The Nigerian military is denying it shot passengers last week on the Bonny Waterways.
The incident took place on August 26, 2021, and at least two people were injured when the military helicopter opened fire on a moving boat which was travelling from Port Harcourt to Bonny Island.
A statement from the Defence Headquarters says the military helicopter shot at oil thieves and not boat passengers.
Director, Defence Information, Benjamin Sawyerr in the statement published on its Facebook page, said the illegal oil refiners were carrying oil products.
The Statement read: “the Air Component of the Joint Task Force Operation DELTA SAFE (OPDS) received reports from ground troops who were on clearance operations but encountered resistance at the point of encounter.
“On receiving the report a combat helicopter was dispatched to provide close air support mission along the Cawthorne Channel.”
The statement also added that said the helicopter, upon accosting the ‘Cotonou Boat’ which was being escorted by two speedboats on high speed, fired warning shots to dissuade the crew of the boat from hostile action but was fired at by the crew and had to engage it accordingly.
“The helicopter encountered an illegal oil bunkerers’ boat popularly called ‘Cotonou Boat’. The boat which was being escorted by two speedboats was suspected to be carrying illegally refined oil products in large drums along the Channel in the direction of OPDS patrol boats.
“On sighting the boat, warning shots were fired to dissuade the crew from hostile action. The crew fired back at the helicopter and the boat was engaged accordingly.
“The two speedboats detached from the convoy at high speed leaving the “Cotonou Boat” which was neutralised. The helicopter later went after the 2 speedboats but was unable to track them. The suspects are still at large and a manhunt has been sent out to apprehend them.”
Last week, one of the owners of the boat shot by men in military helicopter last week, Wisdom Halliday told Nigeria Info that the boat was trying to fix an engine fault when the helicopter flew down almost to water level and shot at them.
According to Haliday, at about 1pm, he got a call that from someone who informed him and others that a “military plane down and started shooting the boat.”
“By the time we sent rescue to the place, we found out that some people had injuries. The bullet cut somebody on his leg, the other one on his finger,” he noted.
He added that people from the neighbouring community came and “rescued them” sent the inured persons “to Okrika for treatment.”
Another boat owner, Maxwell Grill demanded compensation adding that most of their goods were lost during the incident.
"We carry garri, rice, beans, groundnut, cement, casket and other things. We want government to get involved in this matter because we cannot leave it to lay low. They have to pay for compensation and all the people's goods that have lost. We cannot leave it at that level," he said.
Meanwhile, a youth Leader in Bonny, Simeon Wilcox has called for an investigation into the incident. Condemning the attack, Wilcox, who is the former President of the Bonny Youth Federation, regretted the insecurity on the Bonny Waterway. He accused the government of neglect of the oil-rich area.
"We've gone there, we've seen and eye witness account has said it that they saw this military helicopter that flew past them and came back descended a pitch and opened fire on this boat carrying about three persons in it.
“I don't know their motive, I do not know why you can mistake a Cotonou boat carrying goods for a bunkery tanker. We are calling on the federal government and the state government, particularly the federal government and the military authority to investigate this.
It is as if the government has forgotten Bonny. Bonny is the gold mine for the country. What they are interested in here is just to protect their facilities and their operators. The citizenry of Bonny is not protected,” Wilcox said.
In the meantime, a concerned native of Bonny and research scientist, Dr Abarasi Abbey-Hart says data available shows there’s been a dozen attacks so far on the Bonny waterway this year.
The UK based researcher says this comes after 13 attacks were recorded last year.
Dr Abbey-Hart told Nigeria Info that it’s regrettable that the high rate of insecurity on Bonny waterway continues despite several calls for it to be fixed.
He said: "We have had 12 twelve recorded attacks from my own data excluding the just concluded. We have had kidnaps, five persons abducted, that was August 10 of this month.
“On the 11th of July, three persons were actually abducted from a village Agbalamabie, and you can see nothing has been done; nothing has changed and we still face this attack continually.”
While expressing shock at the helicopter shooting, Dr. Abbey-Hart called for a locally designed security architecture to fix the high rate of insecurity on Bonny Waterway.
"People are beginning to look inward what can be done. Even in Rivers State, Opobo have internal security structure or system to curb this kind of issues. So I think a way we can look at it as Bonny people is to begin to look at what we can do so we need home designed security systems that will help us," Abbey-Hart said.
Photo Credit: Susan Pepple