After two weeks of sustained violence which led to the death of several persons and the destruction of property worth billions of naira, the Rivers State Government on Friday imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the state.
This is even as President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on Friday ordered the Defence Headquarters to make sure that peace is restored to the troubled Niger Delta region without further delay.
The crisis, which led to the deployment of troops in streets in Port Harcourt, had compelled some residents to flee the city while others have been holed inside their houses. While street fighting subsided early in the week, the suspected killing of one of the militant leaders, Mr. Soboma George, during an armed confrontation with troops on Thursday morning led to the escalation of crisis in the state. Residents of the affected areas have since fled their homes, while public and private institutions as well as business centres in the area have remained shut. But the Commissioner for Information in the state, Mr. Emma Okah, who announced the imposition of the curfew, said that it would take effect from 7pm to 6am daily with effect from Friday.
Governor Celestine Omehia of Rivers State yesterday (Saturday August 18, 2007) announced what amounted to a subtle proclamation of emergency rule in the state when he said soldiers would be on Port Harcourt streets for the next six months.
Omehia made the announcement after a security meeting he attended with Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Owoeye Azazi, Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Luka Yusuf, Acting Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro and other top security chiefs.
Others who attended the meeting included the Chief Logistics Officer of the Air force, the Flag Officer Commanding the Eastern Naval Command, Rear Admiral Bodurin Raji and the Director of State Security Services in the State among others.
Azazi after meeting with Omehia referred newsmen to the Governor and insisted that he would only talk during his next visit to the State. The defence chief however said his primary concern was the return of peace to the troubled State.
Omehia who tried to shy away from the probing questions on the situation in Port Harcourt later caved in and said the decision to maintain heavy military presence in the state capital was to consolidate the return of peace to the city and to ensure that there was no relapse into the chaotic situation in which cultists practically took over control of the state.
He said for a long time, the government had used carrot and stick method to deal with the militants but it has now discovered that the boys were taking the carrot and still resorting to crime, hence the resolve to apply the stick as the final solution.