- Suspects: Why we struck
Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
In a major breakthrough against criminality in the Niger Delta, the Joint Task Force, Operation Delta Safe, yesterday confirmed the arrest of the suspects linked to the brutal killing of four soldiers at a checkpoint in the waterways of Nembe, Bayelsa State, two weeks ago.
During yesterday’s operation, which led to the killing of the leader of the Bayelsa axis of the group, whom troops claimed was a suspected member of the Niger Delta Avengers, it was also revealed that a large cache of arms and ammunition and the military gunboat seized from the soldiers, were also recovered.
The military stated that the search for the suspected killers led them to a hideout in a camp at Saraba Creek, near Okiama community, Okigbene in Southern Ijaw Local Government, where the soldiers located the militants and engaged them in a gun duel, leading to the death of many suspects and the arrest of three others.
Among the items, including military accoutrements seized from the hoodlums were nine AK47 rifles, an FN rifle, four HK 21 MGs, one G3 MG, three GPMGs, 20 AK47 magazines, two G3 magazines, one FN magazine, one container of gunpowder and the gunboat seized from the murdered soldiers.
Also seized during the raid were 1,145 rounds of 7.62mm metal link, 2,485 rounds of 7.62mm ball cartons, 370 rounds of 7.62mm special ammunition and 1,356 rounds of 7.62mm NATO ammunition.
Austin Dikro, one of the suspects paraded by the JTF commander in the Niger Delta, Rear Admiral Joseph Okojie, said the group had gone for another operation and were returning when they had the bloody encounter with the troops.
According to him, the creek on the route they initially wanted to take had dried up on their return, making it difficult for their speedboat to float, before their now deceased leader ordered them to go through the military checkpoint and engage the soldiers head-on.
Dikro, who said he hails from Brass Local Government Area in the state, added that they disguised as mourners just before approaching the military blockade and opened fire on the troops.
It was gathered that the hoodlums also forced one of the surviving soldiers to operate the military gunboat that was seized from the troops, because it was too complex for their own men.
It was learnt that the soldier was the fourth military personnel that was killed during the August 8th encounter, as against the three that were initially reported.
Throwing more light on why the militants have embarked on attacking soldiers in the Niger Delta waterways, Admiral Okojie, who was flanked by all the unit commanders in the region, including the army, navy, civil defence, Department of State Services (DSS), police and others, disclosed that the source of wealth of the marauders was being depleted by the day, thereby making them more desperate.
He also disclosed that their sources of illegal arms had also been boosted following the various political crises that have ravaged African countries like Libya, leading to arms proliferation that have found their way into the country.
“The sources of acquiring illicit wealth are being degraded, hence the resort to attacking our locations. You would recall that on Monday, 8th August, 2016, at about 09.30hours, a group suspected to be members of the Niger Delta Avengers disguised as a burial party, attacked and killed four of our soldiers at their duty post in Nembe.
“They absconded with a gunboat and some ammunition. Since then, our own troops stepped up operations in the areas hitherto inhabited by these bandits. Consequently, on 13th August, 2016, our troops located and raided their hideout in a camp at Saraba creek near Okiama community in Okigbene in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, Bayelsa State.
“Several items including military accoutrements were recovered from them. In pursuit of these discoveries, a coordinated patrol was further launched and yesterday, 22nd August 2016, our troops at about 1400 hours located and engaged these criminals in a shootout in which some of them were believed to have been killed, three suspects arrested and large quantities of arms, ammunition and the gunboat that was taken from Nembe on 8th August 2016 were recovered,” he said.
He added that the JTF conducted the operation professionally and avoided collateral damage, noting that the security forces would continue to sustain the approach, which is in line with global best practices.
“Let me use this opportunity to reiterate the fact that no criminal would go free, wherever they are, be rest assured we will get them and ensure they face justice.
“Let me reaffirm the commitment of the Joint Task Force Operation Delta Safe of its resolve to ensure peace and economic stability in the region.
“Fortunately, there are windows of opportunities provided by the federal government for an amicable resolution of grievances by any aggrieved groups.
“Rather than engage in heinous crimes or self help, they should seize the opportunity and embrace peace or face the full wrath of the law,” he stated.
He also warned militants who have recently openly announced their secession plan, which they said would take place on October 1, stressing that the military would not joke with the unity of the country.
“In the same vein, those misguided elements that bear the unachievable and unfortunate message of disunity through the declaration of imaginary independence must have a rethink.
“The Joint Task Force believes these unscrupulous elements have ample time and opportunities to channel their grievances properly,” he warned.
He commended the “gallant troops” for their resoluteness during the operation and reassured law-abiding citizens to go about their normal businesses.
“We will do all within our limit to ensure safe waterways for legitimate businesses. I solicit for cooperation from members of the public in providing timely information as we continue to fish out these criminals from their hideouts,” he said.
He also pledged the resolve of the JTF to stop all illegal oil bunkering activities in the upstream sector and protect oil and gas supply/transport networks and stop pipeline vandalism, protect oil and gas facilities and installations and stop piracy in the Niger Delta region and Nigeria’s territorial waters.
Okojie also vowed to, in collaboration with his men, stop foreign collaboration against oil industries and any other sundry crimes that debilitate the socio-economic activities of the Niger Delta and Nigeria in general.
He announced that the JTF had expanded its area of operation to cover the whole of Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers States, as well as southern parts of Ondo, Akwa Ibom and Cross River States.