• Mops up three target posts, recovers weapons
After several aerial assault by the Air Wing of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), the ground forces of the Operation Awatse Joint Task Force stormed the dreaded headquarters of the notorious Arepo pipeline vandals, THISDAY can exclusively gathered.
The Joint Task Force comprises elements of the Nigerian Navy (NN), the NAF and the Nigerian Army (NA), alongside the Department of State Security Services (DSS), the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Nigerian Police Force (NPF).
The mop up is coming after bombardments by Airforce jets and the MIG 34-aircraft and subsequent reconnaissance by their Beecraft aircraft, which helped in capturing videos of the bombed areas.
Speaking to THISDAY, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Fergusson Bobai, said the ground forces were able to access and mop up the headquarters of the vandals after rockets had demolished the structures.
He said given that the surveillance videos had identified four key targets, which have been gunned down already, the ground forces were able to mop up three of them, since the vandals have been displaced.
He said the forces will Monday, continue with the mop up and take control of the entire area, given that the vandals had fled after the Air Force dropped their missiles on the area.
He also said no further arrests have been made, apart from the 11 who were initially arrested by the JTF. The suspects have since given the JTF useful statements that will help in the fight against pipeline vandalism.
Also THISDAY gathered that during the mop up, two locally made guns, two generator sets, eight dane guns, 32 live ammunition, two laptops, a General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) magazine, AK 47 rifle, I8 cutlasses, Police badges and voters’ cards were among the items recovered.
‘Operation Awatse’ (a Hausa word for scatter) is the ongoing anti-pipeline vandalism exercise, at the creeks and mangroves of Ishawo and Igando areas of Ikorodu in Lagos State; then Arepo, Awawa, Elepete and Ibafo areas of Ogun State.
Although the Navy chairs the JTF, the aerial bombardment, surveillance and reconnaissance is being carried out under the leadership of the AOC Logistics Command, AVM Sani Ahmed, who coordinates the air component of the entire exercise.
With so many targets in the creeks, it was gathered that the vandals had set up observation posts, which are manned by their heavily armed duty post guards. All these posts have been brought down now.
Meanwhile, in two separate operations, the Inspector General (IG) of Police, Ibrahim Idris and the FOC Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Bobai, visited the creeks in Lagos and Ogun States, formerly occupied by the notorious pipeline vandals. While the IG had gone straight to Ishawo in Ikorodu to see the extent the Operation Awatse Joint Task Force had gone, the FOC had however extended his tour not just as Ishawo but to Arepo, Ibafo and Elepete.
Bobai, who is the chairman of the JTF, again reiterated the resolve of the military to rid the area of their responsibility of pipeline vandals, who constitute economic sabotage on the nation’s resources.
He also said given the numerous successes recorded by the joint task force, they were encouraged to sustain the operation and ensure that all the books and crannies of the creeks were scoured.
Following the success of the aerial bombardments, the ground troops would be deployed to enter the hinterland part of the creeks and mop up the remaining suspects
He said, “We went for an on-the-spot assessment and following the success of the aerial bombardment by the Air Force, the ground troops will now be deployed to go in and mop up. So far, the operation has been successful with the arrest of 11 suspects so far in our custody. We will sustain the tempo however. The job is not over yet. But be rest assured, we will finish it.” On the other hand, the IG ordered for the immediate demolition of houses used by pipeline vandals in the Ikorodu area of Lagos after some of the buildings used to siphon fuel were discovered by the JTF.
The IGP who was on an on-the-spot assessment of Ishawo, said so far, two locally made guns, two generator sets, eight dane guns, 32 live ammunition, two laptops, a General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) magazine, AK 47 rifle, I8 cutlasses, Police badges and voters’ cards were recovered from the houses.
He said with the recovery, the police would be able to trace the suspects as the account numbers of the depository and the banks were known.
While encouraging the security operatives keeping vigil in the volatile areas, he also pleaded with fleeing residents in Arepo and Ikorodu to come back home since the police and other sister agencies are on ground to provide adequate security in the area. Idris also charged the residents to cooperate with the operatives by providing them with information on the activities of criminal elements within their vicinity.
The Commanding Officer of the ground component, Lieutenant Colonel Julius Ogbobe, also explained to the IG the sketch of the locations of the enemies and how they carried out the operations.
He said the soldiers said they could not access the creeks, and called on the state government to assist them to build an access road to make it accessible, adding that the state government should assist in bringing cutting machines to clear the creeks