19 January 2016, Warri — Militants who blew up crude oil and gas pipelines in Delta State for three days last week, have beat a retreat following an intensive manhunt for them by operatives of the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta and appeals by traditional rulers and concerned leaders of Ijaw ethnic nationality.
Riverine dwellers in affected communities in Warri South-West Local Government Area, who spoke to Vanguard on phone, said that there was relative calm, yesterday, following the overpowering presence of soldiers who invaded some communities and suspected hideouts of the militants.
One of them, John Preye, said: “The restriction on movements has been relaxed, people can now go about without the kind of search soldiers subjected us to on Saturday and Sunday.”
Vanguard gathered that many Ijaw traditional rulers contacted known leaders of militant groups in their areas and threatened to hold them responsible if soldiers bombarded their communities because of their activities.
The Commander of JTF, Major-Genera Alani Okunola, boasted on Sunday during inspection of bombed gas pipelines at Egwa II, that the task force was closing in on the militants and would fish them out.
A close aide to one of the militant leaders confided in Vanguard: “Many traditional rulers actually called to appeal that we should simmer down because soldiers will seize the opportunity to bombard our communities and kill innocent persons.”
Meanwhile, the state governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, who condemned the mindless destruction, yesterday, lamented that the state was “bleeding again” because of the attacks.
However, chieftains of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Warri South-West Local Government Area reacted to the insinuation by ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, that they were responsible for the bombing, saying that Tompolo should stop the distraction and face the consequences of his action.
One of the leaders, Chief Ayiri Emami, who decamped from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to APC before the last presidential election said, “They should not run away from what they have done and accuse APC. They should mention the person in APC and let security agents investigate that person.”
Despite the relative calm, soldiers continued their reconnaissance operation in the creek yesterday, as several Ijaw groups condemned the invasion of communities by the task force and suggested a political solution to the impasse between Tompolo and the Federal Government.
Delta is bleeding again —Okowa
Okowa, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Charles Aniagwu, said that the bombing was an attack on the soul of the state and urged Deltans to assist security agencies with relevant information to unmask the criminals behind the pipelines bombing.
He noted that the mindless devastation was purely a criminal act and no leader or politician should incite one ethnic nationality against another because of the incidents.
His words: “These attacks should be condemned by all well meaning Nigerians, particularly compatriots in the Niger Delta. This is an attack on our soul. The state is bleeding again and its implication for the economy and image of Delta state is grave.
“Do not be part of this crime and refuse to listen to any leader or politician who would want to pitch one ethnic nationality against another as a result of these incidents. The destruction of oil facilities is purely criminal and we reject attempts to label it otherwise.”
We know the bombers —Emami
“We all know those carrying out the bombing. They should stop telling lies and own up to what they have done. Some of us have volunteered to help the security agencies with information on who is carrying out the attacks. Everybody, including Tompolo, should also give information.
“We know those carrying out the bombings. Tompolo and I, with our positions, cannot say that we do not know those responsible for the bombings. If he says he is not the one, he should give security agents information on who is doing it,” Emami said.
He added: “If we do not do the right thing now, the hoodlums carrying out the attacks will continue and from there, they will veer into sea piracy and thereafter, crisis will start. That was how the Warri crisis started. Nobody is wishing for another Ijaw and Itsekiri war, but I am talking from experience of what happened in the past.”
We’re at the receiving end —Ijaw communities
A coalition of Ijaw communities in Gbaramatu Kingdom has urged the conflicting parties in the kingdom to refrain from resuming armed confrontation and the destruction of oil and gas pipelines in the area.
Speaking on behalf of the coalition, the chairman, Enekorogha community in Warri South-West Local Government Area, Mr. Chris Ejoh, urged perpetrators of the dastardly act to refrain from subjecting Gbaramatu to another round of crisis since the communities would be the ones to suffer the brunt of their actions.
Expressing anxiety over the aftermath of the crisis, Ejoh said that since the attacks, the companies have suspended work on several ongoing pipeline repair projects in Enekorogha and other Ijaw communities, including the Escravos-Warri oil/gas pipeline, and workers evacuated, while militants bombed others near[ng completion.
He lamented that the unfortunate incident has led to the sabotage of Abiteye Flow Station belonging to Chevron and other pipelines from Opuekeba to Dibi and Olero in Warri North Local Government Area of the state.
Women flay military invasion
The Ijaw Women Connect, IWC, worldwide, has added its voice to those condemning the recent invasion and attack on five Ijaw communities in Gbaramatu, Delta State, by soldiers.
Speaking to Vanguard yesterday, IWC spokesperson, Vivian Elenwo, explained that given the coercive approach of the Federal Government as orchestrated in these communities, Ijaw women will not fold their arms and turn deaf ears to the issue.
The group appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to call the soldiers who invaded the communities to order, saying that innocent lives would be lost in the battle besides the negative impact on the nation’s economy.