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Nigeria news:Military heightens operations in Niger delta

The  Joint Task Force (JTF), continues its military outslaught in the Niger Delta to fish our militants believed to be hiding mainly in two communities Okerenkoro and Oporoza in Delta state

Guardian newspapers reports that the JTF spokesman, Col. Rabe Abubakar, who gave an update of the five-day offensive in the Delta creeks, said large quantities of arms and ammunition, which include anti-aircraft guns, general purpose machine guns, rocket propelled grenades, locally made guns, machetes and native charms were recovered at militants’ camps in Okerenkoko and Oporoza communities in Delta State.

Abubakar said the ammunition were discovered when the soldiers stormed the communities for a “Search and Rescue Operation” at dawn yesterday.

He said: “The operations at the two communities were executed after a reliable intelligence source fingered them as re-grouping points for militants dislodged from their camps, which are at present being occupied by the JTF.”

Abubakar denied the use of jet fighters and helicopter-gunships in the campaign, insisting that it was only infantry soldiers that were involved in the operation.

The operation, he said, was timely considering the calibre of weapons discovered in the militants’ camps.

“We ought to be celebrating this operation and the success we have recorded with the destruction and seizure of colossal hardware that were in the hands of these criminals,” he said.

Abubakar said the lives of Nigerians in the communities were precious to the JTF and would not for any reason use jets on them. While advising those living in the “satellite communities” to always pass information about militants’ activities to the JTF for appropriate action, Abubakar said such “information will be treated with the secrecy it deserves, fear not.”

At its session yesterday, the Senate directed its Committee on Defence to begin a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances leading to the military’s bombardment of some Delta communities.

The Upper House’s action was prompted by a motion sponsored by Senator James Manager (Delta South) when he drew his colleagues’ attention to the carnage in the Niger Delta creeks, saying that innocent residents of the region had been killed by the rampaging soldiers.

Ruling on the motion, Senate President David Mark, said there was no need to debate the matter because of its sensitive nature. He therefore asked the Senator Ibrahim Ida-Defence Committee to investigate the matter and report back to the Upper House in two weeks.

At a press conference shortly after the session, Manager said: “The turmoil that has been going on in my state, particularly in my senatorial district, in Warri South-West /Delta State is unfortunate. The struggle on behalf of the Niger Delta people is an age-long one. It did not just start today, it started even before I was born and it is still there. It was meant to attract the attention of government to the plight of the people. The area is difficult, the terrain is difficult, and commissions upon commissions have been set up beginning with the Willink Commission in 1958 and so much has been talked about it but nothing achieved.

“The attack has become indiscriminate, that is the crux of the matter. The people, the old men and women, the children and the reasonable people who are not part of the attack, every body is now affected. That is the crux of my motion. How do we protect these people? They are Nigerians. As we speak, so many people have been displaced.

“Between the 14th and 17th of May, 2009, communities in the oil-rich Gbaramatu Clan in Warri South-West Local Council of Delta State were heavily bombarded by the Nigerian military from air, on land and on water. The communities are the permanent homes of Nigerian old men, old and pregnant women, nursing mothers and children, many of whom have died helplessly,” he lamented.

Manager appealed to the Federal Government to withdraw the troops to end the tragedies being recorded in the area.

The Speaker of House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, yesterday described the military operations in the region as a peace-keeping operations geared towards restoring peace to the area.

Bankole, who spoke to reporters at the Presidential Wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, said: “Whenever people are fighting as it is the case in the Niger Delta any attempt to separate the feuding parties could trigger punches on any side as the human catastrophe thus far indicates.

“As far as I am concerned, the situation in the Niger Delta is a peace-keeping option that could restore peace to the region. When two people are fighting and you try to separate them, you may get punches as well.”

But the presidential candidate of the National Action Council (NAC) in the 2007 elections, Dr. Olapade Agoro, blamed the elite, particularly for the crisis in the Niger Delta.

Agoro, who is also a factional chairman of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), said the quest for power and control of wealth by a few people in the region was responsible for the unrest.

He spoke yesterday in Ibadan, Oyo State, against the backdrop of the renewed onslaught on militants in the region by JTF. Agoro said the only panacea for resolving the crisis lies in the convocation of a national conference to address the problem.

In its reaction to the military invasion, the Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition (NDCSC) appealed to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the organ responsible for indigenous and minority rights, to send a team to Nigeria to investigate the level of human rights abuses in the area.

NDCSC Chairman and head of the Niger Delta Technical Sub-committee on Disarmament, Demobilisation and Rehabilitation, Anyakwee Nsirimovu, urged the UN to investigate cases of extra-judicial executions, inhuman treatment, torture, rape, cultural, social and economic rights in the Niger Delta before the evidence disappears without trace.

Nsirimovu accused President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of lack of political will in dealing with the Niger Delta crisis. According to him, the President had an invaluable opportunity to implement at least the recommendations of his technical committee on the Niger Delta, beginning with militancy and conflict measures, which would have made the “latest maiming, slaughtering and displacing of unsuspecting citizens in the region unnecessary.”

The Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC) made up of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the Martyrs Brigade and the Reformed Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, has vowed to avenge the bombing of the palace of the Agadagba of Gbaramatu and the destruction of Ijaw communities by the military soon.

JRC spokesperson, Cynthia Whyte, said in the next few days, the militants would know how prepared and combat ready the Nigerian armed forces are because “we will carry out revenge attacks.

“Let us also warn that any bandit soldier of the Nigerian state who breaches the rules of engagement in this campaign will be summarily executed. Any attack on unarmed and innocent village-folks will be revenged. Any attack on community people will result in an equal attack on families of soldiers in any barracks we choose to attack. It will be an eye for an eye henceforth.”

He alleged that the attacks on Gbaramatu Kingdom represent the height of an attempt by a cabal to fully sink their teeth in oil production operations in the Niger Delta. “This cabal, comprising largely of serving and retired army generals would no longer be given free passage through the creeks of the Niger Delta anymore.”

The Ijaw Consultative Forum (ICF) has also appealed to Yar’Adua to thread softly on the face-off between the JTF and militants so as not to create the impression that the Federal Government was fighting the Ijaw nation.

In a statement yesterday in Akure, Ondo State, the group’s coordinator, Suffy Eleitu Uguoji, urged the government to exercise restraint and ensure a ceasefire.

Similarly, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) yesterday called for a speedy resolution of the crisis because it was causing the people untold hardship.

It also urged the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to facilitate the provision of relief materials to the innocent citizens caught in the crossfire between JTF and militants in the region.

NHRC Executive Secretary, Mr. Rowland Ewubare spoke yesterday in Abuja when he received four new vehicles donated to the commission by Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN) and his wife, Elizabeth, on behalf of the Punuka Foundation.

“We are concerned about the development in the Niger Delta region and we are seeking a quick end to the crisis in the region and particularly in Delta State right now. We are hopeful everything will calm down soon,” he said.