A detachment of soldiers from the military base in Akwa Ibom State, Sunday, went berserk, setting some market stalls and houses ablaze in Iwukem village, Etim Ekpo local government area, following the killing of their colleague and five persons by armed militants.
It was gathered that the militants numbering about 50 stormed the small community at about 10 p.m on Saturday, attacked members of the civilian Joint Task Force and immediately opened gunfire at the village roundabout where the soldiers stationed, killing a soldier and five civilians at the checkpoint.
Two others who sustained injury, according to 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.
It was learnt the militants arrived at the nearby Ikot Esop community and ordered two boys at gunpoint, to take them through the bush path to the military checkpoint.
“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,” an eye witness, who would not want his name in print told our correspondent.
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.
The Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in-charge of Etim Ekpo Local Government Area, simply identified as Chairman Dore, confirmed the death of one soldier and civilians, adding that efforts were on “to ascertain whether the dead civilians were innocent local residents or some of the hoodlums caught in the crossfire.”
Dore blamed consistent militants’ activities in the area on cultism, lamenting the inability of the local residents to volunteer information on criminal elements in their neighbourhoods for easy detection and confrontation by security forces.
The DPO, who expressed fears that the problem may not easily be tackled by security agencies, called for a holistic action plan involving the politicians, civil society groups and religious leaders to be part of the vanguard of free parts of Etim Ekpo from the scourge of militants and criminal elements.
He stated 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 this week.
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.
In the same vein, the Commissioner of Police (CP), Mr. Adeyemi Ogunjemilusi, had expressed fears that the war may not be easily won due to the difficult terrain of the area and sophisticated weapons used by the militants.
He, therefore, stressed the need for more commitment by government, the politicians and the local people in the affected areas to rise up with security agencies to stem the scourge.
Meanwhile, the mounting security situation in Ukanafun local government area, one of the flashpoints, is also worsening as some unknown militants killed two persons in Ikot Udo Obobo in the area.
A security operative attached to Ukanafun who spoke on condition of anonymity told Straightnews that gunmen numbering more than five rode motorcycles shot three persons at Anwa Uyo junction- one person died at the spot while a woman rushed to Abak for treatment later gave up ghost.