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We Watched In Horror As Soldiers Chasing Oil Thieves Burnt Our Community – Ijansa Residents

IT has been continuous weeping at Ijansa, an Ijaw fishing village in Warri South-West Government Area of Delta State, since December 23, last year, when some men in military uniform pursuing oil thieves allegedly set ablaze houses, money and other household items of residents.Quite disconcerting was the claim by the community Chairman, Mr. Albert Korebo, and other leaders that voter’s cards of the villagers, whose community is Ward 13 collation centre in the local government, were smouldered in the incident.

With the general elections coming up next month, it is unclear how the residents will perform the civic responsibility of electing those who will represent them in government in the next four years with their voter’s cards seared.Scores of affected villagers, who are taking refuge at the community’s primary school, pointed fingers at soldiers of the 3 Battalion, Effurun, Delta State. It was a sorry sight as they struggled for space with their children in the school without windows and are thus exposed to mosquito and other insects at night.

Soldiers didn’t burn any village – Major Abdullahi Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Joint Task Force, JTF, Major Ibrahim Abdullahi, strongly rebutted the claim by the villagers that soldiers set ablaze their community. “There wasn’t any military operation around the area on that date. People should endeavour to say the truth and not falsehood. The military is there to protect the people and the environment, not otherwise, “he said.

Reacting to the claim by the residents that they saw soldiers burning their houses, he said, “How can people that said they were out fishing now turn around to identify alleged arsonists? It just doesn’t add up.”

I saw soldiers burn my house, fishing net – Kokochiri, victim

But one of the victims, Mrs. Izonzide Kokochri, dismissed the JTF spokesperson’s position, saying, “I am left with only this dress l am wearing. I just came back from fishing on that fateful day when I saw some military men in our community. I saw everybody running. When I asked what was happening, they told me that some unknown persons jumped down from an illegal diesel boat and abandoned the boat at the water bank of the community.

“They said the unknown persons ran so fast into the bush and, shortly, a gunboat with soldiers arrived at the community like men set for war. I saw the military men move around the community, but they were unable to find the suspected illegal diesel dealers who had escaped.

“The next thing I saw was that the soldiers started discharging into the community the diesel in the containers in the boat abandoned by the men who had escaped. They started asking for lighter to set the products ablaze. I pleaded with them and was even rolling on the ground to beg them to stop. But they refused and set the boat and community on fire.

“My house, fishing net and my entire properties were burnt down. I am confused and do not know how to restart life at my age now”.

My life savings, properties destroyed- Mrs. Richard, victim

A mother, Mrs. Diana Richard, who claimed to have gone for a Catholic Church retreat at Ofougbene in Burutu local government area of the state when the suspected soldiers came, narrated, “When I received a call from my son telling me that military men had invaded our community and set it on fire, and that my house was burnt to the ground, I could not stay any longer at the retreat.

“I rushed down to the community to see things for myself. My life savings and properties were all burnt down. My fishing and engine boats are gone. They have made me miserable. The money l have been saving over the years burnt. I do not keep money in bank because I cannot read or write, so I keep my money at home.

“We do not do oil bunkering in our village. We are fishermen and women; what has happened is strange. Everybody is suffering, we want government to come and help us”.

My house completely burnt- Ekime, victim

Another victim, Mr. Johnbull Ekime, said, “In fact, I am short of words. I came back from a fishing outing to meet my house burnt to the ground. The clothes l am wearing are the only thing left with me.

“We are not happy because since the incident happened, we have not seen any political leader coming to help us. I have two wives; all their properties and personal effects were burnt. Common plate and cup to eat and drink water, I could not recover from my house”.

Bring military personnel to order- Korebo, community Chair

Korebo, the Chairman of Ijansa community, in a Save Our Soul, SOS, message to the Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative, IPDI, and rights groups, said, “I strongly condemn the unlawful military invasion of our community. I was out of town when I heard of the ugly incident that happened.

“I call on Ijaw rights’ groups and well-meaning stakeholders to join forces with our community to get the Nigerian Army to bring to book the military personnel involved and ensure that our community is rebuilt.

“Up till now, we have not recovered from the shock of what has befallen us. Our community is not a bunkering camp. We are Ward 13 collation centre. We have a government primary school in our community. The people who the military men were pursuing, which led to the burning of our community, are not natives of our community.

“The men burnt our community unlawfully; we lost all we have laboured for in life. Properties worth millions of naira, cash, voter’s cards, community and personal documents are all gone in the inferno”.

He went on, “We are helpless; we do not know where to start from. We are calling for help from our political leaders and well- meaning Deltans. We want the military men brought to book, our community rebuilt and relief materials provided”.

How military men overran community – Keneware

On his part, the National President of Ijansa/Ijelejele/Ikeremo Federated Youths, Comrade Joshua Keneware, told Sunday Vanguard, “On December 23, 2018, I was at Ogulagha town when I received a distress call from one of the youths, crying. According to him, soldiers had finished the whole community. He said that even my grandfather, who is the oldest man in our community, had run into the bush for his dear life.

“I arrived the community the next day and asked about what happened. The military operatives in gunboat and single speed boat took advantage of the community, after missing their targets that abandoned the said illegal diesel boat at the water bank of the community and ran away.

“Our community is not a bunkering camp, but a ward collation centre where government primary school and other PDP projects are sited. We lost all we have laboured for in life; properties worth millions of naira in cash, voter’s cards, community and personal documents went up in flames.

“Affected persons are presently living in the primary school in the community, so there is no school for our children for now”.

More villagers confirm invasion

The Chairman, Ijansa/Ijelejele/Keremo Community, Chief Richard Evene; Mrs. Helen Government and other community folks corroborated the assault on Ijansa by soldiers, calling on government to come to the aid of victims.

IPDI urges Army to probe invasion, arson

The National President of IPDI, Comrade Austin Ozobo, whose non-governmental organization visited the community for an on-the-spot assessment, demanded that the Chief of the Army Staff set up a panel of inquiry to investigate the incident.

The IPDI has, through the law firm of Omes Ogedegbe, written the Army chief on behalf of the victims.

Ozobo told Sunday Vanguard, “We were inundated with distressed calls from residents of the community that the orchestrated invasion was meant to wipe out the community. We are unhappy because the ugly situation keeps happening and is capable of disrupting the existing peace in the Niger Delta region.

“We were told that there was sporadic shooting by the military and all residents fled the community. Before they returned, properties worth millions of naira and over 25 houses had been burnt down. And if I may ask, who should take responsibility for this insensitivity that has left hundreds of persons homeless? This is a criminal act that needs to be investigated.

“It is disgusting. How do you invade and burn down a community because you missed your targets, or because you saw an abandoned boat suspected to have been used for oil bunkering activities within the community?

“It is wrong to punish the villagers for what they knew nothing about; the river is used by people from different communities. It is not possible to take notice of everything that different people do on the waterways since it is not inland waters.

‘What the military is doing is economic sabotage; the fuel the military burnt has enormous economic value which could have been sold and the money realised deployed to help the poor masses in the country. There is a saying that two wrongs do not make a right. What the soldiers have done is to use a wrong approach to address a fundamental issue”.

Petition to Delta govt

Also in a petition to the state government, IPDI said, “It is appalling that since December 23, 2018 when the military unlawfully burnt down Ijansa, no political leader representing the area in Delta State government has deemed it fit to visit the community.

“Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, his deputy, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro, Senator James Manager representing Delta South, House of Representatives member for Warri Federal Constituency, Hon Daniel Reyenieju, House of Assembly member, Hon Daniel Mayuku, and Ijaw Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commissioner, Mr. Favour Izuokumor, cannot claim to be unaware of this injustice that has been done to the defenceless residents of Ijansa.

“Ijansa is Ward 13 collation centre in Warri South-West local government area with a government primary school and there is no way the community should have been mistaken for an oil bunkering camp.

“What kind of politics do we think we are playing? You are only interested in the votes of the people and not their welfare, it is sad and a pity. The people are taking refuge in the community primary school which is the only building in the community still standing

“We call on Okowa, Otuaro, Manager, Reyenieju, Mayuku, Reinienju and Izuokumor to wake up to their responsibility, visit the community and provide relief materials to the embattled villagers pending the reconstruction of the community”.

Source; https://www.vanguardngr.com/2019/01/we-watched-in-horror-as-soldiers-chasing-oil-thieves-burnt-our-community-ijansa-residents/

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