Life is gradually returning to the once busy oil-rich community of Igbomotoru in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State after the troops of Nigerian Army invaded the area in search of a militant kingpin, Endurance Amagbain, suspected to mastermind the killing of 17 soldiers in Okuama Community, Delta State.

However, hunger and suffering are now on the faces of the residents of the riverine community.

Troops of the Nigerian Army had on March 17, 2024, taken over the community to arrest the militant kingpin, a situation that resulted in the killing of about 20 youths from the area.

Though the leadership of the community claimed that those killed in the incident were the associates of the militant leader, since the invasion, most residents of both Igbomotoru l and ll had deserted the area, while those who did not have where to run to were hiding in the bush and creeks around the area.

Speaking with some residents of the community on Tuesday, when Bayelsa State governor, Senator Douye Diri, visited the area for the first time since the incident happened, the residents narrated their predicaments after the Okuama killings, saying they were suffering from the crime they never committed or knew anything about.

Most of the residents who pleaded anonymity said the presence of the troops in the community has hindered the free flow of commercial activities in the area as it used to be before the incident.

A fisherman in the community told Daily Trust that because of fear of being confronted by the troops in the sea, he cannot go for his routine business for now and even the potential buyers cannot come to the community again.

He said though the military men in the community have their targets, which is the militant groups, there are fears that innocent people may also fall victim due to mistaken identity.

He said: “Igbomotoru did not commit any crime; the killing of soldiers happened in Okuama, Delta State, but we are the people suffering. Even if they say the suspect is from here, it was not supposed to cause such an invasion into our community by the military.

“Lives have been lost here; you cannot say that all of those youths that were killed at the jetty are militants’ associates, some of them may be innocent. I personally condemn the killing of anybody, especially the security operatives, but innocent people should not be punished for the sins they did not commit.

“We thank God that the governor has brought us these food items from the state government, because for the past one month, people from Igbomotoru have gone through hell; a lot of us have lived in the bush for weeks, life has not been easy there. If the army authorities can withdraw their troops from here, it will be a great relief to us.”

A community leader and former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Henry Ofongo, expressed happiness that the situation in Igbomotoru was not like what happened in Odi some years ago, when the military razed down the whole community.

He said from what they witnessed so far, the military operation in the community is very professional, since they are only going after the suspects involved in the killing of soldiers in Okuama.

He said: “On the 17 March, an incident occurred here in Igbomotoru, though the narrative was that the entire community was razed down by the soldiers and people were killed indiscriminately, but when I rushed down to the community, I noticed it was only the house where the prime suspect stayed that was razed.

“So, based on what happened in Okuama on March 14, the military came here in search of suspects, so as a result of that, they came straight to Igbomotoru ll and killings happened. We thank God that the military were very professional. Initially, we thought it was the same situation as what happened in Odi. As I’m talking, the Igbomotoru community has been crying for help.”

Bayelsa State governor, Senator Douye Diri, who visited the area on Tuesday, urged the people of Igbomotoru l and ll communities to return home, saying the Nigerian Army has assured the state government of their safety.

Diri, who announced the provision of relief materials, including cash, 150 bags of rice and 40 bags of garri to be distributed to the people of both communities, also observed a minute silence in honour of the slain soldiers and about 20 youths said to have been killed in Igbomotoru ll community.

Addressing the paramount ruler, chiefs, elders and youths of both communities, Senator Diri again condemned the killing of the soldiers and charged the people, particularly the youths, not to allow themselves to be used as agents of criminality and destabilisation.

He wondered why the impact of an incident that occurred in Delta should be felt in Igbomotoru, warning youths not to forcefully take over leadership of their communities, stressing that the era of militancy was over and it was time for intellectual engagement to move the Ijaw nation forward.

He equally warned traditional rulers and other community leaders to reside in their domains, stressing that any monarch not found in his base stands the risk of being dethroned.

Commending the Nigerian Army for their show of professionalism in handling the incident at Igbomotoru, Diri expressed gratitude to the military for their support and cooperation.

He however advised the military to painstakingly investigate and unravel those behind the killing of the 17 soldiers for them to face the wrath of the law.

He said: “l would like to thank the military high command for cooperating with us. I came here to tell the people of Igbomotoru not to allow such a thing to happen again. Enough is enough. The era of militancy is over. It is time for intellectual engagement. Our youths should not be seen and used as cannon fodders.

“This is a warning to all those who offer themselves for nefarious activities to have a rethink. The Prosperity Government has established technical colleges and initiated empowerment programmes for youths to key into to develop themselves.

“It is time for us to engage ourselves intellectually because that is the only route to developing our communities. I want to take roads to communities. That is my priority.

“I feel so sad that rather than keying into what our government is doing, some of our youths are getting involved in unproductive ventures. This is a different era. We cannot go back to the era of Adaka Boro. I am happy that President Bola Tinubu has approved the construction of the Lagos-Calabar coastal road covering the whole coast of Ijaw land,” he said.