Sylvester Idowu in Warri
Following military surveillance of Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State on Tuesday, the traditional ruler of the area, His Royal Majesty, Oboro Gbaraun 11, Aketekpe (Agadagba) has put all communities chairmen on red alert to fish out any strange face that will attempt to attack oil and gas pipelines in the kingdom.
The step, THISDAY checks revealed, was to prevent outsiders from engaging in any breach of the national assets which will provoke military onslaught on the kingdom since ex-militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo alias Tompolo hails from the area.
But speaking with THISDAY yesterday, Spokesman of Gbaramatu Traditional Council, Chief Godspower Gbenakama said the monarch had warned that any attempt by â€œcriminal elementâ€ to capitalise on the threat by the dreaded militia group, Niger Delta Avengers to attack oil installations could have â€œdire consequencesâ€.
The military authority, following renewed threat to attack oil facilities by Niger Delta Avengers, had launched air surveillance involving fighter jets as well as deployed gunboats to the area, a situation Chief Gbenekama said has put the Kingdom on danger.
The deployment of air surveillance and gunboats regiments on Tuesday were in reaction to what the Commander, Nigerian Navy Ship, (NNS Delta), Warri Naval Base, Commodore Ibrahim Dewu said was as a result of security concern on Escravos and the Trans Forcados Pipelines.
â€œWhat they are speculating as military deployment is routine patrol along Escravos and the Trans Forcados Pipelines, he said, adding, â€œOnce we sense any security concern on that line, our men usually move in to patrol the area. Nobody is deploying any gunboat or jets to specific communities. It is a normal patrolâ€, Dewu had said.
But Gbenekama disagreed with the Navyâ€™s chief position saying that the air surveillance was to take coordinate aerial view of the traditional ruler palace and the Gbaramatu Kingdomâ€™s guest house, which the military had erroneously targeted in the past as â€œhavenâ€ for â€œmilitia elementsâ€
He said that it was worrisome that the military had turned the Gbaramatu Kingdom into a battlefield, but warned that anybody or group of persons who makes any attempt on oil pipeline situated in the Kingdom in a bid to force the military against the locals or leveraging on the current crisis for self-serving reasons would face â€œextreme consequencesâ€.
According to him, worried by the alleged threat by Niger Delta Avengers, the traditional ruler of the Kingdom had asked all communities chairmen within Gbaramatu to be on the lookout for suspected â€œcriminal elementsâ€ who would want to sabotage oil installations and blame it on insurgents.
â€œI call you in regard to the present threat Gbaramatu kingdom appears to be facing. Threat arising from Avengers and threat arising from military presence. As I said yesterday (Tuesday), military aircraft, fighter jets were under surveillance in the length and breadth of Gbaramatu Kingdom and it caused a lot of fear and tension among our people.
â€œWhat we think is that they are taking coordinate mapping of the Kingdom in order to wreak havoc on the monarchâ€™s palace and guest house and other targeted soft spots of Gbaramatu Kingdom but I want to say it again here that Gbaramatu Kingdom is not at war with the Federal Government or its agents.
â€œHowever, we want to warn criminal elements who want to use the present situation to cause confusion and set Gbaramatu on fire to desist and halt the plans.
â€œWe want to announce that anybody who gets close to oil pipelines in our domain with intent to vandalize them would be apprehended and handed over to security agency, Gbenekama warned, adding, â€œno criminal element should capitalize on the present situation to wreak havoc on oil installations.
â€œThe monarch has directed that all the chairmen in the Kingdom should be vigilant and that if they see any strange face in the Kingdom or notice that any son of the Kingdom is planning or about carrying out pipeline attack, such a person should be apprehended and handed over to the security agents.
Gbenekama however reiterated that Gbaramatu Kingdom was not in support of the indifferent attitude of the federal government towards the 16-point demands of PANDEF but quickly added, â€œwe wouldnâ€™t support the behaviour of Niger Delta Avengersâ€, either, as both the federal government and Avengers have eroded the gains of the tentative peace and security in the region.
â€œIn as much as we are pleading with Avengers to give.peace a chance, we are also appealing to the federal government, the military authority and the navy not to turn our communities into a battlefield. We donâ€™t harbour Avengers, we donâ€™t support Avengers and we are not Avengers. We are just under-developed people, seeking for development of their area. So deploying military jets and fighter aircraft to the Niger Delta region and Gbaramatu Kingdom, in particular, is not the answerâ€.
The Benemowei of Gbaramatu Kingdom said that the failure of the federal government to leverage on the cease-fire agreement entered into with the militant groups in 2016 should be blamed for the resurgence of militancy in the region