Military sources refute claim ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’ suffers casualty, as N’Delta militants launch attack
Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt,
Alike Ejiofor, Chiemelie Ezeobi in Lagos and Bassey Inyang in Calabar
Anxiety was palpable yesterday when Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) claimed it attacked a pipeline in the Bonny Export Terminal, which is strategic to the Nigerian crude oil production and export and most importantly, the economy.
The reported attack came barely two weeks after Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) lifted force majeure on exportation of Bonny Light grade of crude oil.
Shell had on September 7 lifted the force majeure, which was declared on August 12 following the shutdown of the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) by the operator of the pipeline, Nigerian independent, Aiteo Eastern E&P Company Limited, a subsidiary of Aiteo Group.
The NCTL and the 180,000 barrels per day capacity Trans-Niger Pipeline (TNP) are the two major pipelines used by Shell and other upstream companies operating in the eastern Niger Delta to evacuate their crude to the Bonny Export Terminal in Rivers State.
NCTL has a capacity of 150,000 barrels per day but about 600,000 barrels of liquids can be evacuated at the Cawthorne Channel end of the facility.
It was not clear which of the two pipelines the Niger Delta Avengers claimed to have attacked as a Shell Nigeria spokesman told THISDAY last night that the company would investigate the claim by the militant and issue an update.
But the spokesman of the militant group, Brig-Gen. Mudoch Agbinibo, said in a statement published on the group’s website yesterday that the group attacked the Bonny 48-inch crude oil export line on Friday night.
“On the 23rd September 2016, our strike team at 20:40pm hours time has brought down oil productions activities at the Bonny 48 inches crude oil Export Line,” Agbinibo said.
Agbinibo described the attack as “a signature to the over-dramatisation of the so-called dialogue and negotiation process on the side of President Muhammadu Buhari and his government.”
According to the group’s spokesman, “since, the cessation of hostilities and the commitment of the PAN Niger Delta Elders and stakeholders team, the Nigerian government and her agents are turning the expectations of the Niger Delta to shameful scenes obtainable in Nollywood acts and as well intimidations, blackmails and continuous profiling of Niger Delta sons and daughters.”
“This is only a wake-up call; we may not have other way to say it better,” the group added.
The militant group, however, reiterated its determination to embrace dialogue, stressing that it is “still in favour of the dialogue and negotiations.” But it warned against what it described as “the peace of our time.” “We want the peace with honour,” the group said,
“We will resist all actions undermining the ceasefire from side of the government and its security agents/ agencies. The world is watching, time is running against the Nigerian state; while we were promised that the concerns of Niger Delta will be addressed once a truce is declared, the activities of the government and her agents are not assuring enough, there has been no progress and no breakthrough. We cannot be continuously fooled, the government cannot justify the indiscriminate targeting of Niger Delta youths while glorifying on the victimisation of law abiding citizens of the region,” the avengers explained.
NDA had in August hinged its decision to end hostilities to the Niger Delta stakeholders’ conference convened to engage the federal government on issues affecting the region.
The conference held in Warri, Delta State, was jointly convened by elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark and Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State.
“We are going to continue the observation of our unannounced cessation of hostilities in the Niger Delta against all interests of the multinational oil corporations, but we will continuously adopt our asymmetric warfare during this period if the Nigerian government and the ruling APC continues to use security agencies/agents, formations and politicians to arrest, intimidate, invade and harass innocent citizens, suspected NDA members and invade especially Ijaw communities,” NDA had said in the statement announcing the ceasefire.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) had earlier advised the NDA to end hostilities and embrace dialogue.
However, there has not been independent confirmation of the incident.
But when contacted to confirm the incident, the Assistant Director Army Public Relations, Capt. Eli Lazarus, said he was not aware of the attack
Also, Operation Delta Safe (ODS), the military operation in the Niger-Delta, has strongly debunked the claim of the attack, stressing that it was merely a hoax and act of propaganda.
THISDAY checks with ODS, which is the Defence Headquarters new military outfit with headquarters in Igbogene, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State that took over the Niger Delta operation from the recently disbanded Joint military Task Force (JTF), Operation Pulo Shield (OPS), revealed that the story was as false.
The ODS, whose primary job is to improve security in the region and particularly, safeguard oil facilities from militancy and vandalism, said their checks after the news broke out discovered nothing of such happened.
A source attached to ODS, who spoke on anonymity to THISDAY said the purported bombing was the last resort by the defeated militants to create fear in the populace.
Recalling another incident, where the militants had claimed they had bombed a pipeline at Delta State, he said operatives who rushed to the purported village only met a civil burial ceremony instead of the carnage reported online by the propagandists.
According to him, “When we came across the information on social media, we put calls across to the operatives at the FOB and they sent operatives there.
“They first carried out a reconnaissance and surveillance in the said area but they found nothing of such. The area was calm. Chalk this up to propaganda.
“The area it purportedly happened was the Furaba Fishing Port, which is a fishing canal where they fish near the creeks.
“We urge online platforms to verify the source of information they pass across because insurgents, terrorists and militants bank on propaganda and the online media are feeding their frenzy.”
In a related development, suspected militants, purported to be members of Bakassi Strike Force (BSF), attacked soldiers in the troubled Bakassi.
The soldiers have been deployed to the area in an operation codenamed ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’, meant to rid militants, who had been attacking oil installations.
While the Nigerian Army said one soldier was killed and another one missing, unconfirmed sources put the death of the soldiers at six.
According to information gathered from sources in the area, which is about 30 minutes drive from Calabar, the state capital, the incident happened in the early hours of Saturday in the abode of one of the militant leaders known as G1, in Efut Esighi village.
The sources, who pleaded not to be mentioned disclosed that the residence of the militant leader known as Simply Benjamin had been occupied by men of the Nigerian army, as part of the operation to flush the militants out of Bakassi, Akpabuyo and the creeks of Calabar South.
However, information has it that the soldiers were taken unaware and attacked at about 2am to 3am, perhaps, after they had dropped their guard.
The sources said five soldiers were killed instantly while one of them, who sustained serious gunshot injuries died later. The soldiers also lost some guns to the invading militants, who retreated into the creeks after the attack.
It was also gathered from the sources that some young ladies were spotted within the vicinity of the attack, but it could be established whether they were among the militants or with the soldiers before the attack occurred.
However, the army authority has commented on the incident, saying only one soldier was killed during the attack while the militants lost two of their combatants.
A press statement issued from the office of the Commander 13 Brigade of the Nigeria army, Brigadier Bulama Biu, read as follows: “Militant Group Attack Troops at Efut Isigi: In early morning hours of today troops were attacked at Efut Isigi in Bakassi LGA by militant groups led by the most wanted leader Benjamin Simpily alias G1. In the gun battle, one soldier was killed and a pickup van burnt. Two militants were killed while others fled with gunshot wounds. Troops have been fully mobilised and are on pursuit of the militants. We want to assure law abiding citizens to be calm and avail the military and security agencies with useful informing to help track these criminals. A co-ordinated joint military action is on-going to hunt down these criminals no matter their hideouts.”