• Bombs enclaves, hideouts, to go after their sponsors, block their escape routes
By Chiemelie Ezeobi
In a bid to flush out the pipeline vandals operating at Ishawo and Igando areas of Ikorodu in Lagos, Arepo, Awawa, Elepete and Ibafo areas of Ogun State, the military has launched an intensive offensive against the cartel by bombing the area.
In an operation tagged ‘Operation Awatse’, an Hausa word for ‘scatter’, the military’s joint task force had at midnight on Thursday launched an aerial bombardment of the vandal’s enclaves, camps and hideouts.
The Joint Task Force comprises the elements of the Nigerian Navy (NN), the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and the Nigerian Army (NA), alongside the Department of State Security Services (DSS) and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Nigerian Police Force (NPF).
The offensive was due to the increasing cases of kidnapping, rape, acts of vandalism and armed robbery operations continuously perpetrated by the vandals, who always come out of their enclaves to terrorise civilians in the respective communities.
At the Ishawo community, cases of kidnapping abound especially that of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) pastor and the recent abduction of the Oba of Iba, Oba Goriola.
So, the military deployed fighter jets and attack helicopters not just to bomb the area but as a show of force.
Thus, when the aerial bombardment began at midnight, pandemonium ensued as the residents thought militants from the Niger Delta had struck.
Addressing journalists yesterday at the conference hall of the Western Naval Command (WNC), the Flag Officer Commanding, WNC, Rear Admiral Bobai Ducas Ferguson, said the offensive would continue until the vandals were given a run for their money.
Given that the Operation Awatse has intensified efforts to clear out the enclave permanently, Bobai said they would this time go beyond that to get to the chief sponsors of the vandals, to know who armed them with the heavy duty weapons they were toting.
He said, “Last month, we got a directive from the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Gabriel Olonisakin, to carry out an operation in Arepo and dismantle the vandal’s camps scattered around Ishawo in Ikorodu, Ibafo and Arepo in Ogun State.
“Initially, we were directed not to use air power but when we carried out an assessment of the area, the vandals had moved from accessible areas to the mangroves.
“We got back to the CDS on how to take out the target is through air power and we were directed to do a general assessment and deploy attack helicopters.
“But before then, we were in touch with Lagos and Ogun State Government because the Areas of Responsibility (AOR) was within their domain.
“First, we deployed a surveillance aircraft to go see the area and we analysed the videos and pinpointed the areas to be destroyed.
“The revelation from the video showed that a lot of pipeline vandalism was taking place in the area. We could see loads of jerry cans chained together in the area.
“The inaccessibility of the area helped their trade. Asides the fact that the water is shallow; they cut down trees and blocked the waterways.
“Yesterday, (Thursday), we initiated action and we knocked down some. Later, the surveillance aircraft went up for another video surveillance to survey the area.
“In the video, one of the canoes had a GPMG gun and the interpretation is that what is happening there is well planned, given how well armed they are.
“After the aerial bombardment, we will go to comb the area. Already, the land component; Army, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the police have been able to identify the getaway routes and we have blocked it.
“The water component, which is the navy, has also blocked the escape routes too. Also, we have blocked the escape route at Abeokuta, Ogun State.”
However, Bobai said one of the major challenges the military offensive was facing was the inclement weather. He said, “The weather is one of the major challenges because the clouds are low. So, the helicopter is finding it difficult to manoeuver. However, we will continue our offensive.”
On the casualty figures, the FOC said that was yet to be ascertained because the military was yet to go get access to the area, adding that it would only be possible after the aerial bombardment.
On possible arrests, he said the arrested vandals would be profiled, investigated and interrogated in order to get to the source of sponsorship for the cartel.”