There was panic among residents of the Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State on Tuesday as the military bombarded the Ikot Akpan forest in the area.
The PUNCH learnt that the military operation was aimed at flushing out hoodlums who had been attacking police formations in the state.
Residents, who share boundaries with hoodlums’ hideouts, told one of our correspondents that the bombing of the forest started at 8am and ended at 12 noon on Tuesday.
The military exercise came barely 24 hours after gunmen attacked the Imo State police command headquarters and the Nigerian Correctional Service in Owerri, the state capital, where 1,844 inmates were freed.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, on Monday ordered security agencies to fully mobilise and go after gunmen that had been attacking security agencies.
It was gathered that before the military exercise in Akwa State on Tuesday, residents had been asked to steer clear of the Ikot Akpan forest suspected to be a camp of gunmen.
Residents said the operation began with the deployment of helicopters and drones for aerial surveillance and bombing before ground troops moved in to flush out criminal elements.
The Essien Udim LGA, where the Minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio, hails from, has been under attacks by gunmen, who have been killing cops and destroying their facilities.
Recall that hoodlums, whom many suspected to be members of a cult group in February, this year attacked the police at the Ikpe Annang junction, where a police inspector was set ablaze inside a police van.
Also in February, they attacked Ikot Afanga community and killed an inspector of police identified as Aniekan, while a divisional police station in the LGA was set ablaze by the hoodlums. They also burnt police vehicles.
On March 31, 2021, three police officers, including a chief superintendent of police, Ben Ajide, were killed and four others declared missing in a failed reprisal carried out by the police against the hoodlums.
On Tuesday morning, residents, who had not fled the area stayed indoors as the military bombarded the hideouts of the criminals.
Fear gripped residents as fighter jets flew at low levels to ensure proper surveillance of the area.