Fear has enveloped the Niger Delta region after unknown gunmen killed at least 12 policemen in Bayelsa State on Friday night, the day the Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta threatened to resume hostilities in the country.
Our correspondent gathered that the victims were deployed by the state police command to provide security for the funeral of the late mother of an ex-militant leader, Mr. Kile Torughedi, popularly known as Young Shall Grow.
It was learnt that Torughedi who was the commander of the South Wing of MEND from 2002 till 2009 when he embraced the amnesty for repentant militants is currently serving as the Senior Special Adviser to Governor Seriake Dickson on Marine Waterways Security.
The policemen were said to be escorting dignitaries to the wake of the deceased when gunmen attacked them.
It was learnt that 15 policemen were hired to lead the convoy of boats heading for Azuzuama in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of the state for the wake when the gunmen suspected to be militants reportedly ambushed them.
They were said to have been thrown off balance when the bandits opened fire on them around 9pm. A senior police officer told our correspondent that 12 of the policemen who were travelling on the same boat were killed while three dived into the water to escape the attack.
The police officer who pleaded anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter insisted that only 12 policemen died in the attack.
“We lost about 12 policemen on Friday night. They were ambushed by gunmen but three of them escaped. It had nothing to do with MEND. It simply coincided with MEND’s threats. We learnt that there has been internal rivalry between the ex-militant leader and his boys who accused him of cornering their allowances,” he said.
Another security source gave a different version of how the policemen were killed saying that their boat developed a fault at the point where the gunmen attacked them.
“Only two out of 15 policemen were found alive. Others were killed but their remains had yet to be found,” he said.
Our correspondent gathered that the shooting that killed the policemen lasted for over 20 minutes forcing panic-stricken guests to suspend the journey.
The Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Kingsley Omire described the slain policemen as soft targets. Omire who was in a pensive mood while addressing journalists at the command’s headquarters, Yenagoa, at about 9pm on Saturday said the boat conveying the policemen to the venue of the burial developed a fault midway into the journey.
Describing the incident as unfortunate, he said the attack had nothing to do with the threats issued by MEND.
According to him, intelligence reports showed that disgruntled elements within the fold of the ex-militant leader were the brains behind the dastardly act.
He confirmed that 12 police officers were missing after the incident adding that four persons including the boat driver were rescued.
He named those who were missing as two inspectors, four non-commission officers, and six constables adding that a search-and-rescue operation had been intensified by divers.
Meanwhile, the Defence Headquarters in Abuja has put all the five sectors of the Joint Task Force operating in the nine states of the Niger Delta on the alert.
The Director of Defence Information, Brig. Chris Olukolade, said the DHQ was monitoring developments and had issued directives to security forces to maintain the peace in the area.
He said, “The DHQ is keenly monitoring and directing the activities of forces operating there to forestall any breach to security in that region.
“At the moment, the five sectors of the JTF covering the nine states in the region are on high alert.
“Maritime and air assets of the force have also been mobilised and patrols intensified both on land and water ways. The area is being effectively dominated to checkmate any assailant.
“No form of lawlessness will be allowed to jeopardise the peace in the region. All peace loving citizens in Niger Delta are encouraged to dissociate themselves, their communities and leadership from any gang intending to disturb peace.”