Scores killed, others missing as gunmen ambush fishermen in river between Akwa Ibom, Cross River

Scores killed, others missing as gunmen ambush fishermen in river between Akwa Ibom, Cross River

An ambush on fishermen in Oku Iboku, Akwa Ibom State by suspected gunmen from Ikot Offiong in Cross River State has left an unspecified number of people dead, many injured while others are said to be missing.

The ambush, according to the Village Head of Ikot Essien, Oku Iboku in Itu Local Government Area, Evans Enwan, occurred on May 19, when men in the area were fishing in a river.

The river serves as the boundary between the two sister states and the border between the communities.

It has been under dispute between the two border communities resulting in frequent clashes which have claimed hundreds of lives and properties worth millions destroyed.

The fishermen, the royal father said, had returned safely from fishing the previous day but were ambushed on the second day while capturing fish in the said river.

The gunmen, Mr Enwan said, launched the attack using speed boats, “killing more than 20 people with some beheaded while they took some corpses with them.”

PREMIUM TIMES could not independently establish the actual number of people killed in the incidents after the authorities in the two states gave conflicting figures.

The Clan Head of Oku Iboku in Itu L.G.A, Ubong Okokon, told PREMIUM TIMES that over 30 people were killed, including non-indigenes, during the incident.

He, however, declined to comment further except this reporter visits his palace.

Military gunboat on maintenance – Itu chairperson

Etetim Onuk, the chairperson of Itu LGA, who confirmed the incident to this newspaper, said he couldn’t ascertain the actual number of people killed but that three corpses have been recovered.

“We don’t know the actual number of people killed. You know when people are killed in the water the corpse does not float immediately. But so far, as of yesterday (May 21), three corpses have been recovered.”

Mr Onuk described the killings as a “perennial problem” and said both state governments are taking measures to broker peace and understanding among the communities.”

He added: “The federal government has been sending security men to patrol the waterways. Unfortunately the day this incident happened the military gunboat had gone for maintenance so that is why they had their way. It is only one gunboat that is always there.”

Asked why the authorities would apply for more gunboats, he said: “It is not a matter of applying, the government is aware and besides the cost of maintenance is enormous.”

Mr Onuk, who had told our reporter that he was studying the development and gathering information on the incident and would make a statement on the conclusion, did not respond to requests by this newspaper for updates on the incident.

Police reactions

When contacted, the police spokesperson in Cross River State, Irene Ugbo, confirmed the incident but said she was only aware of the death of three, not 20 persons.

Ms Ugbo said policemen drafted to the area had taken the three corpses to the mortuary.

She appealed to the government to carry out proper demarcation of the disputed area to ensure a lasting solution.

Her counterpart in Akwa Ibom State, Odiko Macdon, said his command had been briefed on the incident and that only one person was reported to have died.

Ini Ememobong, the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information, did not respond to requests for comments on the matter.

Records of previous clashes

Findings revealed that the communal clashes between Oku Iboku and Ikot Offiong communities, which have claimed many lives with properties destroyed, date back to the days of the Eastern Region Government.

In January 2017 this newspaper reported that four persons were killed and scores injured in the renewed boundary crisis between the communities.

In April same year, Thisday reported that 12 persons were killed during a clash on the waterways that serve as a boundary between the two states.

In May 2018, Vanguard newspaper reported that 11 people, mainly women and children, were killed in the communal clash between the two communities.

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