Sylvester Idowu in Warri
In what looked like a real war battle, the military under “Exercise Crocodile Smiles” on Tuesday descended on some riverine communities, destroying about seven illegal refineries in Delta State.
The special operation, according to a security source, began on Monday night when access in and out of the communities in Bomadi, Burutu, Warri North, Warri South and Warri South West Local Government areas of the state were cordoned off overnight.
It was learnt that the war like operation began on Tuesday morning when reinforcement were sent through the boats to targeted spots before helicopter gunships were deployed to disclocate the militants and illegal refineries operators as well as Cotonou boats.
“It was just like a real war. The militants did not bargain for what they got. The helicopter gunship, while approaching the targeted spots fired smoke shots into the area while the soldiers in gunboats moved closer to block their escape routes. Before they knew what was happening, the helicopters were hovering over the location with troops descending with parachutes. They were picked just like rain-beaten fowls”, a security source confided in THISDAY.
It was gathered that similar operations were carried out in other marked spots after which about 12 militants and illegal oil refineries operators were arrested.
According to a recorded conversation between a security agent and one of the arrested suspects, a militant, he said: “Oga I didn’t know the soldiers can work like this. I thought we will be shooting and dodging bullets while running in the swamps but they just came like that and took us without firing any shot.
“When the helicopter fired the shots, the smoke is like that of the police. We were running around but before we knew it, soldiers that jumped from the helicopters were just handcuffing us. They wore masks so the smoke didn’t disturb them. I threw my gun away. I won’t fight government again”, he said.
THISDAY observed that while the operations were going on in the creeks, police presence in major roads in Warri, Ughelli, Sapele and environs was massive, apparently to checkmate the hoodlums that might have escaped from the military onslaught in the waterways and creeks.
It was learnt that the police keyed in to the military exercise to, once and for all, reduce the activities of violent hoodlums terrorising the residents, since most of them come from the riverine communities to operate.
The Warri Area Commander of the Nigeria Police, Muazu Mohammed, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, said though the police was not part of the operation, the presence of his men at strategic spots in and around Warri was to apprehend fleeing hoodlums from the military exercise.
“I stationed my men in strategic spots to prevent those who might have escaped from the military exercise in the nearby creeks. It is the normal thing for us to do”, he said.
Reacting to the development in the creeks, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) on Tuesday called on military officers carrying out the military operation, styled Operation Crocodile Smile, in the Niger Delta to stop the constant harassment and intimidation of innocent villagers along the Warri and Forcados Rivers in Delta State.