Reports of severe violence are coming in from the vicinity of Escravos near Warri in the Niger Delta. The JTF, Joint Task Force of the Nigerian Federal Government, the FG, attacked several villages and Camp 5, the headquarters of the MEND chief, Tompolo. They brought 7000 troups, 2 warships, and 14 gunboats. Four Ijaw communities have been attacked, and may be destroyed: Oporoza, Kunukunuma, Okerenkoko and Kurutie. The JTF has a history of making reprisals on innocent civilian communities, and destroying them, for the actions of militants and criminals, Odioma and Aker Base are two examples.
From the Vanguard:
Some community leaders from Gbaramatu who managed to escape alive from Friday’s bombardment of some Ijaw communities by the JTF said the number of casualties were high as they were many people who came from far and near to Oporoza for the Amaseikumor festival.
From Punch, by Sola Adebayo in Warri, May 16:
Twenty-four hours to the end of the ultimatum issued by the Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta to oil companies operating in the region to evacuate their employees and shut down, the Federal Government on Friday, launched a major operation to dislodge the militants.
MEND had on Wednesday engaged troops of the Joint Task Force in a fierce battle in which several soldiers were feared dead and their weapons seized. The militants also took 15 foreigners hostage.
Saturday Punch learnt that President Umaru Yar‘Adua was angry about the number of casualties on the part of the JTF and consequently ordered that camps of the militants must be invaded and their leaders captured dead or alive.
As a result, two warships and 14 gunboats were in the early hours of Friday deployed in the coastal Ijaw communities in Delta State. Four helicopter gunboats were also deployed to attack the identified militants‘ hideouts and camps.
Sources said that some Ijaw communities like Oporoza, Kunukunuma, Okerenkoko and Kurutie where leaders of the militant groups are believed to be hiding also came under heavy bombardment by the JTF troops. Unconfirmed reports said the communities had been razed as at 3pm on Friday.
The popular Camp 5 operated by a well known militant, Chief Government Ekpomukpolo, alias Tompolo, in Delta State, was also reportedly razed. The fate of the warlord and his lieutenants could not be ascertained as at 4 pm on Friday.
No fewer than 3,000 troops were involved in the operation in the riverside Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State. The Ijaw enclave housed the popular militant Camp 5 and Iroko Camp, which the JTF had been itching to invade and take over in the last 10 years.
It was gathered that the troops were mandated to dislodge the militants from the two camps and regain control of the area.
No fewer than 12 soldiers, including a lieutenant were feared killed in Wednesday‘s battle. It was learnt that 13 others sustained serious injuries before the embattled soldiers were forced to retreat following the superior firepower of the warlords.
Saturday Punch investigation further showed that about 20 military weapons were seized by the militants. The militants hijacked two ships.
Already, one soldier whose body has been recovered, has been declared dead while 11 others have been declared missing by authorities of the JTF.
Indications that the JTF was prepared to avenge the killings emerged on Thursday night when movement of soldiers and military equipment into Warri Port for onward journey to Gbaramatu communities and the two militants‘ camps was noticed.
Efforts by the Delta State government and notable Ijaw leaders to stave off the operation were rebuffed by authorities of the JTF, who politely told them that it had been ordered “from above”. It was gathered that Dike, an indigene of the state, who was also contacted to shelve the exercise said it was beyond him.
Consequently, by 5am on Friday, two naval warships identified as NNS Obula and NNS Nwanba as well as 14 gunboats had settled down for business in Camp 5 and at Gbaramatu, Okerenkoko, Oporoza, Kunukunuma and Kurutie.
Saturday Punch also gathered that four helicopter gunboats on the fleet of the Nigerian Air Force embarked on air surveillance and rendered air support.
An Ijaw youth, who managed to escape from the scene, told Saturday Punch on the telephone that, ”Oporoza, Kunukunuma, Okerenkoko and Kurutie towns and Camp 5 in Gbaramatu kingdom in Delta State had been invaded from the air and the river.”
However, Saturday Punch learnt that heavy shooting between the militants and the soldiers still persisted as at 2:30pm on Friday as the warlords mounted stiff resistance at Camp 5.
”What is going on in Gbaramatu Kingdom as I am talking to you now (2:30 pm) is a total war between the militants and the Federal Government. You can call it a show of strength because both sides are well equipped and appeared ready for the battle. The picture is not very clear yet but the troops have burnt some Ijaw communities and the notorious Camp 5 have been razed,” a source said.
The spokesman of JTF, Col. Rabe Abubakar, confirmed the operation but hastily added that it was premature to comment on its details. Abubakar said the federal troops were merely on a rescue operation in the area.
Abubakar said the troops were deployed to rescue the hostages, free hijacked ships and fish out the hoodlums who attacked military personnel on legitimate duties on Wednesday.
He said, ”We (JTF) deliberately went on search and rescue operation in some coastal communities in Delta State. The idea was to apprehend and fish out criminals who are involved in abduction of crew members of two ships and those behind the hijack of the ships. We are also after the criminals who attacked our personnel on legitimate duties.
”But in the process, the so-called militants mounted resistance and this expectedly led to a serious gun duel and they retreated to their camps and hideouts. Our men also pursued them to the camps and hideouts. There is no further detail for now, but heavy shooting is persisting as you are talking to me now.”
The Ijaw National Leader, in his reaction said the Federal Government had declared total war on the Ijaw nation.
Clark said, ”The military (JTF) has declared total war on our people in Escravos in Delta State. They are bombing from the air and water, killing innocent children and women in Okerenkoko, Oporoza, Kurutie and Kunukunuma. They (Ijaw people) are seeking for safety in the bush. “Please intervene immediately by telling Mr. President not to declare total war on fellow Nigerians particularly when the Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan [from the Delta], is away in Europe on official mission.
There are conflicting reports, but we do know from a friend who called from the bush, where village residents have fled, that the military has opened fire and there are casualties.
We received this text message from one of the film’s main characters:
“The situation is getting worse every minute. Their plan is to wipe Oporoza out of the surface of Earth tomorrow morning.
The leader of the JTF force has claimed the hostages have been rescued, although one hostage was killed, quite possibly by the JTF. However other reports say that MEND still has the hostages. Reports coming in today, Monday, say 9 hostages have been recovered by the JTF. By the time you read this those numbers may have changed. The militants have blown up two major pipelines, one of which was just repaired at great expense. The Vanguard reports:
MEND said it had sabotaged two oil and gas pipelines near to Escravos which supply the 110,000 barrels per day (bpd) Kaduna refinery in northern Nigeria, shut down for maintenance in November.
The pipeline transports crude produced by Chevron-Texaco to the Warri Refinery and Petrchemical Company (WRPC). It is also used to channel imported heavy crude to the Kaduna Refinery. It was damaged by militants some years ago and its repairs gulped a huge sum of money.
Tompolo not dead: A top aide of the leader of Camp Five, popularly known as Tompolo, who was reported to have been killed, however, told Sunday Vanguard, “Nothing happened to him, he is alive”. He also said all the 15 hostages were Filipinos, but the JTF said it rescued six Filipinos and four Nigerians. His words, “All the 15 hostages were Filipinos. Two died and three were seriously injured during yesterday’s (Friday) aerial attack on camp 5.
The city of Warri was being considered as one of the hosts of the Under 17 World Cup. FIFA officials were due to visit this week, but that visit has been called off. Officials in Warri said there was no danger and no worry. But they may find themselves out of the running to participate in the cup.
The JTF is said to be in persuit of Gbaramatu leaders, and may be pursuing them into Warri:
We hear that Okerenkoko is next in their plan to attack and that they are even planning to trail Gbaramatu leaders staying in Warri and arrest them, this will be a dangerous development …
And from Business Day:
Reacting to comments by some groups whom he called “MEND supporters” who allegedly raised alarm that the JTF used aircraft to bomb communities, Abubakar said such comments were wrong as JTF was adopting normal convention of Cordon and Search as no responsible military would carry out actions that would be detrimental to the existence of innocent citizens.
Given the history of JTF thuggery and its targeting of civilian communities, I don’t give this denial much credit for truthfulness. The Punch reports the crisis is escalating:
Also killed in the fighting, in which about 20,000 people are said to be trapped, was another Filipino hostage and a nine-year-old child.
Three more Filippino were, however, freed from the militants and one helicopter recovered by the JTF operatives during the attacks in Kurutie, Kokodiagbene, Kunulunuma, Oporoza and Okerenkoko in Gbaramatu clan, all in Warri South- West Local Government Area of Delta State.
… an official of the Delta State Government, who craved anonymity, put the figure at 20,000. “It is true that about 5,000 people have been displaced, but the people trapped are just about 20,000,” he said.
The official craved anonymity because the state government was yet to comment officially.
When one of our correspondents visited the Ogbe-Ijoh General Hospital in Warri South- West LGA, about 5,000 displaced persons were seen weeping as efforts were being made by the council officials to rehabilitate them.
Some of the displaced persons, including seven youth corps members, gave horrifying accounts of their escape from the scenes of the fighting.
The spokesman of the corps members, Mr. Lanre Abayomi, said they were in a library in Oporoza when the JTF operatives invaded the community in jet fighters and gunboats.
Abayomi, who attributed their escape into Warri to divine intervention, claimed that many buildings were attacked from the air by the troops.
[JTF’s] Abubakar said, “The continuous search and rescue operations being carried out were aimed at criminals who made those areas their abode and made it impossible to rescue the remaining expatriates on board MT Spirit earlier hijacked by them.
There have been many claims and counter claims by the JTF and by MEND. The JTF says the militants are lifeless and homeless. MEND says Camp 5 will be the graveyard of the JTF. Reports vary on how much the oil companies are curtailing their activities, or evacuating their personnel. What is clear is that the local communities near the Escravos terminal are under attack, and that the civilians are the ones bearing the casualties and the suffering.
On April 3oth the International Crisis Group issued a briefing:
Since the Yar’Adua administration assumed office in May 2007, its initiatives for ending Delta violence have been ambiguous and at times incoherent. An early attempt to convene a Delta summit was aborted due to local opposition. A May 2008 proposal that militants incorporate as security companies so they could be hired to guard pipelines and other oil installations met with public scepticism and militants’ rejection and never got off the ground. Creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in September 2008 initially drew mixed reactions, but low funding in the 2009 budget, an uncertain division of responsibilities with the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and unclear guiding principles have cost it credibility.
On 7 January 2009, a number of the country’s leading civil society groups charged that Yar’Adua’s silence on the report showed he was only playing to the gallery on the Delta issue, and subsequent developments have done nothing to dispel those misgivings. The disclosure by a special adviser to the vice president two months after the report was submitted that yet another committee had been established to study the recommendations, coupled with the lack of any further response since then, are deepening doubts over the government’s sincerity. The longer these doubts grow, the more difficult it will become to engage all stakeholders in an effective peace process.The Technical Committee has been the government’s most promising effort to develop a coherent, long-term strategy in the Delta. Launched on 8 September 2008 with broad and credible membership, the committee was mandated to collate, review and distil all previous reports, memorandums and submissions and “make suggestions for Government’s necessary and urgent action”. Vice President Goodluck Jonathan pledged that its recommendations “will not be treated with levity”. It was widely believed that the government would adopt those recommendations as its definitive roadmap for resolving the region’s crisis.
Right now it does not look like there is much interest in resolving the crisis. It would be interesting to know if the US Africa Command was acting in any advisory capacity in this exercise. I have no particular reason to suppose it is. However the US has been pouring arms into Nigeria for years, and the numbers soared during the Bush administration. The Africa Command was initially set up largely to safeguard Nigerian oil for the US market. This exercise in violence by the Nigerian government does not seem to be safeguarding anything. The US has demonstrated no serious interest to date in peaceful solutions to the crisis in the Delta. The Africa Command, and the mercenary contractors who are their camp followers, are studying to carry out counter insurgency operations in the Niger Delta. Counterinsurgency operations include attacks like these on Delta communities. The mercenary contractors already have a heavy presence in the Delta, in violation of Nigerian law.
As of today, Monday:
A source told Daily Independent at the weekend that production loss to the on-going violence was over 250, 000 barrels per day as foreign firms remove all but essential staff from the areas.
Chevron, the source added, could soon declare a force majeure on oil from the Escravos operation, while the Shell Petro-leum and Development Company (SPDC) has commenced the evacuation of its staff from the swamp and offshore locations in response to threat by the militants to attack oil workers.
Fears that the violent clash in the region of Nigeria could cause price surge also gripped traders at the global market as transaction resumes Monday. … traders believed that the renewed violence in Nigeria could single-handedly skyrocket the price.
And this is what most of the world cares about. We are largely indifferent to the fate of the local people whose land contains the oil, but who receive no benefit from it. The local people receive instead severe pollution and violent assault. I would like to think this current assault is an aberration, but I suspect it is a big step towards an escalation.