Death toll in the gunfight between soldiers and militants in Gokana and Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State has risen to 18.
Though different figures had been quoted by some people in Ogoniland on the number of persons killed in the clash, the 2 Brigade of the Nigerian Army insisted on Wednesday that nobody died during the operations in Yeghe, Gokana LGA.
Soldiers attached to the Brigade had on Monday raided the residence of a former militant leader in Yeghe community, Solomon Ndigbara, obviously in search of the ex-warlord.
The raid led to a gun battle between the soldiers and militants suspected to be Ndigbara’s supporters.
On Tuesday, four persons, including two soldiers were feared dead while some indigenes of the Gokana and Khana fled to neighbouring communities for safety.
But a source in Gokana, who spoke with our correspondent, said at least 18 persons had been killed during the shootings.
The source, who said the death toll might increase today, added that the number of injured persons had not been confirmed.
“One of the victims was shot in front of RIVPOLY Secondary School and his corpse was taken away. As I speak, 18 persons have died so far as a result of the crisis. Everybody is living in fear and I pray that these shootings will come to an end,” the source added.
The source, who pleaded that his name should not be mentioned for the fear of being attacked, stated that some people in Gokana suffered serious gunshot wounds during the gun battle.
He added that the use of a bulldozer to demolish Ndigbara’s house had angered some indigenes of the area.
However, the Chairman of Gokana LGA, Mr. Austin Sor, expressed his dissatisfaction over the development.
Sor disagreed with the military’s claim that nobody died during the operations, describing the action of the soldiers in Yeghe as “provocative”.
One John Baridon from Khana LGA also claimed that his younger brother was shot dead in Zaakpon community on his way from work.
The 2 Brigade of the Nigerian Army in Port Harcourt had said that no life was lost in the operation in Gokana.
The Commander of the Brigade, Brig. Gen. Stevenson Olabanji, had told reporters on Tuesday that the Yeghe community operations was aimed at rooting out “notorious” ex-militant leader, Solomon Ndigbara.
Olabanji said, “Around 12 noon on Monday, we received reports of gunfire in Yeghe community, Gokana Local Government Area, and I immediately dispatched my Commanding Officer to investigate the incident.
“On reaching the house of Solomon Ndigbara, who had been declared wanted by the army for gun-running, some hoodlums fired at the commanding officer with the intent to kill.
“The attack on the commanding officer led to a gun battle between our forces and hoodlums, which resulted to them (hoodlums) being chased out from the community.
“We learnt that the hoodlums, who fled Yeghe community, later went to Bori community in Khana Local Government Area and burnt a campaign office belonging to the APC.”