The military operation in Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State to “flush out miscreants” has created a new challenge – a refugee crisis – in the state.
The operation was launched in Ntak Ikot Akpan community after some hoodlums attacked and killed three police officers in the local government area a few days ago.
Four officers are still missing after the attack, the police in Akwa Ibom said.
Several people were killed during ground operation and an aerial bombardment by troops.
The Nigerian Army said on Wednesday that those killed during the military operation were ‘hoodlums.’ It did not, however, mention the number of people killed.
“The operation was successfully executed and resulted in the dislodgment of the criminals while fleeing hoodlums were neutralised by the Air Component,” the army spokesperson, Mohammed Yerima, a brigadier general, said in a statement.
Mr Yerima said normalcy has been restored in the area, and that people could now go about their businesses.
5,000 people registered in displaced people camps
The Chairperson of Essien Udim, Anthony Luke, said in a statement that nine communities were “seriously” affected by the security crisis in the local government area.
Anthony Luke, chairman, Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State
They are Ntak Ikot Akpan, which is the epicenter of the crisis, Ukana Uwa, Ikot Udo Ekpat, Ikot Otu, Ikot Afanga, Ikot Nsek, Ikot Abia, Ikot Ankan, Ikot Ukpon Etor.
Several people, including women and children, who fled because of the military operation, are yet to return to their homes. They are currently taking refuge in four locations, including St. Ann’s Catholic Cathedral in the neighbouring Ikot Ekpene Local Government Area.
The other camps are in Civic Centre, Atan, Ikot Okoro and St. Bridget Parish, Urua Akpan.
About 5,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have been registered so far in the four camps, the man in charge of registration said.
Sunday Gabriel, 60, is among the people in St. Ann’s Cathedral. He said his house and business were destroyed during the military operation.
Mr Gabriel, a poultry farmer and father of six, narrated to PREMIUM TIMES, how he lost his house, poultry and goats farm, his only source of livelihood.
Burnt police patrol vehicle in Essien Udim
“The whole compound was totally burnt, including the poultry farm with 500 birds and a farm of 12 goats,” he said.
He appealed to the government to assist him with funds to rebuild his house and business.
Two other persons in the camp said their homes were also destroyed during the military operation.
Others who said they lost properties to the bombings refused to talk to the press. They were apprehensive of what would happen to them if the hoodlums returned to the communities in Essien Udim.
The displaced people looked hungry. They scampered for food brought to the camp.
One of them, who said she was hungry, begged this reporter for money to enable her buy food. It was her third day in the place, she said.
It is uncertain when they would return to their homes.
“We are not Biafrans”
The Commissioner for Trade and Investment in Akwa Ibom State, Ukpong Akpabio, on Thursday visited the IDPs at the Catholic Cathedral with some relief materials.
Mr Akpabio, who hails from Essien Udim, expressed shock at the number of IDPs in the camp, and ordered for more materials to be added to the initial five bags of garri and three bags of beans he brought.
Displaced people from Essien Udim, Akwa Ibom State, after a military operation in the area
The Chair of Essien Udim, Anthony Luke, was present during Mr Akpabio’s visit.
Mr Akpabio told the IDPs that the government was aware of what they were going through.
“I am extremely sad as an indigene of Essien Udim,” Mr Akpabio told the IDPs. “Government does not want what is happening in Borno State to occur here. We are not Biafrans, we are Nigerians,” the commissioner said.
He appealed to the IDPs to volunteer information to authority to assist in addressing the security challenges bedeviling the area.
Some media reports said the gunmen that attacked security officials in Essien Udim were members of the pro-Biafra group, IPOB.
Destroyed police station in Essien Udim
PREMIUM TIMES has, however, not been able to find any link between the proscribed group and the attack.
More so, neither the police nor the military authorities have accused IPOB of being responsible for the attack.
Essien Udim, which shares a boundary with neighbouring Abia State, has been notorious for cult-related violence and killings.
About five weeks ago, some gunmen attacked a police station in the area and set fire on parts of the station and some old vehicles which were parked as exhibits inside the station’s premises.
The attack was the second on police officers and police facilities in the area in less than one week.
The Akwa Ibom State Government, on March 26, banned the use of motorcycles and tricycles from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. in Essien Udim and two other nearby local government areas, in order to “check criminal activities.”