The relative peace enjoyed by residents of Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State Capital, was shattered yesterday following a clash between two factions of the All Progressives Congress (APC), which resulted in the death of two persons.
Many people, including journalists were wounded in the clash, which was the peak of a crisis that had torn the party in the state between a group loyal to Chief Timipre Sylva, a former Governor of the state and another faction that is loyal to Tiwei Orunimighe, erstwhile Chairman, who was expelled by the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) two weeks ago.
The victims of the violence, journalists gathered, were shot during an alleged exchange of gunfire between operatives of the Nigerian police and the faction loyal to Orunimighe, which attempted to forcibly take over the secretariat of the party during the inauguration of the new Acting Chair, Joseph Fafi.
What started as a peaceful protest by the aggrieved faction, got out of hand when the police tried to stop the placard-wielding demonstrators from taking over the secretariat and disrupting the event just before the arrival of party leaders that were to conduct the ceremony.
Among those killed were a man said to be a member of the party from Sagbama Local Council Area of the State and another young man who was hawking his wares at the venue of the event.
Some Journalists covering the ceremony, including a reporter with Rhythm FM, Jese Ese, also sustained injuries while trying to jump the barbed wire fence of the secretariat, located on the Yenagoa-Mbiama Road in Kpansia, Yenagoa.
The armed thugs had disguised as protesters and beaten the security barricade mounted by the security operatives before heading directly to the APC secretariat complex.
Some party faithful of the APC were said to have raised the alarm that the protesters were armed with dangerous weapons, which led to their being engaged by the police.
The sporadic gunshots caused panic among party supporters, leading to a stampede, with many sustaining different degrees of injuries.
But despite the killings, leaders of the party in the state, Ex-Governor Sylva and the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Heineken Lokpobiri, who came in after calm had returned, continued with the ceremony to swear in the new Chairman.
Speaking during the inauguration, Sylva said he moved against the expelled party chairman, his Deputy, Eddy Julius and Secretary, Malin Daniel, because they were trading with the party and that they allegedly served as moles for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the State Governor, Seriake Dickson.
“Let me apologise to the APC members that for a long time, the party was stagnant in Bayelsa and nothing was happening. It was because of some wicked chairman who was trading with the APC.
“This is a man you all know how we brought him up from nothing; from nothing, we made him a council chairman; from nothing, we made him a party chairman,” he stated.
He added that a statement allegedly made by Governor Dickson that the APC and PDP in the state were working together, when the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, visited the state, was pregnant with meanings.
“When the Acting President visited Bayelsa during the peace tour, Governor Dickson said the APC and PDP were working together. The working he was talking about is in the minds of the expelled chairman and the governor.
“We gave him time so as to allow him change his ways but he refused. He kept moving deeper into the mud. He is no longer an issue. No one should talk about him again because he is no longer an issue.
“This is our party and our state. We all want what is good for the people. The ship of APC is moving and we cannot take it backward,” Sylva said.
He dispelled insinuations that he, the minister, as well as other party leaders in the state were mere ‘Abuja politicians’, describing the allegation as laughable, promising that “from today onward, we will continue to be with the members of our party regularly.”
Sylva had earlier described the attack on the party secretariat as ‘cowardly and wicked’, telling the crowd which included his running mate during the last governorship election, Wilberforce Igiri and a former Acting Governor, Werinipre Seibarugu, that those involved in the attack and their sponsors were “too small” to intimidate the APC.
Also in his remarks, Lokpobiri, a serving minister, agreed with Sylva, stressing that those expelled were hiding within the APC as PDP moles.
“All the party did was to follow the constitution of the APC. And the APC is a party that abides by the rule of law. The bad days are over. And I have consulted with our party leader and the members will enjoy our presence more as from now,” the minister assured.
A member of the State House of Assembly, M. Israel Sunny-Igoli in his reaction, accused Orunimighe and ex-militant leader, General Africa Ukpariasa of masterminding the attack.
At least one person has been feared dead as armed men allegedly led by the suspended chairman of the All Progressives Congress in Bayelsa state, Chief Tiwei Orunimighe and repentant militant leader, Afrikanus Ukparasia invaded the meeting venue of the party.
In the violent attack, former governor of Bayelsa state, Chief Timipre Sylva and the minister of state for Agriculture,Senator Heineken Lokpobiri narrowly escaped death as the two buses conveying the assailants shot sporadically at the gathering killing one person. An eye witness said the vehicles were marked in Bayelsa state plate numbers.
Orunimighe was suspended, after the party severally accused him of anti-party activities having allegedly worked for Dickson in the last governorship election of the state.
Meantime, Miriki Ebikibina, a Senior Special Assistant on Politics to Dickson, has described the violence as unacceptable in the state.
“The violence and the pandemonium caused is regrettable because it is coming a day after the meeting of the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo with the state governors and security officials on hate speeches and security challenges faced by states.
“It is not only most unfortunate, regrettable and totally unaccepted but speaks volume of the party activities in the state. The APC’s activities in Bayelsa are characterized by violence, thereby threatening the relative peace and calm.
“The Acting President and the leadership of the APC should call their party members to order and respect the right to peace and freedom of movement of the defenceless citizens of the state, who are going about their legitimate business”, the governor’s aide said.