GEORGE ONAH Port Harcourt
Posted to the Web: Sunday, August 12, 2007
*Okiro, defence chief rush in
*Residents call for emergency rule
SHOOTINGS, allegedly by cultists, for the sixth day running, continued in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital, yesterday, as no fewer than 15 persons were killed and scores injured in an early morning shooting by unidentified gunmen amid calls for the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency in the state as a step to check the massive shootings and killings.
The inspector general of police, Mr. Mike Okiro and the chief of defence staff, General Andrew Owoye Azazi, rushed into the state, yesterday, to help in curtailing the killings.
Although Okiro and the state government, which spoke through the state commissioner for information, Mr. Emma Okah, described the emergency call as ‘nonsensical’, the renewed carnage led to the vandalization of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, mega station at Lagos Bus Stop overlooking Aggrey Road.
About nine fuel pumps at the NNPC mega filling station were blown up. Also affected was the office of the state radio corporation, Radio Rivers Two. Some parts of the building were riddled with bullets and one security man gunned down. Dynamite was reportedly freely detonated.
One of those reportedly killed was a driver of a Mitsubishi bus that left his home about 5.00 a.m. to distribute bread to his customers. Sources said he was among those hit by bullets around the Lagos bus stop axis of the state capital. It could not be confirmed but some sources said the cultists drove close to the Government House that early morning to open fire. Security has, however, been beefed up on all the roads leading to the Government House. No vehicle at press time was allowed to drive close to any of the roads with passengers. Pedestrians were severely frisked before being allowed to pass through .
Also, security has been tightened up on Birabi Street, GRA which leads to the residence of the former governor of the state, Dr Peter Odili. Motorists and Okada riders were turned back at a barricade mounted by fierce looking Mobile police men on the road. Military helicopters were seen hovering around strategic locations in the state capital. The alleged cultists shot around Water lines, Slaughter and Rumuola areas of the state.
Strangely, witnesses said, the killers wore mobile police uniform, while some said they saw men in military fatigue among the gunmen. But Sunday Vanguard gathered that the men in military uniform were not wearing jungle hat, beret or helmet. They were, according to the witnesses, wearing army camouflage and white canvas. However, the ones in Mopol uniform, according to eye witnesses, had the badge, black shoes, Mopol cap and were carrying AK 47, dynamite, pump-action rifles and military (gun) rifle. Most of them were in dark glasses and some were smoking cigarettes.
The shootings woke the city dwellers up at about 6.00 a.m. on a day that had been declared as sanitation day. Apparently divided into groups, the gunmen commenced the shootings in Trans-Amadi Industrial Layout, the city centre, along Aggrey Road, veering into Degema Street and beyond.
As the rat-tat-tat, gbum, gbum-sound hit the city, frantic banging of doors of early risers could be heard in the neighbourhood, followed by the ranting noise of some commercial motorcycles that ventured into the streets for brisk business before the 7.00 a.m. deadline for movement. Vehicles heading for the city centre and Ogbunabali, Elekohia and Stadium areas either beat a quick retreat or made detour for safety. There was total chaos as motorists told drivers of vehicles from the opposite direction to turn back in a hurry as “the situation behind is very bad.”
In the interim, the military has been drafted to protect the governor, Sir Celestine Omehia, while policemen protect government offices, leaving civilians to their fate. Calls from Marine Base, Gbundu Waterside, indicated that the operation started from the water fronts. “The men came from the creeks because around 3.00 a.m. or about 3.15 a.m,. we heard sounds or engine boats, sailing towards Marine Base area. We just thought they could be ordinary travellers. It was later that we understood that the sound of the boats was that of the people shooting”, a resident who did not want his name in print said.
The state government said the situation was under control and that there was no reason for people to panic, because the situation was not beyond what it could handle. As calls for emergency rule to be declared in the state following the seeming inability of the state government to curtail the situation heightened, Okiro, who was in Port Harcourt yesterday in company of the chief of the defense staff, General Andrew Owoye Azazi, for a top security meeting on how to curtail the killings, said the situation had not degenerated to a level where emergency rule should be enforced.
He said the Joint Task Force, made of the police, army, navy, had been strengthened to address the situation. ‘Lawlessness will no longer be allowed in Port Harcourt. I don’t agree that an emergency rule be declared. It is an internal cult war. And the JTF is confronting them. The Federal Government is taking action”, the inspector-general of police stated.
Meanwhile, the state Security Service, SSS, in the state, yesterday, shut down a private radio station for some hours for airing a programme ‘View Point” where some guests called for emergency rule to be declared in the state. Also arrested was the news editor of the station, Mr. Segun Owolabi, after SSS operatives stormed the station and stopped transmission. At press time, Owolabi had not been released while the station was back on air.
The Action Congress, AC, in Rivers State condemned the SSS action, describing it as “a misapplication of force”.