Nigerian troops have been massively deployed in the creeks of the Niger Delta to hunt down militants disturbing the peace of the region and bombing oil installations despite ongoing dialogue.
It was gathered that the deployment was by the Joint Task Force (JTF), Operation Delta Safe (ODS), following concerns that militants were still attacking oil pipelines despite peace talks between stakeholders of the region and the federal government.
The troops, it was learnt, were asked to identify and dismantle all the active militant camps used as operational bases by the hoodlums.
They were also directed to patrol the creeks, monitor vessels on the waterways and conduct stop-and-search operations on suspicious speedboats.
At one of the creeks identified as Sand-Sand Fishing Camp in Nembe, it was gathered that the troops came in contact with unrepentant members of a militant group making efforts to activate a dismantled militant camp.
A source from the ODS, who spoke in confidence, said the militants were trying to reactivate the camp to use it as a satellite base to constantly attack oil facilities located at the Nembe-Brass waterways.
He said the troops, after gathering enough intelligence, burst the camp and in the process confronted the militants in a gun battle.
“It was not an easy operation because the militants were armed to the teeth.
“But we overpowered them and killed one of their leaders, popularly known as Edoboy. We are still pursuing others who fled into the creeks,” the source stated.
The source further added that most of the fleeing militants were fond of running into communities to make the operations of the troops difficult.
“They run into the communities whenever they are being pursued and mix up making it difficult to identify them.
“The communities are always afraid to identify them and most times, these hoodlums use them to make statements accusing JTF of violating their human rights.
“We are very professional and will not engage in any action or conduct that will drag the name of the military in the mud,” the source explained.
But indigenes of the Sand-Sand claimed the troops invaded their community under the guise of looking for militants.
They accused the military of destroying scores of houses, churches and schools during the incident.
One of the indigenes, Chief Dede Francis, claimed residents deserted the community, alleging that displaced persons were suffering in bushes and neighbouring communities.
“We tried talking to them but it was futile. After hours of intimidation, they told us that some suspected members of the Niger Delta Avengers were chased into our community.
“They claimed there were exchanges of gun fire with their personnel by the suspected Avengers from the community.
“The invasion and search however left buildings, schools and churches destroyedý. Only a school building was left standing.
“We are shocked. The so-called Avengers did not enter our community,” he said.
But the Coordinator, Joint Media Campaign Centre (JMCC) of the ODS, Lt. Col. Olaolu Dauda, faulted the claims of Francis describing it as a big lie.
He said the true position of the operation at the Sand-Sand community had been widely reported by the media.
He added militants and persons making bloody capitals from the activities of hoodlums were behind claims that troops invaded the community and destroyed houses and churches.
A Nembe Chief, Wilfred Ogbotobo, asked the ODS to do everything professionally possible to flush out militants from the Niger Delta creeks.
According to him criminals should not be pampered and any dialogue with militants amount to treating full-blown criminality with kid gloves.
He said: “With the quantum of weighty challenges confronting the nation at the moment, the Buhari administration does not have the luxury of time and resources for hopeless, hypocritical frolics with every lunatic group that springs from the creeks and other parts of the Niger Delta.
“Instead, the federal government should consolidate the successes so far recorded and expand the overall capacity of the Operation Crocodile Smile to restore law and order in the region for the government to fast track meaningful developmental measures immediately”.
The troops also rescued travellers kept hostage by suspected sea pirates in the creeks of Southern Ijaw local government area.
The troops, who have been combing creeks in the Niger Delta region, were said to have discovered the pirates’ hideout when they raided Kasabubou Forupa waterways of the council.
The Coordinator, Joint Media Campaign Centre (JMCC), Lt. Col. Olaolu Dauda, who confirmed the development, gave the names of the rescued hostages as Peter Atijera, Lukman Balogun and Pious John.
He said the troops recovered two double-engine speedboats, two binoculars and a Motorola radio at the hideout.
Dauda further said that three kidnapped employees of Lex Oil were found and released from a kidnappers’ den at Ikuru town of Andoni Local Government Area, Rivers State.
He said the Air Component of ODS while conducting surveillance at Isaka town, Kidney Island, Alakiri and Bille in Degema Local Government Area of Rivers State, discovered two incapacitated barges loaded with illegally-refined products.
Dauda said the ongoing war against oil theft led troops of Sector 2 to arrest one Ebi Youbodha driving a Nissan Sunny car with registration number Rivers AJ 252 NCH around Imiringi, Ogbia, Bayelsa State.
He said when the vehicle was searched, 33 jerry cans of substance suspected to be illegally-refined Dual Purpose Kerosene (DPR), were recovered from him.
In Delta State, he said troops of Sector 1 foiled an armed robbery attempt and rescued six persons returning from market along Bomadi Agadama road by Ohoro Junction in Ughelli North Local Government Area.
But he said that on sighting the troops, the suspects abandoned their illegal operation and fled into the bush.
Dauda added: “Troops in conjunction with personnel of Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) conducted a raid on suspected criminal/illegal drug dealer’s hideout at Emu Obodeti Community in Ndokwa West Local Government Area, Delta State.
“The operation led to the arrest of one Mr. Moses Eni and Mrs. Boyi Kamanda with 55 bags of substance suspected to be Indian hemp were recovered. The items are in the custody of the NDLEA office in Kwale Delta State.”