There was tension in Niger Delta, yesterday, as soldiers allegedly raided an Ijaw community, four days after President Muhammadu Buhari met with Niger Delta leaders in Abuja as part of the efforts to resolve issues that led to renewed militancy in the oil-rich region.
The military operation, it was learnt, was launched in search of militants. An Ijaw and one other person, believed to be a student, were said to have been arrested during the operation.
Details of the operation were not clear, but Chief Moses Bebenimibo, said to be on his way to Oporoza, the traditional headquarters of the Gbaramatu clan, and the student of Gbaraun Grammar School, Oporoza, were allegedly arrested for undisclosed reasons.
Residents of the affected community ran into the bush at about 12.10 pm when the soldiers stormed the community, amid the claim that they were in the area in search of suspected militants.
There was also uneasy calm, last night, over the claim that President Buhari had directed the security agencies to identify militant leaders, their locations and camps in the region while the deployment of the soldiers created fear.
A group, Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative, IPDI, described the alleged move by the President to identify militant leaders, their locations and militant camps in the Niger Delta region as suspicious, given that the he had just met with the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, over the issues in the oil-rich region, last week, adding he was not ready for dialogue.
However, Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate, NDGJM, the only militant group that refused to identify with PANDEF, led by former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, and heed the call to cease hostilities, mocked the forum, saying the President humiliated the stakeholders in Abuja.
Meanwhile, ex—militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, was not unhappy with the Niger Delta stakeholders for the manner they handled the Abuja meeting. A Tompolo confidant, said: “It is not true at all that Tompolo is unhappy with the leaders, I am unaware of such development.”
A source said that troops, attached to the Operation Safe Delta of the Nigeria Army, raided Tebujor in Gbaramatu clan and arrested the two persons, the second time in six months the area would witness such raid. The first raid took place in June.
But the Ibe-Benemowei of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, in a statement, yesterday, confirmed the raid and arrest.
His words: “As I speak, one Chief Moses Bebenimibo, who was on his way to Oporoza, the traditional headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom, was arrested by the military. Another boy (Kpaghan Marvellous), who is a student of Gbaraun Grammar school Oporoza, was also arrested. I am using this medium to plead with the Gbaramatu people, Ijaws,and all Niger Deltans to keep the peace in the face of this provocation.”
Gbenekema, who said he traveled to Oporoza, yesterday, to brief the monarch and other leaders on the Abuja meeting with Buhari, said: “After the PANDEF meeting with the President in Abuja, it was imperative that everybody goes to his constituency to brief the grassroots on the outcome of the meeting around all the communities in the Niger Delta.
“While the meeting to brief His Royal Majesty, the Pere of Gbaramatu Kingdom, the traditional council and the people of Gbaramatu Kingdom was on, the people were informed about a military invasion going on in Okpele ama/Tebujor communities in the kingdom.
“I, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, was asked by the Gbaramatu Traditional Council to make this press statement and also to appeal to Delta State government to come to our aid by way of intervention so that this incessant arrest, intimidation and brutality can stop.
“We are also using this medium to tell our President to call the military to order. We cannot at a time we are looking for solution to the problems of the Niger Delta shop for crisis.”
Lamenting the incursion, Assistant Secretary, Tebujor community, Wuruyai Doubra, said: “I cannot give the number of the troops, but they came in four gun boats and arrested three persons from the community.
“We are indeed taken aback by this afternoon’s invasion, coupled with the fact that stakeholders from the Niger Delta region and the Federal Government are working on how to find lasting solution to the impasse in the region through peaceful avenues.”
Discordant tunes on Tompolo
Separately, yesterday, a Niger Delta leader at the presidential parley with the oil-region’s leaders in Abuja, last week, said Buhari, who was expected to make some declarations at the parley, carefully avoided making any categorical declaration because he was yet to get final briefing from his service chiefs on the situation in the troubled region.
He alleged that it was based on the disposition of the President that the delegation, fearing further backlash, could not present a demand that Tompolo, now being tried by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for alleged fraud be granted amnesty and cleared of all charges in the interest of Niger Delta peace.
“As I speak to you now, I am in the creeks to brief our boys on what we did when we met Buhari, but they are not very happy that the Tompolo amnesty was not worked out.
“But we are working hard to appease all the parties involved to keep the peace until we meet again with Mr. President on all the issues begging for answer.”
Though PANDEF leader, Clark, and Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, explained that Buhari spoke bluntly at the Abuja meeting, a confidant of Tompolo, said: “The claim that Tompolo is unhappy with Niger Delta leaders is false, I do not know anything about that and I should know if there is such thing.”
NDGJM, in a statement by self-styled General Aldo Agbalaja, titled: ‘We warned them,’ said: “The humiliation that came with the meeting of the PANDEF with President Muhammadu Buhari did not come to the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate as a surprise. We expected it.
“However, we want to dare President Buhari and his administration to attempt or fully carry out his military action against our people and see the response that will follow. We want to say, without mincing words, that we are aware of his intentions. We heard, loud and clear, his hostile message. We understand his message even beyond his uttered words and the Niger Delta.
“As a matter of fact, what the Avengers did to the oil industry will be nothing to compare to the grand-plan already set by our Central Command: we shall bring the Nigerian daily output quota to below 500,000.
“The oil multinational companies, we know you are recalcitrant and will always come to test our will. We hope you will continue in this tradition, so there will always be reason to let the world know that you don’t contest the corners of a house with the owner”.
“The destruction of the Trans-Forcados Pipeline (TFP) is just a warning to a deaf/rogue entity. We warned against the restarting of the facility, but the daring companies won’t listen. That shadow operation that brought the TFP was only meant to let these companies know that we are not kidding with them; when we say stay down; you stay down, it is in your own best interest”.
‘Buhari not prepared to negotiate’
National president of IPDI, Austin Ozobo, in a statement, criticizing the President’s alleged directive on leaders of militant groups and locations of militant camps, said: “All is not well as regards the collective interest and well being of Niger Delta. What is unfolding after a tense agitation in the region shows we are either divided in our aspirations or government forces have infiltrated.”
“If we are to go for soft demands to remain friendly with President Buhari and to have some favour at the end of the day, what stops PANDEF elders/ stakeholders from including in their list the speedy amendment of onshore/ offshore dichotomy bill, which has affected development and infringed on ownership rights of our oil”.