Army takes fight to Niger Delta militants

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Since the early 90s, the problem of militancy, oil theft and pipeline vandalism has been a recurrent issue in the Niger Delta region with several governments in power trying their best to ensure that the situation is curbed and for peace to reign in the region, so that the nation’s oil production could be boosted.

What is known today as militancy in the Niger Delta started in the 1992 with the formation of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP led by the late Ken Saro-Wiwa to agitate for the well-being of its people who were exploited and whose environment was damaged by the activities of the multi-national oil companies. From then, several other armed groups emerged with the claim of fighting for the interest of the Niger Delta people. They include Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) led by Asari Dokubo; Niger Delta Vigilantes (NDV) by Ateke Tom; Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which was largely involved in holding foreign employers of oil companies hostage.

In 2016, another deadly militant group known as Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) emerged, with several claimed attacks on pipelines and oil facilities. It declared a ceasefire few months after and agreed to negotiate with the government. Most of these groups were operating from the creeks and bushes around Niger Delta coast with the aim of acquiring control of regional petroleum resources, which they did through oil bunkering and pipeline vandalism.

Faced with the uphill task of securing the Niger Delta region and boosting crude oil production, the Federal Government established the Joint Military Taskforce (JTF) to operate in the creeks of the region. It  started with Operation Poulo Sheild before it was changed to Operation Delta Safe in 2016, when President Muhamadu Buhari assumed office. Also, the Nigerian Army have consistently launched phases of Operation Crocodile Smile I, II and III and it successes have contributed to the peace and security in the region, as well as boosting the nation’s oil production.

Acting Director, Defence Information Brigadier General John Agim said in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State recently that activities of Operation Delta Safe have reduced the incessant destruction and sabotage of oil facilities, thereby boosting the economy of the country. He said, “The incessant destruction and sabotage of oil facilities resulted in a drastic drop in crude oil production which affected the economic fortunes of the country. Likewise, attacks on gas pipelines further affected the power generation capacity of the nation. As at when the Force was activated on 24 June 2016, oil production output of Nigeria had dropped from about 2.2m to less than 900,000 barrels per day.  It is gratifying to note that as at date, the production levels are averaging about 2.5 million barrels per day.”

Agim also said the Force made concerted efforts to clear the JOA of identified militant camps whose activities threatened national security. Several camps were destroyed in the process. He said the joint force recovered and mopped up arms and ammunition. He said from January 1, 2017 to date, the force recovered 1,389 different types of arms and 20,352 items of munitions from militants and other hostile elements. The force also impounded 24 vessels, 191 barges, 234 outboard engines and 476 other types of passenger boats. Additionally, the Force seized 105 tanker trucks, 228 other vehicles and 610 pumping machines as well as 76 generator sets and 5,842 other items being used by militants since January last year.

Agim added that the Force destroyed 1,437 illegal refineries, 795 wooden cargo boats (also known as Cotonou boats), 3,872 metal surface tanks and 1,019 plastic tanks. Also, 13,129 drums and13,343 Jerry cans were destroyed. He said the use of swamp buggy in JTF’s anti-illegal refining operations significantly degraded the capacity of illegal refinery operators to revamp destroyed illegal refineries.

General Officer Commanding 6 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major General Jamil Sarham said during the flag-off of Operation Crocodile Smile III in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State that the operation is to sharpen the skills of soldiers to operate in riverine and creek environments, to dominate and identify landway flash points where criminals hide. (Daily Trust)