• FG meets ex-militants, agreement reached to end bombings of oil facilities
By Senator Iroegbu in Abuja, Adibe Emenyonu in Benin and Sylvester Idowu in Warri
The Nigerian Army said yesterday that it successfully averted planned attacks by militants on oil pipelines in some parts of the Niger Delta.
A statement by the army spokesman, Col. Sani Kukasheka Usman, said troops of 343 Artillery Regiment of 2 Brigade, 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, in the early hours of yesterday, carried out a patrol within the general area of Gulobokri and Eweleso, around Brass in Bayelsa State.
Usman revealed that during the exercise, the patrol team had an encounter with some armed militants in two speedboats who intended to blow up Nigerian Agip Oil Company’s (NAOC) pipeline at Gulobokri.
He said that the suspected vandals opened fire on the patrol team and “the troops responded with overwhelming superior firepower and as a result, the suspected criminals sped off from the area with many of them sustaining gunshot wounds”.
He said that there was no casualty on the part of the patrol team, except an official of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) attached to the team who sustained gunshot wound.
He disclosed that the victim was evacuated and is in a stable condition.
Usman further disclosed that another patrol team of the same unit of 82 Division Nigerian Army, which was on patrol around Perigbene House Boat (HB), encountered three speedboats suspected to be conveying militants about to attack another critical infrastructure in the area.
He said the troops opened fire on them, killing most of them and injuring others.
“However, the casualty on the militants could not be ascertained as it was raining heavily and the raging storm prevented the troops from pursuing the escaping criminals,” he stated.
Usman said a mop-up operation was organised for the militants that escaped with gunshot wounds and injuries as they may be receiving treatment in neighbouring communities.
With this development, he said troops would continue to intensify patrol in the general area to avert further vandalism or attacks in the area.
In another incident, the commander of the 4 Brigade, Nigerian Army in Benin, Edo State, Brigadier General Farouk Yahaya, confirmed yesterday that 10 suspected members of the Niger Delta Avengers had been arrested.
He said the suspects were arrested because of their links to pipeline bombings and militancy in the Niger Delta region.
General Yahaya, while briefing journalists, said the suspects were arrested during a cordon-and-search exercise conducted in Oporozoa community and its environs in Gbaramatu Kingdom, Warri South Local Government Area of Delta State.
Residents and various groups in the area had decried the invasion of the community since Saturday and raised the alarm over the alleged intimidation of innocent residents by troops of the Nigerian Army.
A resident, who identified himself as Raphael, said the suspects arrested were innocent people who could not run away fast enough.
He said the soldiers arrested them and labelled them members of the Niger Delta Avengers while other residents took refuge in the bush.
The Niger Delta Avengers is the group that has claimed responsibility for recent attacks on oil and gas pipelines and installations in the Niger Delta.
General Yahaya however said the suspects were arrested for their links to the Niger Delta Avengers, insisting that guns, ammunition and other dangerous items were recovered from them.
He said the operation was conducted professionally in line with the rules of engagement of the Nigerian Army.
The army also restated its commitment to tackling oil facilities’ vandalism in the Niger Delta region.
Meanwhile, the Presidential Adviser on the Amnesty Programme, Brigadier-General Paul Boroh (rtd), who relocated to the Niger Delta last week to address the rising wave of militancy in the region, has met with repentant militants, during which both sides reached a resolution to end the conflict which has resulted in the destruction of oil and gas assets.
He said the meeting was convened at his instance with the phases one, two, three ex-militants of the Amnesty Programme from Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Edo States converging on Benin City, the Edo State capital at the weekend.
At the meeting, which lasted over six hours, issues on how to end the attacks on oil and gas installations were discussed at length.
Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Boroh declared that the recent bombings in the Niger Delta was inflicting pains on Nigerians and hampering the economy.
He said he encouraged the ex-militants to open up on their concerns rather than resort to violence, adding that plans were in top gear to provide welfare and housing schemes for them outside the usual programmes and projects for the Niger Delta region.
He stressed that the current situation in the region had rendered the country impotent.
He explained that the meeting was convened to assure the repentant militants that the Amnesty Programme is their programme and that the bombings affect all Nigerians, whether they were resident in the creeks or outside them.
Boroh, who was optimistic about the meeting, added: “We have all resolved that we will put our heads together to prevent the recurrence of this type of thing.”
He also assured oil companies in the country that the federal government was committed to ending the bombings, saying: “Collectively, we (federal government and militants) have agreed to work as a team to prevent a recurrence. We feel bad that it is happening, it is affecting our economy and it is affecting development and we are very concerned about this.”
Some of the militants who were present affirmed what the presidential adviser said and pledged to support the federal government to bring lasting peace to the Niger Delta.
Since the resumption of attacks in the region, Nigeria’s oil production has been halved. Recent attacks on oil facilities owned by Shell, Agip and Chevron have been blamed on a newly established militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers, which has vowed that it would completely halt the country’s oil production unless the government meets its demands.
Last Friday, the group took to Twitter to claim responsibility for an attack on “Nembe 1, 2 and 3 Brass to Bonny Trunk Line belonging to Agip and Shell”. In another Tweet, the group warned that “something big” was about to happen.
Military presence in the area has increased following the attacks. Buhari has accused the group of vandalism and warned that the Nigerian government would deal with it in the same way it is tackling Boko Haram terrorists in the country’s North-east region.
British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond, however, said Buhari needed to address the underlying causes of the conflict, amid fears a military confrontation could end in “disaster”.
Niger Delta community leader Udengs Eradiri also warned that violence was likely to escalate unless the government “changes its body language”, Reuters reported. Eradiri blamed Buhari for his decision to cut funding for the Amnesty Programme that offered militants money and a job training if they stopped attacks by two-thirds.
“The body language of this administration did not suggest that they wanted a peaceful environment,” he said. “Once the presidency begins to do what is right, they (militants) will be restrained,” he added.