PORT HARCOURT — THERE seems to be no end in sight to the armed groups’ clashes in Port Harcourt where 18 people were feared killed in the latest fight Tuesday night. Scores of people died in earlier clashes over the last two weeks.
Gov. Peter Odili who had been holidaying abroad returned home yesterday to take charge of the situation. He immediately dissolved his cabinet and ordered 24-hour security watch in Port Harcourt.
In the latest round of bullets exchange, members of one of the armed groups were said to have invaded a restaurant on Warri-Abak Street at about 9p.m. Tuesday and opened fire on patrons. Nine people died on the spot. However, as the invaders withdrew, driving through Uyo and Sangana Streets, they kept shooting, killing another nine people in the process.
The state Police Commissioner, Mr. Sylvester Araba, said two persons had been arrested in connection with the attack and that the police recovered a Mercedez 190 and a V-Boot Mercedez 200 from the suspects. Vanguard gathered that officers at the Mile 1 Police Station also recovered a bus carrying t28 AK-47 assault rifle jackets. Blood littered the premises of the restaurant while shattered windows were shut along with the doors.
Neighbours in the area were unwilling to speak. A tailor, whose shop is close to the restaurant, however, volunteered some information on condition of anonymity, saying: “I did not actually know what happened until this morning. Around nine in the evening (of Tuesday) we heard gunshots. We were already inside our houses with the doors locked. I did not come out. I just stayed in. It was this morning we found out what happened.”
Another resident of the area said he narrowly missed being killed. He said: “I was to go the restaurant on a friend’s invitation but I said I wasn’t going. Five minutes after that, gunmen went to the restaurant.
Look, when one of the gunmen was trying to bring out his gun from the car, the gun somehow got stuck inside the car and as he was struggling to pull the gun out, some people saw the gun and took to their heels. He finally pulled the gun out and he and his colleagues just walked over to the restaurant and started spraying people.”
There is apprehension in Rivers State especially in Port Harcourt as the people ponder where next the hoodlums would strike.
Meanwhile, the joint security team set up by government to curb the rising crime wave in the state has, within the team, four platoons of soldiers. The Rivers State police command has, however, advised the general public in the state to ignore rumours that cult groups have sent threat letters to marked individuals.
The police in a statement noted that “intelligence report reaching the Rivers State police command has it that some members of the general public are peddling rumours that cult groups have written letters/ handbills threatening to carry out their operations in the state with intent of destabilising the activities and morale of the good people of Rivers State from going about their lawful duties.”
The police said “adequate security measures have been put in place to handle any criminal activity in the state. Members of the general public are, therefore, advised to go about their lawful duties as security of every citizen in the state is assured,” and appealed to the public to furnish the police with information on cultists and their sponsors as “every information gathered will be treated with confidentiality.”