Niger Delta militants may have been shopping for more sophisticated military hardware, including armoured cars and jets, before the Joint Task Force (JTF) began the ongoing operation in Gbaramatu Kingdom of Delta State, it was learnt yesterday.
JTF Commander Major-Gen. Sarkin Bello, who dropped the hint, said documents gathered from the militants’ headquarters showed that they were in the market for such weapons.
Gen. Bello, who showed reporters some brochures, catalogues and copies of online documents allegedly recovered from a guest house in Oporoza said: “Look at what they were also doing (showing pictures of a fighter jet). Look at it carefully; what do you make of that?”
He said JTF troops had the opportunity to take out on-the-run suspected militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo during the military operation in Oporoza, Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State, last week.
The JTF top shot said Ekpemupolo (aka Tompolo) was traced to the Ijaw community through a security report and logs obtained from a GSM telephone mast, but added that troops did not take their chance because of the huge collateral damage that would have been involved, especially to the residents of the densely populated community.
“We were monitoring all his phone calls and they were emanating from here (Oporoza). So, at the time we attacked this place, we were well sure he was within these structures. From information, many days after the bombing, Tompolo was still here, making calls.
“You see that mast over there (pointing at a GSM mast), all his calls emanated from it. He was still here in this community, just that we exercised a lot of restraint; otherwise, we knew that he was somewhere here, we could have gone on air, striking everywhere. But, as you can see, it was only two places that were touched. We used only rockets and canon in that building and everywhere else,” he added.
Gen. Bello, who spoke with reporters at Oporoza on Wednesday evening during a guided tour of the scenes of military operation, also justified JTF’s torching of the palace of the monarch of Gbaramatu, Ogeh Gbaran III.
He said information available to the task force indicated that the monarch, “like some others in the region”, had relationship with Ekpemupolo, adding that one of the cars destroyed at his palace belonged to the wanted suspect.
Specifically, he revealed that the proximity of the palace and some documents recovered from a destroyed guest house (which the JTF said is owned by Tompolo) indicated a closer tie than people of the community were willing to reveal.
Also, he alleged that militants deployed as security details at the suspected warlord’s house, which Gen. Bello said was referred to as ‘Aso Rock’, also kept vigil over the palace of the monarch.
“From my experience in Niger Delta with conflicts, you can hardly divorce militant leaders from their traditional rulers. I know it; we charged a traditional ruler in Okirika. If you have been following the case; he was working hand-in-hand with Tom Ateke. Therefore, seeing the palace of the king there vis-a-vis the fortress of Tom Polo there, what conclusion can you draw?”
“That car (a Toyota Tundra Pick-up) belongs to Tompolo and we have documents linking Tompolo buying it in Warri; we have the document right here; he bought it N10 million in Warri,” he stressed.
Gen. Bello suggested that the guest house and the palace be taken over by the Federal Government and turned into a hospital or school.