefed by the District Police Officer in Bille on the alleged invasion .