- Call militants to order, FG pleads with region’s elders
By Sylvester Idowu in Warri
The relative peace that attended the federal government’s offer of dialogue-for-peace initiative to the militant group in the Niger Delta, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), snapped at the weekend as the group resumed hostilities breaching major crude oil pipelines in parts of Delta State.
The militant group yesterday said it had bombed Chevron’s two major oil wells 7 and 8 close to Abiteye flow station in Warri South West Local Government Area of the state.
Although there was no official confirmation last night, a top security source told THISDAY that the incidents occurred. “I just spoke with my men in the area and they confirmed the attack,” the source said, adding: “Preliminary investigations so far from our men in the field is that dynamite was used to blow up the facilities just like in previous attacks.”
The militant group reported through its tweeter handle late Saturday at 11:26 pm that its strike team had blown up two major crude oil trunk lines belonging to the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) close to Batan flow station in the oil-rich state.
At 11:30 pm of Saturday, the avengers also tweeted that it blew up the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Crude Oil Trunk Line to Warri Refinery at 9:15p.m on Friday.
All the operations, the group claimed, were executed by its strike team, which it commended for a job well done in another tweet.
“At 9:15p.m on Friday, the @NDAvengers blew up Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Crude Oil Trunk Line to Warri Refinery,” the group, which has claimed responsibility for previous pipelines bombings, tweeted.
Continuing, the group tweeted thus: “At 11:26pm on Saturday @NDAvengers blew up two NPDC major crude trunk lines close to Batan flow station in Delta state. At 1:15am on Sunday @NDAvengers blew up two major Chevron Oil Wells. WELL 7 and WELL 8 close to Abiteye flow station in Delta state.
“All Five Operations were carried out by @NDAvengers Strike Team. Well Done Soldiers.”
As the bombing of oil assets resumed, the federal reiterated its commitment to dialogue with the militants, asking the elders of the region to rein in their wards.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, who said on Saturday that the presence of soldiers in the region did not mean the government was opposed to dialogue, appealed for peace, stating that was the only way to address the grievances of the youths and achieve the development of the area.
“Government is not averse to discussing with them (militants) but we need to know who is in charge and who we can discuss with meaningfully; that’s the dilemma of the government at the moment”, he said in Abuja.
“There are so many groups making it difficult to know who to talk to and the level of control that group will bring to the process,” Lawal sated.
He appealed to leaders of Niger Delta communities to intervene by calling the militants to order, pointing out that the activities of the militants were more inimical to the region than other parts of the country.
“When they blow up oil pipelines, the spill destroys their water and lands, a development that will take years to recover. They are more victims than the rest of Nigerians,” he said.
Lawal said the activities of the militants, which he described as “pure act of sabotage,” had seriously affected the nation’s crude oil export and energy supply”.
Another top security source, who confirmed the incidents, told THISDAY that the renewed bombings by the Niger Delta Avengers might be in response to the arrests of some of its key members by the Department of State Services (DSS).
The DSS had disclosed in a statement on Friday that two members of the Avengers were arrested as a result of intensified surveillance it recently put in place to forestall criminal activities across the country.
The statement, signed by Tony Opuiyo, also said some members of the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), as well as other criminal elements in different hideouts across the country, were also arrested in the operation which lasted throughout the month of June.
The DSS said Christian ‘Sensor’ Oluba and Selky Torughedi, suspected to have ties with the Avengers were apprehended while plotting to launch an attack on an oil installation.
But in a statement signed by its spokesman, Mudoch Agbinibo, the Avengers faulted the Director General of the DSS, Lawal Daura, saying he was fooling President Muhammadu Buhari by giving him a false sense of comfort over the situation in the region.
The source said those arrested were, in fact, DSS moles whom the department labelled criminals after they demanded payment for the clandestine operations they had carried out for the country.
The highly placed security source, however, said the reaction of the militant group was in response to the latest arrests of the suspects, one of whom was said to be a close aide of ex-militant leader of Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Chief Government Ekpemupolo alias Tompolo.
He said the militants were jittery about the arrests because it could help to unmask the identities of the brains behind them.
The federal government had set up a committee spearheaded by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, to negotiate with the militants and other stakeholders in the Niger Delta on how to restore peace to the restive region.
After a meeting of the committee and the governors of the region with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who was acting for President Buhari last month, the government directed the military that had been deployed in the region to stand down.
Following the prospect for peace, Kachikwu visited the region, offering peace for development in the area. President Buhari too at a couple of fora, including a meeting with traditional rulers of the region that met with him in Abuja last week, sued for peace, pleading for time to respond to the development needs of the Niger Delta.
Reacting to the resumption of hostilities yesterday, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) urged President Buhari to act fast in finding solution to the problems in the Niger Delta to stop the crisis from escalating.
The youth body also pleaded with the militant group to halt further attacks on facilities because of the negative effects of the attacks on the region’s environment and advised the militants to embrace constructive dialogue.
According to a statement signed by its spokesman, Eric Omare, the youths described yesterday’s attack on oil facilities as unfortunate and worrisome.
“It is very unfortunate and worrisome that there is a resumption of fresh attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta region by the Niger Delta Avengers.
“The visit of the Minister for State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, to the creeks some weeks ago generated so much goodwill and commendation from the people of the region and the IYC had expected the federal government to take advantage of that goodwill to engage stakeholders on how to find short and long term solutions to the problem.
“However, unfortunately this was not done as the federal government has not taken any practical step towards resolving the issues since President Buhari returned from his medical trip abroad,” it said.
In a related development, operatives of the Nigerian Navy ship, NNS Delta, Warri at the weekend hit hard on suspected illegal oil bunkerers by destroying their refineries with over 2,000 metric tonnes of stolen crude oil and equipment worth over N600 million.
The security agents stormed Isele community in Benneth Island in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State on Saturday night in a surprise operation that led to the razing down of the illegal refineries.
The naval personnel said they discovered that the operators of the illegal refineries tapped a hose on a wellhead close to the area and siphoned crude oil directly into the storage tank from where it was transferred to the cooking points.
THISDAY observed during the operations that lasted for several hours, that the illegal bukerers had been in the business for a long time with the villagers being aware of their activities but afraid to inform the security agents about the illegal activities taking place in their area.
The NNS Delta Base Operations Officer, Commander Shehu Tasie, who briefed journalists on behalf of the Commander of the Base, Commodore Raimi Mohammed, said the operations were carefully planned to ensure the safety of residents of the area.
He said: “In continuation of the NNS Delta fight against crude oil theft, pipeline vandalism and criminal activities in our waterways, our patrol teams were informed about the illegal refineries site somewhere around Isele village at Benneth Island.
“We moved in and what we saw was astonishing. It was a storage pit, the size of about seven rooms put together. There was a pipe connected directly from a wellhead and it was pumping continuously into the pit.
“The quantity of crude oil in the pit as at the time our men got there was about 2,000 metric tonnes. That is massive. The pipe was connected from the storage pit which was feeding smaller pits from where the vandals were cooking the oil,” he explained.
Tasie said no arrest was made in the operations as the vandals fled the scene on sighting the approaching naval patrol team assigned to destroy the illegal refineries.