The Defence Headquarters on Sunday stated that a military chopper did not shoot boat passengers but “illegal oil bunkerers’” carrying refined oil products in the Bonny Island of Rivers State last Thursday.
Some Rivers boat operators last Thursday alleged that a military chopper opened fire on them while travelling from Port Harcourt to Bonny Island, injuring them in the process. They had claimed that the combat helicopter attacked their local wooden boat loaded with foodstuffs.
However, in a statement published on DHQ Facebook page, the Director, Defence Information, Benjamin Sawyerr, said that the injured persons were oil thieves.
The statement titled, ‘Re: Military Chopper Fires At Cargo Boat On Bonny River’, partly reads, “The Air Component of the Joint Task Force Operation Delta State 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 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 two speedboats but was unable to track it. The suspects are still at large and a manhunt has been sent out to apprehend them.”
However, while the DHQ failed to post photos showing the “neutralised Cotonou Boat” or “illegally refined oil products in large drums” to substantiate its claim, photos sent by our Rivers State Correspondent, Dennis Naku, who visited the scene of the incident on Thursday and spoke with the victims, show that the passenger boats had food items, with blood splattered all over them.
When contacted via telephone on Monday morning, Sawyerr confirmed the DHQ statement to our correspondent, adding that the “Cotonou Boat” was sunk and there were no photos of the incident.
Of recent, the Nigerian Military has been accused of bombing innocent Nigerians, including soldiers, due to alleged miscalculations.
In April 2021, over 20 soldiers on ground were allegedly slain in Mainok, Borno State, when a Nigerian Air Force fighter jet responding to attacks on a military camp by Boko Haram insurgents bombed the military camp based on a wrong coordinate.
NAF spokesman, Edward Gabkwet, had said that the incident was under investigation.
See photos of the attacked Rivers passenger boats as forwarded by our correspondent who visited the scene:
Food items being conveyed in a wooden passenger boat, allegedly shot at by NAF chopper at Bonny island in Rivers State. Note the goods with blood stains. Photos: Dennis Naku