There was panic among residents of Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State on Tuesday as the military bombarded the Ikot Akpan forest in the area.
The military operation, according to sources, was aimed at flushing out hoodlums who had been attacking police formations in the state.
Residents, who share boundaries with hoodlums’ hideouts, told one of our correspondents that the bombing of the forest started at 8am and ended at 12 noon on Tuesday.
The military exercise came barely 24 hours after gunmen attacked the Imo State police command headquarters and the Nigerian Correctional Service in Owerri, the state capital, where 1,844 inmates were freed.
President Muhammadu Buhari in a statement by his Senior Special Assisant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, on Monday ordered security agencies to fully mobilise and go after gunmen that had been attacking security agencies.
It was gathered that before the military exercise in Akwa State on Tuesday, residents had been asked to steer clear of the Ikot Akpan forest suspected to be a camp of gunmen.
Residents said the operation began with the deployment of helicopters and drones for aerial surveillance and bombing before ground troops moved in to flush out criminal elements.
The Essien Udim LGA, where Minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio, hails from, has been under attacks by gunmen, who have been killing cops and destroying their facilities.
Recall that hoodlums, whom many suspected to be members of a cult group in February, this year attacked the police at the Ikpe Annang junction, where a police inspector was set ablaze inside a police van.
Also in February, they attacked Ikot Afanga community and killed an inspector of police identified as Aniekan, while a divisional police station in the LGA was a set ablaze by the hoodlums. They also burnt police vehicles.
On March 31,2021, three police officers, including a chief superintendent of police, Ben Ajide, were killed and four others declared missing in a failed reprisal carried out by the police against the hoodlums.
On Tuesday morning, residents, who had not fled the area stayed indoors as the military bombarded the hideouts of the criminals.
Fear gripped residents as fighter jets flew at low levels to ensure proper surveillance of the area.
A resident of the Essien Udim LGA, Essien Sunday, who confirmed the bombardment in an interview with one of our correspondents, described the exercise as a fearful experience.
It was a fearful experience, I told my children and wife to stay indoors – Resident
He stated, “We were woken up this morning by sounds of gunshots and military helicopters hovering around the entire village with fearful sounds. Although we heard the information, nobody knew it was going to be that fearful. So, I instructed my wife and children to remain indoors throughout the exercise.
“I don’t know how many people were arrested by the army but what I know is that they carried out an aerial surveillance of communities in the LGA.”
Poly students could hear sounds of fighter jet and gunshots –Lecturer
Another resident and lecturer in the department of Mass Communication, Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic, Ikot Osura, Dan Etokidem also confirmed the bombardment.
He said: “Well, the bombardment started in the early hours of today. I learnt they (the military) sent advance notification that the civilians should vacate the said areas before moving in this morning. So, the aerial bombardment and the support troops, moved in this morning around 8am or so. Most students from the polytechnic could hear the fighter jets and the gunshots. So, that is just It.
“It was an offensive to flush out criminals within three major communities in the Essien Udim LGA, the communities are Uwa, Ikot Afanga, Ikot Akpan communities all in the local government area.”
Also, another resident of community, Godwin Akpan, said although people were afraid during the bombardment, it was a great relief to the communities who had experienced attacks against the police.
“Yes, there had been cases of insecurity of late with the hoodlums targeting police officers and establishments and of course the military had to come in. Advanced notice was sent to the communities to vacate the areas.”
The Defence headquarters did not respond to inquiries on the reported attack on the forest on Tuesday.
But a top military officer, who confided in The PUNCH, said the exercise, was not a bombardment.
He stated, “It was a joint military operation conducted by the Nigerian army, Air force and others security agencies to flush out criminals elements in the Essien Udim Local Government area of Akwa Ibom, that have been terrorising the state. The operation was successful. For now no arrest has been made.”