Military nabs seven other suspected militants
Chineme Okafor in Abuja, Emmanuel Addeh in Yenogoa and Monday Osayande in Warri
In line with their renewed vow to cripple oil and gas-related activities in the region, Niger Delta militants on Saturday shifted their focus to oil-rich Bayelsa State, bombing two oil production facilities which belong to Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) and Aiteo Group.
THISDAY learnt that the attack, which happened in the early hours of Saturday at about 2.15am was massive as the facilities affected run for up to 100 kilometres (62 miles) through the Nembe Creek 1, 2, and 3 Brass to Bonny Trunk Line.
The Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), the new face of violent agitations in the Delta region, confirmed in a tweet noted that one of their strike teams had carried out the bombing.
This attack is coming as at least seven suspected members of NDA were arrested by men of the Joint Task Force (JTF) code named ‘Operation Pulo Shield’, which combed Oporoza community in Warri South West Council Area of Delta State, Okporoza, the home base of former militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo a.k.a. Tompolo.
According to a crude oil terminal classification by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the onshore Bonny and Brass Terminals which are connected to the line have capacities to handle up to 5,700,000bpd and 3,271,000bpd of crude oil respectively.
The armed gang was said to have engaged a crack team of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in the creeks of Bayelsa, following the twin blasts.
“At about 2:15am on Saturday, avengers blew up Nembe 1, 2, 3 Brass to Bonny Trunk Line belonging to Agip and Shell,” the group said in their Twitter handle, @NDAvengers.
THISDAY checks, however, revealed that the bombed facility was no longer the property of oil giant, Shell Nigeria even though the company still relies on the line to convey crude to its Bonny Export Terminal from Bayelsa.
Shell had under its divestment programme, which took place in 2014 sold to Aiteo the Nembe pipeline and its rich Oil Mining License (OML) 29 for $2.7 billion after its bid was approved by the DPR.
According to industry sources, the Nembe Creek Trunk line was one of Nigeria’s major crude oil transportation channel used to transport oil produced from onshore Delta to the Atlantic coast for export.
The sources also said the trunk pipeline was also an invaluable asset to operators in industry operators who use it as a vessel available for hire by other oil exploration and production companies in the country to move their crude oil to the export terminal for onward transfer to the international markets.
The Nembe pipeline was first damaged with the Trans-Niger pipeline in August last year.
However, contrary to initial information that just the Nembe trunk line was affected, the two attacks on pipelines at two different locations actually occurred in Nembe and Southern Ijaw local government areas of the state.
The NDA had largely restricted its destruction of pipelines as well as other oil and gas facilities to Delta state and has not officially claimed responsibility for the cases that have been reported in Bayelsa recently, except one that did not attract public attention in January.
THISDAY gathered that the Nembe attack occurred at a creek opposite Orubiri community, after the warlords accessed their targeted pipeline through speedboats, blowing the oil facility up with the aid of dynamite.
A civil defence operative, who declined to be named said another blast happened along a pipeline located at Legosgbene in Southern Ijaw.
The source noted that after the onslaught, the NSCDC operatives had intelligence reports that the armed militants laid ambush around the area apparently to stop security operatives from accessing the crime scene.
“There were two blasts from Agip pipeline, one from Tebedeba to Brass. It happened opposite Orubiri community in Nembe. Then another blast happened in Legosgbene in Southern Ijaw.
“As I am talking to you now, our team has advanced to the Legosgbene area. Some of the perpetrators are there laying ambush, though we had earlier engaged a number of them,” the source explained.
Confirming the latest incident, the State Commandant for NSCDC, Mr. Desmond Agu, noted that the militants were exchanging gunfire with his men at Southern Ijaw.
Agu said: “We have deployed two teams to the two different locations where Agip pipelines were attacked in the state. Our team heading for the Southern Ijaw location discovered that the militants laid an ambush in the area. We will soon clear the area and ascertain the extent of damage done to the pipeline.”
Also, in its reaction, the Bayelsa Government condemned the attack on the two two crude trunk lines, describing the latest incident as inimical to the growth and development of the state in particular and the country in general.
The state Commissioner for Information, Jonathan Obuebite, who also confirmed the attack in an email Saturday afternoon said the bombing was “one too many.”
The blowing up of the trunk line happened a couple of days after a similar oil facility operated by Chevron was attacked in Delta and a few hours after the one owned by the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation was damaged by the NDA.
The Bayelsa government, which lamented the economic impact of the destruction of the key oil facilities, wondered why the militants would go to that extent, knowing the economic implication to the state, the Niger Delta region and the country at large.
Obuebite observed that despite the concerted efforts of the government to move against such atrocities, the militants were still unrepentant in their acts of vandalism.
He urged the group to embrace dialogue rather than the current approach to register their grievances, noting that the activities of the group also adversely affect the host communities.
The commissioner also called on security agents to be more alert and to devise new means to protect very important oil and gas facilities in order to prevent further destructions.
He urged Bayelsa residents, especially those in oil communities to be very vigilant and work closely with security agents to apprehend anyone or group attempting to undermine key national assets.
Similarly, the umbrella body of all youths of Ijaw descent, The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), described the situation as unfortunate , but blamed President Muhammadu Buhari for sitting on a high horse and unwilling to talk to the major stakeholders in the region.
National President of the group, Udengs Eradiri, noted that the economy was in serious crisis with the latest attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta.
“I think government has to wake up from its slumber and deal with the issues squarely. Nigeria’s economy is in crisis; we already have a crisis in tomatoes, we have power crisis, the agricultural sector, Boko haram crisis is there, the IPOB crisis is there.
“President Buhari should come down and call Goodluck and call Obasanjo, let them tell him how these things are done,” he advised.
He alleged that there were many sycophants around the president, who are leading him wrongly.
“The president should wake up, Yar’Adua woke up from his slumber and he stood up and took the challenge. Obasanjo started coastal meetings when the situation had not even gotten this far and he interacted with the whole communities and governors and he made a lot of progress.
“Buhari should not treat Niger people as a conquered people. Call the people and deal with them directly. So for me, Buhari is too far away from the Nigeria he is governing,” he added.
Eradiri argued that the president’s attitude to the issues was sending a wrong signal to the people of Nigeria and the Niger Delta region.
“You can do small business when companies are around but companies are leaving, maybe the president does not know, even in Lagos, companies are folding up, expatriates are leaving, it is telling on our economy. The earlier the president realises the better,” he said.
He advised the militants to sheathe their swords, noting that the attacks would further degrade the environment.
“Our environment that is already degraded is further being degraded by these actions, that’s why I am crying, because our environment will never remain the same, but these things are caused by the government.
“Adaka Boro talked about these issues, he was killed, Ken Saro Wiwa talked about these issues and he was killed, the Williams commission talked about these issues, IYC was formed because of these issues, MEND came up because of these same issues and now Avengers has come because of these same issues,” he lamented.
Similarly, efforts to get to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to ascertain the level of impact of the bombing on Nigeria’s current level of crude oil production, which has continued to drop,was not successful.
The corporation’s Group General Manager Public Affairs, Mallam Garba Deen Muhammad could neither be reached on his phone to comment, nor responded to the text message to his phone as at the time of filing this report.
THISDAY learnt that JTF stormed Oporoza unnoticed at about 2:30am and arrested the seven suspected NDA members and recovered explosives and ammunition.
An earlier operation carried out on Friday had led to the arrest of one of the suspect believed to be the brain behind series of attacks on oil and gas facilities in the creeks of Delta state. The suspect was reportedly handed over to the Nigeria Navy, which in turn immediately dispatched him to Abuja for interrogation.
A source from the community and military sources have confirmed Saturday’s early morning operation in Oporoza, which devastated a number of buildings and shocked residents of the community.
While some Ijaw sources claimed that the operation was an attack on Oporoza community, which they described as brutalisation and abuse of residents, including women and children, military and other sources said it was an on-going operation targeted at specific points.
A community source, who did not want to be named said it was an operation on ‘Tompolo’s location’, adding that he learned arrests were made, but was not sure if the ex-militant leader, who had been engaged in a running battle with the federal government, was one of those arrested.
“There was an attack on Tompolo’s location and arrests were made. Not specifically Oporoza, but where Tompolo is suspected to be hiding. Whether he was part of those arrested is what we don’t know”, he said.
Although, all efforts to get official military confirmation were unsuccessful, a very reliable military source in Delta confirmed that seven suspects were arrested in the midnight operation, adding that recovery of explosives, arms and ammunition were also made.
The source, who said that the operation was on-going and would still last for a while, also confirmed that an earlier arrest had been made. “The operation is ongoing, seven suspects have already been arrested including the explosives they use in detonating, arms and ammunition were recovered. I won’t say the exact point where operations are happening for now, but we are around the villages to recover all the explosives, equipment used in blowing pipelines and, if possible, arrest all the culprits.
“Now we are everywhere and we are out for them. Yesterday we were able to get one, although he was handed over to the Navy and they flew him to Abuja immediately”,
He said the military men were irked that militants under the name of the Niger Delta Avengers had in recent times intensified attacks on oil and gas facilities in the Delta creeks, significantly reducing the nation’s crude export and gas production, also shutting down Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL) swamp operation effectively.
Efforts to get reactions from military officials met brick wall as the Commander of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Delta, Commodore Raimi Mohammed, said he was not aware of the operation and the spokesman of the JTF, Colonel Isa Ado, did not respond to calls.