Kill 5 militants, Arrest 23 as FG vows to rid region of criminalities
Senator Iroegbu in Abuja and Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
Notwithstanding promises by the President Muhammadu Buhari government that it would employ dialogue, as an option, in dealing with the resurgent militancy in the Niger Delta, the military at the weekend launched an operation to root out militants in the oil-rich region. Director of Army Public Relations, Col. Sani Usman, said in a statement yesterday that the military campaign was “a precursor operation” to a planned offensive against the militants, code-named operation “Crocodile Smile”.
But in a quick reaction Saturday, president of Ijaw Youth Council Worldwide, Mr. Udengs Eradiri, condemned the decision of the federal government to use strong-arm methods against the groups, which had been attacking oil facilities in the region. Eradiri accused the government of insincerity in its pledge to peacefully resolve the emergent armed agitations, saying the use of force may jeopardise efforts by leaders of the people to resolve the crisis.
The Nigerian Army had been amassing troops, arms and ammunitions for “Crocodile Smile”, which it said was in support of the wider “Operation Delta Safe” being conducted to protect the oil infrastructure in the nine oil producing states.
Usman stated yesterday, “The 133 Special Forces Battalion of Nigerian Army troops have carried out a precursor operation to Exercise ‘Crocodile Smile’ aimed at getting rid of all forms of criminal activities in the Niger Delta geopolitical region of Nigeria.” He said in the course of the operation, “five militants that attacked the troops were killed in action, while numerous others were injured and 23 suspects were arrested.”
The army spokesman said the military operation, conducted on Friday, was carried out by the Special Forces at the militants’ camps. He listed items recovered from the camps to include two AK-47 rifles, 11 Pump Action Guns, a locally made revolver pistol, 292 cartridges of live Ammunition, 199 rounds of AK-47 rifle Ammunition, four electricity generating sets, and a camp gas cooker. The troops also recovered an abandoned engine boat left by the fleeing militants, he said.
There was intense apprehension along the waterways of the Niger Delta at the weekend following Friday’s announcement by the army spokesman that the military was amassing as part of a broader “logistics build-up” in the Niger Delta.
“The military training exercise embarked upon by the Nigerian Army to train its Special Forces, formations and units located in the South-south geo-political zone of the country has commenced in earnest,” Usman had stated.
It was gathered that the Sapele waterways in Delta State were used as springboard for the troop deployment to the creeks of the region.
However, the IYC called for caution and advised the federal government to pull the troops out of the area in order not to endanger on-going peace efforts. The IYC president said he had been inundated with complaints by people scampering for safety and fleeing into the forests at the approach of the troops, who operated in military gunboats in the creeks.
One militant group, the Ultimate Warriors of Niger Delta, also warned that the military would only succeed in maltreating innocent locals, who have always borne the brunt of such exercises.
Eradiri said it amounted to insincerity on the part of the government to be pronouncing dialogue while at the same time conducting a major military operation in the region.
He said, “The EK Clark committee has brought all Niger Delta leaders together. The MEND and the Avengers support them. The other day, the Minister for Petroleum, Ibe Kachukwu, met with them again.
“The unfortunate fact is whether government is sincere in this whole business. How can the military within the period announce that they are carrying out an exercise in the Niger Delta? They should have suspended whatever exercise they wanted to carry out. There is heavy presence of military mobilising into the Niger Delta through Sapele. But whether it is for ordinary exercise or not should have been suspended at this period.
“The communities are apprehensive and many people are now running away from their homes. As at yesterday (Friday) night, there was this rumour that they were going to attack Gbaramatu and the entire community started scampering into the forest because soldiers were seen mobilising in Sapele.
“When we asked, they said the military had met the governor and said they wanted to do a two-week drill in Niger Delta. It is wrong. They should suspend any form of activity because there is an interpretation of a sinister motive in their activities.”
The IYC leader urged Buhari to demonstrate sincerity of purpose in solving the problems in the Niger Delta. According to him, “President Buhari has not shown sincerity. He must withdraw the military from the Niger Delta if he wants genuine discussions. We are sceptical seeing many soldiers mobilising and jumping here and there.
“We don’t have a Sambisa forest where militants are stationed and waiting for the federal government, like in the North. There is nothing like that. This battle is more of an intelligence-civil strategy instead of an invasion that is old-fashioned. It will clearly jeopardise the dialogue.”
In its own reaction, the Supreme Council of Militia Forces under which the Ultimate Warriors of Niger Delta operates, warned the military to be extremely cautious, threatening that it will not take the killing of innocent civilians lightly. The group said in a statement, “The Supreme Council of Militia Forces is also asking the military to be professional and cautious with its on-going exercise in the Niger Delta waterways. It is unfortunate that we have a military that is lagging behind in amphibious training at this digital age compared to their counterparts in other climes and want to use the Niger Delta crisis as an excuse to further perpetuate their evil of causing panic and fear within our communities.
“This is what the Nigerian Army is known for; violation of human rights and abuses are their hallmark, they seize by the butt of the guns what doesn’t belong to them, including sending our poor farmers and fishermen/women out of the rivers because they want to show off their strength.”
It added, ”You send local people whose only means of eking out a living is fishing to stay away from their occupation without any palliative for them as if there are no rivers in the northern part of country where they can candidly embark on such training.
“But we will not be provoked; we are not for them and we will not give them the room to attack our communities. If anything unpalatable happens in the Niger Delta now that stakeholders have secured a ceasefire deal from agitators, the whole world will know who should be held responsible because the deployment of military devices, personnel and gunboats at a time the region is still fragile is to provoke the sleeping dogs.”
The Ultimate Warriors also welcomed the decision by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta to disband its AARON TEAM 2 and lend its support to the elders, monarchs and stakeholders committee headed by elder statesman, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark.