- Militants warn residents to vacate communities rigged with explosives
Senator Iroegbu in Abuja, Omon-Julius Onabu in Asaba and Sylvester Idowu in Warri
Faced with increasing insider arms deals with insurgents in the North East of the country, the Nigerian military is not taking chances as it stepped up its game in the Niger Delta at the weekend, rolling out its armoured tanks and other sophisticated military hardware in a show of force that seeks to discourage militants and criminal elements from perpetrating further violence in the region.
The Nigerian Army, which rolled out its tanks in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on Sunday, is being complemented by the Nigerian Airforce, which has also deployed more personnel and war planes in an exercise code-named “Operation Crocodile Smile” that the Director of Army Public Relations, Col. Sani Usman said was organised to prepare its troops for the task of routing out criminal elements and ending militancy in the oil-rich region.
The military had said on Thursday that some soldiers were selling arms and ammunitions to the Boko Haram insurgents in the North East, compounding the efforts to defeat terror in the region that had been under the scourge of insurgency in the last six years.
The Theatre Commander of Operation Lafia Doyle, Maj. Gen Lucky Irabor, had told a news conference in Maiduguri that the military was worried by the development he said amounted to the betrayal of the Nigerian people, adding that it was dealing appropriately with the situation.
Irabor’s conference came three weeks after the Nigerian Army said a military tribunal was trying 16 officers and troops accused of offenses related to the fight against Boko Haram, including the theft and sale of ammunition to insurgents.
On Sunday, however, the military, despite efforts by the federal government to court the militants and agree on a peaceful resolution of their grievances, continued with its show of force in the Niger Delta, displaying heavy military equipment and arms and ammunitions in Port Harcourt, Rivers State even as the Nigerian Air Force deployed more personnel for combat mission the restive region.
The military action apparently became justified by the increasing number of militant groups sprouting up and issuing threats to sabotage more oil and gas installations in the region.
One of them, the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate (NDGJM), a Urhobo militant group, sunday advised residents around major oil and gas facilities across the Niger Delta to evacuate immediately to avoid human casualties in its next attacks, saying several of the installations had been laden with explosives that would soon be detonated.
The Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR), Col. Sani Usman, in a statement sunday, said the “show of force” was part of the activities lined up for the field training, code-named ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’.
The military exercise was instituted to train personnel in amphibious warfare as part of the federal government’s efforts to rid the region of criminal elements and also meet the challenges posed to oil and gas exploration activities by militants dispensing violence in the area.
Usman said military personnel from 2 Brigade Nigerian Army stationed in Port Harcourt conducted the show of force as part of the exercise to prepare them for their responsibility in their area of command.
He said, however, that the exercise was not all about showing force but also had humanitarian component, adding that troops of 2 Brigade, 82 Division, Nigerian Army, on Saturday, touched the lives of over 500 people within Bille Community in Degema Local Government Area of Rivers State with free medical outreach.
According to him, the free medical services featured consultation, diagnosis and eye care, blood pressure checks, free drugs, blood tests and counselling services.
He said: “A similar exercise was held at Nembe, Ogbolomabiri and Bassambiri, Bayelsa State on the same day with impressive turnout. At all locations, the beneficiaries of the services expressed happiness with the outreach.
“The Brigade has further sensitised the communities on the impending military training exercise, Operation Crocodile Smile, enjoining them to go about their normal businesses as it is aimed at exercising the troops in the Niger Delta region in amphibious operations.”
In a related development, the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshall Sadique Abubakar, has disclosed plans by the NAF to deploy additional personnel in the Niger Delta as part of the resolve to combat militancy and other forms of internal security challenges in the region.
Abubakar, in a statement signed sunday by the Director of Public Relations and Information (DOPRI), Group Captain Ayodele Famuyiwa, made the disclosure in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State while on operational visit to the NAF Mobility Command.
According to him, the planned deployment is aimed at strengthening the existing NAF manpower disposition, especially in Bayelsa State, and to enhance their involvement in Operation Delta Safe.
He said that preparatory to this deployment, new facilities were recently put in place to cater for accommodation and other welfare needs of the personnel.
The Air Force chief listed the facilities to include the construction of new blocks of accommodation for officers and men, office accommodation, airmen mess, and provost squadron, which were commissioned recently.
He said that two of the airmen’s block of accommodation were named after Corporal Omaka VI and Aircraftman Ofonih EF, both of whom were killed recently in Bosso, Niger State during an internal security operation.
Earlier, Abubakar had, during the visit, paid a courtesy call on the Governor of Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickason, who stated that his administration was ready to partner with the NAF and other security agencies because it understood the importance of security and the need for the state to be safe for economic prosperity.
Dickson also promised that his government would partner with the Air Force to build NAF primary and secondary schools in the state to enable Bayelsans benefit from the quality education provided by them with a view to bringing about discipline and reorientation among youths in the state.
Meanwhile, Air Vice Marshal Larry Koinyan (rtd), who inaugurated the newly constructed projects at NAF Base, Yenagoa, lauded air force personnel for their courage and resounding successes brought about by the renewed vigour at ensuring peace and stability in the various theatres of operations across the country.
Koinyan also called on Bayelsans to partner with the federal government to provide holistic solutions to the problems of the Niger Delta.
Militants Tell Residents to Evacuate
Urhobo militant group, NDGJM, sunday advised residents around major oil and gas facilities across the Niger Delta to evacuate immediately to avoid human casualties in its next attacks.
According to a statement signed by its spokesman, Aldo Agbalaja, the group said the warning became necessary since most of the marked facilities in all the states in the region had been rigged with explosives waiting for detonation.
It said: “One more time, we are warning and at the same time appealing to residents around major oil and gas facilities across our region to please evacuate immediately.
“This warning has become necessary because of the fact that we do not wish any of our people, for whom we have taken up this crusade, to become casualties of our campaign.
“All the marked facilities in all the states have been rigged with explosives at strategic points, waiting to be detonated.
“We are only being slowed down because of the presence of those still living close by. This struggle will only cease when the adversarial Nigerian system yields to reason.”
Reacting to the claim by Ijaw National Leader, Chief Edwin Clark, that it had ceased fire, the militant group described it as a charade aimed at hoodwinking the federal government into believing that he was in control of the region.
It warned the federal government to be wary of Clark’s antics adding: “We have warned the federal government to be wary of the old man, Chief E.K Clark, and his antics; he can do anything to make dirty money. He and his cohorts, in their desperation to make the unsuspecting government, oil companies and the general public believe they are indeed ‘lords’ of the Delta, created a big fat lie, another charade, in the name of a non-existent ceasefire by the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate.”
The group said it had no reason to halt its anger against the federal government, which it said had not responded to its requests.
It denied having a member called Odu, which a national newspaper reported was negotiating with Clark on its behalf.
The NDGJM said: “This call and the so-called ceasefire is all a job, just like the Ijaw-dominated, Clark-convened Niger Delta stakeholders meeting in Effurun was. They both are meant to justify money they hope to obtain from government.”
The militant group advised the public to disregard the Clark initiative, noting that it has its own means of communicating.
The group said it had observed an organised plot to tag it as an Urhobo group thus the frequent and deliberate characterisation as such by a section of the media, especially Vanguard and THISDAY.
It said: “This attempt has been followed up by a reckless military invasion of some Urhobo communities. Our message to those in this plot; keep at it, your recompense is nigh.”
MEND Confirms Moves to Settle Jonathan, Okah Brothers’ Rift
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) sunday confirmed moves by the Clark’s Peace Committee to settle the long-standing row between former President Goodluck Jonathan and Henry and Charles Okah, who are currently in prisons in Nigeria and South Africa.
MEND, in a statement by its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, said it welcomed the steps being taken by the Ijaw leader, to reunite the Okahs, whose altercation with the ex-president dates back to 2010 when they allegedly bombed the venue of Nigeria’s Independence Day celebrations in which 12 persons died.
MEND said separate meetings with the lawyer of the two brothers, Timipa Okponipere, and Jonathan had been held by Clark with a view to reconciling them and getting them to drop their N5 billion libel suit threat against the former Nigerian leader.