Troops on Tuesday intensified their offensive against Okerenkoko, another community in Delta State, razing down all buildings in the all-out confrontation against militants intent on making life impossible in the Deep South.
Community leaders said over 200 homes in Okerenkoko, the second largest settlement after Oporoza in Gbaramatu Kingdom, were left desolate by the Joint Task Force (JTF).
The soldiers came at about midday from the air and waterways, bombing and shooting before going into the community to set it ablaze.
Prominent leaders like Bello Oboko confirmed the attack by the military forces that have held sway in the area for five days.
But he could not establish if there were still people in the community which had come under attack at the weekend. They had fled before the latest offensive, and now wonder what the troops are still looking for.
JTF Spokesman, Rabe Abubakar, confirmed in a statement that “in continuation of the search and rescue operations in some militants hideouts, the (JTF) has moved into the outskirts of some communities where suspected militants are hiding and still holding expatriates kidnapped last week hostage.
“What we are doing today is an extension of the operations we started five days ago and our aim is to rescue expatriates kidnapped and get rid of criminals in various communities in the Niger Delta.
“Our actions are based on credible information about certain places where we know that these miscreants are hiding and not on the whole communities as they claim.”
Abubakar urged indigenes of communities infested by militants to assist the JTF with timely and accurate information.
“You know these people and they live with you. To avoid the innocent being inconvenienced, we call on all of you to aid in the extradition of these miscreants for your safety and interest.”
However, the Delta State House of Assembly on Tuesday adjourned sitting till May 27 to protest the military incursion.
A motion tabled by Daniel Mayuku, a member representing the area, led to the Assembly passing a resolution that condemned the offensive and urged President Umaru Yar’Adua to order the military to stop further attacks.
Regardless, troops are closing in on militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tom Polo. His investments spread across the Niger Delta are targeted too.
Tom Polo called the shots at the notorious Camp Five near Oporoza in Delta State until it fell to soldiers last week Friday.
It was learnt that Camp Five would be named a military base giving its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the Escravos Gas to Liquid Project.
A military source said: “We are hard on his heels and we know where he is through intelligence reports. As I am talking to you everything Tom Polo has a hand in is gone.”
Intelligence has located the camp where all Nigerian and foreign hostages are kept, and the JTF said they would soon be rescued.
Up to 25 foreign nationals, are held in solitary confinement by militants.
More troops have been deployed in the creeks as heavy fighting erupted between the JTF and militants at Abiteye flowstation belonging to Chevron.
The militants came in two speedboats to blow up the pipeline, but abandoned the boats and fled with serious injuries.
Abubakar said the boats have been towed to a JTF location and that the situation is being monitored closely.
He sought patience and understanding, stressing that Nigeria would be better for it as the miscreants had been painting the country in bad light.
“The JTF is poised to sustain its war on all forms of criminalities associated with crude oil theft. (It) is hereby warning all those who want to use this opportunity to perpetrate criminality in the region to desist from such acts as the security outfit is fully equipped to deal with all manners of criminalities simultaneously,” he stressed.
There is also heavy fighting in Forcadoes, with many people moving out of the area.
JTF Commander, Major General Sarkin Bello, had on Saturday warned people not to venture into the waterways as a result of insecurity occasioned by the blitz.
He maintained that the military would chase militants to anywhere in the creeks and kill them because their activities are inimical to national development.
Delta State Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) Chairman, Ogehenejabor Ikimi, condemned militancy, saying it is not the solution to the problem in the rgion.
He recounted that Nigeria got its independence not through arms struggle but genuine protest; so, “It is intellectual dialogue that can lead to peace in Niger Delta.”
He, however, condemned the fighting between the soldiers and militants because “innocent people are caught in the cross fire.”
Governors met with Vice President Goodluck Jonathan on the National Economic Council (NEC) on Tuesday in Abuja where they cautioned themselves on the indiscriminate use of sirens by their convoys, but declined comment on the conflict in the Niger Delta.
The Governors said the situation in the Niger Delta, particularly in Delta State, is a security matter not under the purview of an Economic Council.
But Constitutional lawyer and Chairman of The Patriots, Ben Nwanbueze, bared his mind in Abuja, where he blamed former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Supreme Court for the Niger Delta troubles.
He spoke as a guest lecturer in the activities marking the 30th anniversary of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS).
His words: “The Supreme Court is part of the problems that we have in the Niger Delta, as Obasanjo manipulated the Supreme Court to get a decision that the seaward boundary ends at and does not extend beyond the low-mark of the sea and that accordingly, the area of the sea up to 12 nautical miles from the low-water mark, denominated as territorial sea, with its bed and subsoil, is not part of Nigeria’s territory.
“Obasanjo’s government had brought an action in the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court for a declaration of the seaward boundary of Nigeria. The dilemma faced by Obasanjo and the Supreme Court was that the acceptance of the territorial sea as part of the territory of Nigeria would mean accepting that it is also part of the territory of the littoral states and thus conceding their claim to 13 per cent of the oil revenue derived from it.
“The on-going crisis in the Niger Delta, which has sapped the vital energies and resources of the country, may be traced to this case and to the judgment of the Supreme Court upholding Obasanjo’s claim and thereby unjustly depriving the eight littoral states of what should be due to them under the Constitution.”
On it own, the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta, chaired by Abdul Ningi, said international conspiracy is responsible for the crisis, and that the National Assembly would come up with a legislation that would spell out stiffer penalties for the local and international conspirators.
By Joe Nwankwo,Chesa Chesa, Sule Lazarus,Otei Oham (Abuja), Tunke-Aye Bisina (Asaba) and Harris-Okon Emmanuel (Warri)