Search for Niger Delta militants began, Tuesday, as stern-looking and war-kitted troops barricaded some creeks and waterways of Bayelsa State.
The operation commenced following the declaration by the Joint Task Force (JTF), Operation Delta Safe (ODS) that it would go “on the offensive” to fish out all the militants and killers of soldiers at a military checkpoint in Nembe on Monday morning.
Militants dared the military on Monday when they ambushed the checkpoint, killed three soldiers on duty and carted away gunboats, rifles and ammunition.
They held the community spellbound with gunshots that lasted for about 30 minutes.
It was gathered Tuesday that there was massive movement of troops to the community and surrounding creeks.
Fighter jets were said to have hovered continually over the community as soldiers took strategic positions and cordoned off some waterways.
Nembe was described by a resident who spoke in confidence as “ghost town” following massive exodus of panic-stricken locals out of the community.
“The town is deserted. People who ran away are yet to return. Stores and shops are closed. We can’t even find anything to buy. Some ran into the mangroves, others into smaller communities and Yenagoa.
“Some of us are only able to stay because the Deputy Governor, John Jonah, and the JTF commander held a town hall meeting with us and assured us of our safety. But people who ran away have not come back,” he said.
Jonah who led a delegation of the state government and the Commander of ODS, Rear Admiral Joseph Okojie, were said to have met with the residents.
The deputy governor commiserated with the military over the brutal killing of the soldiers.
At the meeting that was held at the King Koko Square, Nembe, Jonah noted that the killing of the innocent soldiers was senseless, barbaric and not in the best interest of the government and people of the state, especially the peace-loving people of Nembe.
He described the incident as most painful and unfortunate and recalled that a similar one occurred in July, last year.
He said the visit was to console and engage the military authorities to douse the palpable tension in the community.
He urged fleeing members of the community to return home and called on youths and other stakeholders to help the military fish out the perpetrators of the heinous crime.
He further begged the clergy to continue to pray for lasting peace in the community.
But Okojie was reported to have said that the troops would not molest innocent people.
He assured the people of Nembe that the perpetrators of the dastardly act would be made to account for their mindless actions.
According to him troops are already on the trail of the criminals and will soon arrest and bring them to justice.
Okojie also urged members of the community to volunteer useful information to the military authorities, appealing to them not to be scared of military presence.
Some leaders in the community were said to have spoken at the occasion condemning the killing of the soldiers.
Persons who expressed their condolences were a state lawmaker from Nembe, Ebi Ben-Ololo; Vice-Chairman, Nembe Council, Chief Bright Erewari-Iweka, and Chief Walter Feghabo-Amain.
They noted that since the coming of JTF to Nembe, the community had enjoyed relative peace.
They said members of the community would continue to cooperate with the military to ensure that perpetrators were apprehended and made to face the law.
But a notable chief from the community, Wilfred Ogbotobo, said it had become expedient for the Federal Government to confront the militants with maximum force instead of pampering and indulging them.
He said treating criminals with kid gloves was the reason why they had become emboldened to carry out attacks.
He said: “All the peace-loving people of Nembe condemn in the strongest terms this latest and all forms of criminality perpetrated in Ijaw territories under the guise of Niger Delta struggle.
“We want to sound it loud and clear that these indolent, cowardly and dastardly acts of terrorism with no head or tail would only compound and diminish the genuine struggle for the wellbeing and uplifting of the people and the region”.
Ogbotobo said the despicable acts perpetrated in the region did not represent the ideals of Ijaw heroes such as King Koko of Nembe Kingdom and Isaac Adaka Boro.
“Hence, if the motive is the prevalent delusion that every piracy, kidnapping and destruction means a rational continuation of the Boro militancy, it is warped and unacceptable.
“The Niger Delta comprises different nationalities and cultures; hence, we must be careful about the image with which we brand our identity.
“Any attempt, under a warped and distorted delusion to make the region ungovernable for President Muhammad Buhari would only isolate the Ijaws further.
“Boro certainly would have opted to build a national political party to project the interests of the Ijaws and pursue the aspirations of the people of the region.
“This should not be a period of militancy rather IY should be a period of reflection considering the unprecedented corruption and ineptitude of the past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw man.”
The Nembe chief said the present realities demanded that the people of the region should imbibe seriousness in their lives, hold their traditional, local and state governments accountable.
He said: “It is abundantly clear that the youths spearheading these dangerous ventures have not been adequately cautioned about the full implications and wrath associated with the kind of things they are doing.
“The Federal Government should, therefore, declare a state of emergency in the affected areas and apply maximum force to dislodge ever criminal tendency and restate the entire region back to safety to fast-track development.”