PROMINENT Ijaw elders and youth leaders in Warri went into hiding on Monday as soldiers embarked on the arrest of some known Ijaw youths that had links with known militants in the state.
The fully armed soldiers were sighted at a five-star hotel in Effurun, in search of known militants in the town and suspected commanders of Government Ekpomukpolo, the leader of the recently destroyed Camp 5 in Oporoza in Warri South-West Local Government Area of the state.
Former militant leader, Alhaji Mujahideen Dokubo-Asari, narrowly escaped arrest on Sunday at the hotel, where he organised an event, when undercover security agents stormed the place to allegedly effect his arrest.
Soldiers continued the bombardment of the riverside communities in Gbaramatu Kingdom in search of the remnants of Ekpomukpolo and his boys in the area in line with the directive by the Presidency to “fish him out, dead or alive.”
Monday’s onslaught led to the destruction of Iroko militants’ camp, located close to the former camp 5 in Oporoza at about 6.00 a.m. after a heavy gun batlle between the soldiers and hoodlums.
Co-ordinator of Joint Media Campaign Centre, Colonel Rabe Abubakar revealed that fierce resistance by the militants resulted in the gun-duel between the JTF’s troops and the miscreants, adding that this led “ to the killing of a majority of them, even as others fled with gunshot wounds. There was no casualty on JTF’s side.”
He disclosed that large quantity of arms and ammunition and other military accessories were recovered from the thick forest areas dump of the camp.
Security has been beefed around Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State, following text messages being circulated and credited to Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, alleging that he was behind the ordeal of Ijaw.
But Izon traditional rulers from the Ijaw communities in the state, in a communique read to journalists in Warri, did not only dissociate the governor from the crisis but also commended him for what they called his relentless effort and display of high sense of responsibility towards ensuring an amicable resolution of the crisis in Gbaramatu Kingdom.
While expressing deep shock and dismay at the destruction of life and property, the traditional rulers appealed to President Umaru Yar’Adua to put an end to the continued use of military force in the search for a workable solution to the problems in the waterways.
In a related development, there are indications that the ongoing assault on militants in Gbaramatu Kingdom by the troops of the Joint Task Force might be extended to the neighbouring Bayelsa State following security reports that some of the fleeing militants were converging on the state.
Security sources told the Nigerian Tribune that intelligence reports indicated that the remnants of militants dislodged from the various camps in Delta State were regrouping in Bayelsa State with the intention of dragging the crisis to the state.
“They realised that they have lost all their camps and suspected hideouts in Delta State because of our continued onslaught, so they have decided to regroup in Bayelsa State to further drag us to the area. We are ready for them, anywhere they are, we will get them,” the security source said.
Colonel Abubakar, confirmed the development. He said the “ JTF, through its credible source, has confirmed that the remnants from destroyed militants camps, are regrouping in Bayelsa State with the intention of unleashing terror on the innocent citizens in that area.”
In another development, the main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has asked Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to quit his position over the continued bombardment of Ijaw communities by federal troops.
This is just as Ijaw National Congress (INC) has condemned the use of force to resolve the crisis in the region, calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities.
“Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has an opportunity to quit a government that has no iota of respect for him. If the president can snub him after the genocide over his people, then the post of vice-president is not worth it,” MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo said in a statement issued on Monday.
The militants, Gbomo warned, had been ordered to block key waterway channels to oil industry vessels both for the export of crude and gas and importation of refined petroleum products.
Meanwhile, Action Congress (AC) chieftain, Prince Tonye Princewill, on Monday tendered his resignation as the Chairman of the Niger Delta sub-committee on the Federal Government’s Vision 2020 Technical Group over the killing and displacement of civilians in the current crisis in the Niger Delta.
Princewill said in a statement issued in Port Harcourt that the current fighting was an indictment of leadership of the President Umaru Yar’Adua and showed Presidency’s lack of interest and commitment to the Niger Delta issue.
He stated in his letter that military onslaught was not the best option as the Niger Delta Technical Committee, of which he was a member, had made recommendations and suggestions on how to address the Niger Delta problem.
Part of his resignation letter reads, “After reading and monitoring of the ongoing carnage perpetrated by the military of the Federal Government and with the obvious connivance of the Presidency against my people in the Niger Delta region and with pronounced lack of interest and commitment towards addressing the Niger Delta issue, I, Prince Tonye TJT Princewill, after due consultation with my family and political associates consider it wise to hereby tender my resignation letter as the Chairman of the Sub Committee on Niger Delta of FG Vision 2020.”
Meanwhile, the military high command on Monday told what it called the criminal elements in the Niger Delta that enough was enough and that it would fish them all out and bring them to book.
Defence spokesman, Colonel Chris Jemitola, who gave the warning at a media briefing on the current security situation in the Niger Delta, accused the militants of deliberate and repeated unprovoked attacks on Joint Task Force troops, and the sabotage of oil and gas facilities, kidnapping for ransom of people and killing of innocent citizens of the society, including children, clergy men and very old citizens.
The Director of Defence Information denied that no communities were razed down as collateral damage was kept to the barest minimum during the operation.
Tracing the genesis of the current onslaught against the militants, Jemitola said that last Wednesday members of the JTF “Operation Restore Hope” on routine escort duties around Chanomi creek were ambushed by a militant group leading to the unfortunate and painful loss of some military personnel.
According to him, prior to this an NNPC-chartered tanker CM Spirit had been hijacked with its foreign crew and some Nigerians on board.
He disclosed that the vessel was run aground by the militants who also stole some of the cargoes while the crew members were tortured leading to the death of some of them and the rest held hostage.
The Defence spokesman said that the JTF’s search and rescue team sent to free the hostages was attacked again by the militants, while the search led to the discovery of a large cache of illegal arms and ammunition used for acts of criminality.
He noted that at no time were members of the JTF the aggressors, adding, “in fact, the JTF is only allowed the use of force in self defence or where arrest of a criminal is being resisted; extra care is taken to reduce collateral damage to the barest.”
Colonel Jemitola said that Nigerians had also seen the kidnapping and harassment of site workers and contractors carrying out socio-economic development of the area.
“These are all acts of criminality that cannot be condoned by any government and no responsible military leadership will fold its arms and watch its personnel attacked and killed on official assignment by any criminal gangs hence the military was left with no choice than to go after these criminals in order to bring them to book.”