• Air Force deploys 2 Alpha jets, 1 MIG 34 aircraft, others
  • Surveillance video shows millions of  kegs containing stolen petrol 

By Chiemelie Ezeobi

The Operation Awatse Joint Task Force, comprising military forces and some elements of the paramilitary, yesterday sustained the tempo in flushing out the dreaded pipeline vandals occupying the creeks and mangrove in Lagos and Ogun States. 

Although the weather hampered plans by fighter jets of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), to sustain it’s four days aerial bombardment of the creeks, surveillance and reconnaissance however continued. 

Also at alert are the land and maritime component, comprising the special forces of the Nigerian Army (NA) and Nigerian Navy (NN), respectively, as they constituted a blockade at the different escape routes across the creeks.  

The JTF comprises the elements of the navy, army and air force, as well as the Department of State Services (DSS), the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Nigerian Police Force (NPF).

The aerial bombardment and subsequent invasion of the enclave by the JTF is part of the military’s operation tagged: ‘Operation Awatse’,  a Hausa word for ‘scatter’, which has both the land, air and maritime components.

The intensive offensive air strikes were initiated to flush out the pipeline vandals turned militants operating at Ishawo and Igando areas of Ikorodu in Lagos State; then Arepo, Awawa, Elepete and Ibafo areas of Ogun State, given that the JTF was tasked with the responsibility of protecting the NNPC pipelines from Atlas Cove to Mosimi Depot.

Hinged on the pilot scheme of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), the Air Force deployed two fighter jets, one MIG 34 and ATR4 aircraft for the operation.

THISDAY gathered that the aerial surveillance video obtained by the NAF aircraft showed millions of kegs containing the stolen petrol products, which were chained together and hidden in the creeks. 

At the Arepo area in particular, the video showed a massive oil theft cartel, operating their well-oiled operations in the creeks. 

 A military source who spoke on account anonymity about the ongoing operations said: “The army was supposed to move in on Saturday after our initial bombardments on Thursday and Friday.

“However, they had to put a stop to that because they wanted the Air Force to further bomb more grounds, thereby clearing the thick mangrove to prevent any ambush by the vandals. 

“But attempts to fly today (Sunday) was hampered by the rains. We had already assembled at the flight line for take off, only for the rains to start.

“However, we did surveillance and from the shots we got, we saw over two million kegs possibly containing stolen petrol products. These people are robbing the country blind.”

Responding to allegations that the bombs might have also killed civilians, he said: “For now, we are focused on using rockets. 

“We are yet to start with bombs because the area is swampy. It’s possible to drop a bomb and it won’t detonate because of the swamps.

“We are being careful so that we won’t have a repeat of the Ikeja bomb blast that killed many, years ago. The bombs might just drop into the swamp and won’t detonate only to go off years later.”

 Also dispelling rumours that innocent civilians were bombed, the Defence spokesman, Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar, said: “There is no way innocent persons would be hit because what we are doing is ‘precision attack on registered target or identified location.’  “No innocent Nigerian was hit. The attack is on the criminals who hide in the creeks. We are still carrying out the raid.”

Urging people to desist from tagging the criminals as members of a particular ethnic group he said, “We are not carrying out military attack on Ijaw, we are carrying out the operation against criminals. 

“We don’t tag them. Militants are militants. We don’t want to know if they are Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba, our war is against pipeline vandals and oil thieves.”

Although he said the military was yet to ascertain the casualty figures, he urged Nigerians to encourage the military in flushing out economic saboteurs for the benefit of all.