“Only God can handle this situation at this moment.” These were the words of a senior police officer in Akwa Ibom State when he was told of the killing by militants, of four people at Ikot Udo Obobo, Ukanafun Local
Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, on Wednesday.
And just as the people of Ukanafun were counting their losses, the people of Iwukem had their own share-the militants struck, killing a soldier and three civilians on Saturday night. Their van was also burnt down.
That attack on the soldiers, expectedly, has raised the adrenalin level of the soldiers who returned to the village on Sunday, burning houses and shops and rendering scores of residents homeless, just like what happened in Odi, Bayelsa State when soldiers invaded the sleepy town, after their colleague was killed by suspected militants.
Till date, close to two decades after, Odi is yet to recover from that invasion. There were fears on Sunday that a similar fate may befall Iwukem town. Iwukem is the border town between Akwa Ibom and Abia State.
The town is close to Ikpe Annang, the village believed to be the abode of the militants who have been terrorising parts of Akwa Ibom. Security operatives are yet to find a solution to the lingering crisis.
Long before now, there has always been a detachment of soldiers from the military base in Akwa Ibom State, at the Iwukem junction. They provide security around the area leading to Ukanafun and Etim Ekpo.
Angry soldiers on revenge mission
On Sunday, it was learnt that soldiers went on the rampage, in what was seen as revenge mission, following the killing of their colleague, setting some market stalls and houses ablaze.
An online news agency reported that the militants numbering about 50 Iwukem around 10 p.m on Saturday, attacked members of the civilian Joint Task Force and immediately opened gunfire at the village roundabout where the soldiers statione.
An eye witness, Sifon Akpan, one of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who fled the lingering cult war and sheltered in Iwukem, were rushed to the nearby Azumini General Hospital in Abia State.
“Yes, they (the militants) captured two boys and ordered them to take them through the bush path that links Ikot Esop and Iwukem. The boys took them along the track that led to the junction through the hospital road.
“When they came out from the hospital road, they came face to face with the soldiers at the roundabout. And because the soldiers were not expecting any eventuality, they were caught off guard; the bullets killed one of them. The Hilux van was set ablaze, while others fled in hails of bullet. Five other civilians were killed in the crossfire”
According to him, two of the dead civilians were identified to have come from the neighbouring villages of Ika and Ukanafun, while the other three hailed from Iwukem where the incident occurred.
QIC, other churches shut, militants visit Churches
The lingering crisis in Etim Ekpo and Ukanafun has forced some churches in the local government to remain shut. Two months ago, the Qua Iboe Church in Uruk Attah village had to close down because of the rampaging actions of the militants. Akwa Ibom State governor, Udom Emmanuel, is an elder in the church.
Till now, the church has remained shut. Also, the Apostolic Faith church, one of the oldest churches in the area, is said to have remained shut ever since.
A native of the local government told TNN over the telephone on Sunday that “almost all the churches in my village have closed. I am not sure there are up to 20 people in the entire village again.”
It was learnt that most of those who fled Uruk Attah took refuge in Iwukem. But with Sunday's attack, it is not certain where the people would go.
One of the villagers said that the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Akwa Ibom State branch, apparently worried by the spate of bloodshed and the dislocation of hundreds of local resident, had intervened with a fasting and prayer sessions that would culminate in an enlarged religious crusade.
The religious leaders, he explained, “are ready to go into the bush and talk to these boys because they (hoodlums) are also tired of living in the bush.”
“They have agreed to risk their lives and go into the bush to distribute leaflets inviting them to come and renounce their membership of any secret associations in the open Christian forum”, he added and appealed to the State government to work with CAN in order to cement the deal which could come with plans to rehabilitate and reintegrate the volunteers.
How “Big Men” feed fat on the crisis
There were signals on Sunday that some so-called political leaders, described in local parlance as “big men” are feeding fat on the crisis, hence their lack-lustre approach to resolving the crisis.
For example, a chief in one of the villages confided in TNN that the big men were reluctant to inform the governor on the true security situation in Ukanafun. The chief said all the security reports on happenings in the state were not brought to the attention of the governor.
This position was corroborated by an aide to the governor who told TNN that “Udom is trying based on information available to him. The big men around him would not want him to hear all that is going on. They keep telling the man that they were containing the boys and that all they needed was more money.
“Let them continue to eat blood money. One day, very soon, the blood of those people that have been killed will hunt them. Some of us are being shielded from gaining access to the governor to tell him the truth of what is going on.”
The state commissioner of police (CP), Mr. Adeyemi Ogunjemilusi, confirmed the killings at Iwukem to TNN via a text message. But on the killings at Ikot Udo Obobo, he said he was not aware.
Army authorities would not take our calls throughout Sunday, neither did they respond to our text messages.