Port Harcourt – Soldiers of the 6 Division of the Nigerian Army based in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, have allegedly attacked Touma, a fishing community in Degema Local Government Area of the state.
According to reports reaching Independent, over eight gunboats and several speedboats said to belong to the military Joint Task Force (JTF) allegedly invaded the fishing community, part of the Bille Kingdom, setting several houses ablaze and leaving residents with severe gunshot injuries.
Sources disclosed that trouble started when unidentified gunmen attacked an army House Boat in Touma last week, during which two civilians and a soldier were killed and many injured, adding that people of the community even assisted the victims after the attack.
Sources say there is tension among people of Bille Kingdom over more attacks by the soldiers, reportedly targeted at Jike-ama, Kirikama, Gogobo-ama, Opu Bille Bokoama and several other communities.
Akpoebi Dino, who said he witnessed the attack on Touma, told Independent that the enraged soldiers entered the community with over seven gunboats, releasing heavy gunshots.
“It was about 10a.m on Monday when we saw over eight gunboats. When they got to our community, they started shooting into the community. They wounded many people with bullets and they burnt over 15 houses.
“They heard that suspected pirates attacked one of their camps around our community, as a result, they said our community connived with the criminals to attack them. We don’t know what they meant by that.
“We have been living happily with the army 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.”
Meanwhile, the leaders of Bille Kingdom have described as shocking the attack of Touma community by military men, stressing that the incident was unwarranted.
A joint statement issued by the Chairman, Bille Kingdom Community Development Committee, Asatubo Igbanibo Kemuel, and the Youth President, Obirabi Sanipe Sylvanus, lamented the attack on Touma community “by fierce looking military men on July 24, 2017, at about 8am.”
It stated: “The army, which came in about seven gunboats and several other speed boats numbering about eight, sacked the Touma community, where they burnt down houses and destroyed properties worth huge amount of money.
“Residents of Touma community were 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 injuries from gunshot by the army.
“The army also held seven passenger boats to and from Bille Town, respectively, captive. The boats and their occupants had been held back on the sea by the army for over nine hours as at press time. Meanwhile, it is alleged that there are also plans to invade and burn down other Bille communities, namely Jike-ama, Kirikama, Gogobo-ama, Opu Bille Bokoama, etc.
“It is suspected that this invasion by the army on Touma community is supposedly a reprisal attack on a mistaken belief that Touma residents were probably responsible for the last week’s attack on the Army House Boat.
“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.
“We demand the Federal Government, the Rivers State government and all relevant agencies to quickly intervene, and call the erring Nigerian army to order. “We also plead with the government and relevant authorities to quickly provide relief materials to the Touma community, who happened to be the direct victims of the invasion.”
Colonel Aminu Iliyasu, the Deputy Director, Army Public Relations of 6 Division, Port Harcourt, when contacted on Thursday, responded thus: “Bille is JTF Command”, but could not say more.
Lt Commander Otuji, the Acting Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Joint Military Task Force (JTF), also declined comment.
Nnamdi Omoni, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), promised to reach the District Police Officer (DPO) in Bille to assertain what actually happened.
As at press time, Omoni did not get back to Independent.