Olaleye Aluko and Theophilus Onojeghen, Warri
Residents of Oporoza, the traditional headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom, and home town of wanted former Niger Delta militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, in the Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State, were on Tuesday thrown into panic when they saw two military helicopters hovering round the community.
It was gathered that the helicopters were first sighted by the residents at 10am and flown for about 30 minutes before leaving the community.
The PUNCH gathered that the aircraft returned for the second time at noon causing residents, some of who feared that soldiers were coming to invade the community, to panic and flee into the swampy neighbouring bush for cover.
Local sources who confirmed the development to one of our correspondents, appealed to the Federal Government to caution the military in order to avoid another invasion of the community over the recent threat by the Niger Delta Avengers.
Investigation showed that the Nigerian military had deployed more soldiers in the creeks of Gbaramatu and the Escravos River, including Burutu, to check the activities of militants and to prevent their planned attack on oil and gas facilities.
A military source, who pleaded anonymity, confirmed the incident to one of our correspondents, saying that they were only carrying out aerial surveillance of the area, in response to the threat by the NDA.
Also confirming the development, the spokesman for the Gbaramatu Traditional Council, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, called on the Federal Government not to turn Gbaramatu Kingdom into a theatre of war, adding that no militant is taking cover in their communities.
Gbenekama, who spoke with one of our correspondents in Warri, said, “Military helicoptershave been hovering round our communities in Gbaramatu kingdom since morning (Tuesday).
He said, “Gbaramatu people are not at war with the Federal Government. Why is it that anytime there is crisis in Bayelsa or Rivers states, the first port of call is Gbaramatu? We are just one of the many communities in the Niger Delta. We don’t deserve this siege. We have been championing peace since 2009, but every time military men are drafted to Gbaramatu.
“While we appeal to the Niger Delta Avengers to sheathe their swords, we don’t know the rationale behind the deployment of troops and gun boats to Gbaramatu creeks. We don’t want what happened in 2009 and 2016 to happen again. So, let the military restrain their men from our villages. We don’t harbour militants. Avengers are not resident in Gbaramatu Kingdom.”
Efforts to speak with the Sector 1 Commander, Joint Task Force, codenamed Operation Delta Safe, Col. Alhassan Grema, by one of our correspondents were unsuccessful.
Also, repeated calls to the spokesperson for the JTF, Maj. Ibrahim Abdulahi, for clarification were not connecting.
However, reacting to the alleged military movement into Gbaramatu, the Commander, Nigerian Navy Ship, NNS, Delta, Commodore Ibrahim Dewu, said the helicopters were 0n routine patrol along the Trans Forcados Pipeline.
Dewu said, “What they are speculating as military deployment is routine patrol along the Escravos and the Trans Forcados Pipeline. Once we sense any security concern on that line, our men usually move in to patrol the area. Nobody is deploying any gunboat or jets to specific communities. It is a normal patrol.”
Meanwhile, a Nigerian Air Force armed helicopter, EC-135, has bombed suspected illegal oil barges and storage facilities at Adokiakiri community in the Niger Delta, as the ceasefire announced by the NDA entered the fifth day.
The NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Olatokunbo Adesanya, said on Tuesday that the stolen oil storage facilities were sighted in the community during an “armed reconnaissance” on Sunday and subsequently destroyed.
The NAF noted that the military remained resolute in making oil theft in the region unprofitable.
The NDA had on Friday announced an immediate end to its ceasefire with the Federal Government. The group also accused the government of being insincere despite the commitment by the leaders of the region to broker peace.
The NDA said through its spokesman, Murdoch Agbinibo, that the FG was only interested in the oil in the region.
The NAF spokesman said, “The air force has destroyed some oil barges, containing stolen oil products at Adokiakiri community in the Niger Delta. The illegal oil barges and storage facilities were spotted by the NAF EC-135 helicopter during an armed reconnaissance mission. They were all subsequently destroyed. The NAF remains resolute in making oil theft and illegal bunkering unprofitable.”
Meanwhile, the immediate past governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, has appealed to the NDA to drop its recent threat to resume attacks on oil installations in the region.
Uduaghan, who spoke on Tuesday, said, “I am appealing for caution in the handling of the renewed threat by the Niger Delta Avengers. I am appealing to the Niger Delta Avengers to drop the threat, and also the Federal Government to continue on the path of engagement.
“The issues raised from the various peace movements by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, on behalf of the Federal Government that brought some calm should be seriously addressed. We must all support the Acting Governor, Kingsley Otuaro, who has been managing the renewed threat.”