Burnt palace of the monarch of Gbaramatu kingdom in Oporoza near the volatile oil rich Niger Delta. Photo: GEORGE ESIRI

Burnt palace of the monarch of Gbaramatu kingdom in Oporoza near the volatile oil rich Niger Delta. Photo: GEORGE ESIRI from 234next.com.

Here is a rundown of a variety of news reports and commentaries on the JTF attacks in Nigeria’s Delta State.

Sokari writes of the initial attack, and includes moving testimonies of what happened from the surviviors:

On May 14, 2009 at about noon, Gbaramatu Kingdom,Delta State, was in a festive mood. There had been an influx of guests into the community from far and near. They all came to witness the presentation of the Staff of Office to the Pere of Gbaramatu Kingdom, His Royal Majesty Ogie the third. The palace located in Oporoza was filled with well- wishers as the day also marked the King’s one year anniversary. Suddenly, three low flying helicopters were seen approaching the Kindgom. The community people initially thought they were flying dignitaries to the ceremony or that they were part of the glamour for the ceremony. They were wrong. Dead wrong!

The three choppers were actually gunships of the Joint Military Task Force, on a mission to mow down the Gbaramatu Kingdom. Suddenly the gunships started bombing everywhere, the King’s palace inclusive.

Next reports that the JTF assault on the Gbaramatu communities is of questionable legality:

The legality of the current onslaught against militants in Delta State by the Joint Military Task Force is stoking controversy among lawyers, lawmakers and military officials spoken to by NEXT on Sunday

Although the Nigerian defence headquarters claimed it sought and got the nod of the Nigerian president, Umaru Yar’Adua to embark on the campaign, critics of the action said the president erred in not seeking the support of the National Assembly for the exercise. The Assembly, last Wednesday however, voted to support the campaign.

Neither the Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan nor the Delta State governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan received any prior notice of the action, as NEXT reported last Sunday.

The lack of debate in the House is also said to be responsible for the rather lax operating rules under which the military is conducting the war.

A Lagos lawyer, Jiti Ogunye said: “The commander of JTF sometime last week said that they were looking for a monarch and that they found some incriminating documents after ransacking his palace. I shuddered with amazement. The question is who made soldiers to be investigating crime? Where did they get that kind of right? They sacked the man’s house in the first instance, which is not right, or shall we now say that we are now subjected to a martial law? I mean all these are very important.”

Paul Adah, the deputy chairman of the House of Representatives Defence Committee said there was no act of parliament that establishes or recognizes the Joint Task Force. He, however, said the Nigerian President, as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, has the powers to set up such task forces

Samuel Okikiola writes an account of a visit to Camp Five before the attacks, and has this to say about TomPolo:

TomPollo has an effective communication network with which he communicates with other fighters and inhabitants of smaller martial camps. His deputy did the talking most of the time. He said Tompollo was the head of the Ijaw struggle for emancipation. His other assistant has a Masters Degree from the University of Nigeria , Nsukka. His real name is Government Ekpomupolo. He will be 40 this year.

TomPollo has a vast business empire. He has a house in South Africa, where many of the current Niger-Delta governors passed the night whenever they visited. He was a consultant to Chevron, which sustained the relationship with him, owing to his integrity, honesty and charm. He was also a consultant to Shell Petroleum.

Top government officials have been visiting Tom Pollo in the past two years. The government was said to have made several overtures to him, including the post of a minister of state, which he rejected. His deputy commandant said the vice-president, Goodluck Jonathan had visited Camp 5 on two occasions; while a woman, said to be President Umaru Yar Adu’a sister, paid TomPollo a visit in 2008,appealing to him to “give her brother a chance to rule Nigeria peacefully.”

The account also describes Camp Five as clean and disciplined.

Ibiba Don-Pedro writes an analysis of the JTF attacks and the war in the creeks:

Two weeks after it began, on May 13, ongoing military attacks on Ijaw communities are taking a high toll on ordinary citizens in the area. The Joint Military Task Force has insisted that its mission was pegged on a search and rescue operation to locate 18 of its officers and men, missing in action since an encounter with fighters from the camp of Ijaw militant, Government Tompolo. The missing soldiers have not yet been found and each day brings fresh reports of attack on another Ijaw community and fresh civilian casualties along the Escravos River.

On Wednesday, May 27, Kokodiagbene, an Ijaw community of mostly fisher folk was invaded. Before this, communities including Oporoza, Okerenkoko, Azama, Kurutie, Kunukunama and Abiteye, among others, were destroyed within the first few days of the military offensive. In the following days, installations of Chevron were attacked by men of MEND, in a show of nerve, leaving unknown casualties.

Although not much has been heard in terms of actual casualty figures, the ongoing military blockade of the Escravos and surrounding creeks has raised fears over the fate of perhaps thousands of women, children, men and the aged who are forced out of their communities into the forests and swamps.

A rescue mission by the National Emergency Management Agency has assumed tragi-comedy proportions, as relief efforts and personnel are being ferried from Ogbe-Ijoh laboriously, through the meandering creeks by hand-pulled canoes. Yet, to reach the closest of the communities to Warri ordinarily takes two hours by a speedboat.

Condemnation of the military action has poured in, even as the military, through the Joint Media Campaign Centre, struggles to shift attention away from the reality of huge human casualties and continued suffering.

This latest bloody battle, coming barely a week after the expiration of a three month notice by the Ijaw Youth Council, given February 5, 2009 to all militants to disarm and demobilize their camps, is being seen as the Federal Government’s version of the final solution to the Niger Delta conundrum.

It is a solution many groups had warned the administration not to explore. “State sponsors of terrorism cannot sustain oil exploration and production.

Next also has accounts of survivors of the attack on the Gbaramatu communities:

They all fled from Okerenkoko and Oporoza communities. Depending on who was telling the story: the people were either fleeing from soldiers or members of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta.

There has been continious bombardmenent of the area since May 13. A common trend, however, in the narrative of all actors in the saga is that residents of these communities in Gbaramatu kingdom of Ijaw nation, the fourth largest nationality in Nigeria, have become homeless. Many have been killed and many more rendered homeless. Families have been separated with some mothers not knowing the whereabouts of their children.

There are almost no men among the visible refugees. Those who are alive are still hiding in the bush. Any male is likely to be killed or arrested as a militant. The stories of families separated and missing family members are heartbreaking. One woman had to leave her mother because her mother could not walk. Many don’t know where their children are. Another young woman described how:

Together with her three sisters and her mother, she swam for nearly an entire day just to get away from the cascading bullets from helicopters. The whereabouts of their father and brothers remain unknown. She said they were in the bush for three days where they were kept company by the regular sounds of gunshots.

New reports say the JTF Didn’t Raze Ijaw Communities, Say NEMA, Red Cross

Officials of National Emergency Manage-ment Agency (NEMA) and international voluntary relief organisation, the Nigerian Red Cross Society, have said they did not find evidence of communities that were totally razed by Joint Military Task Force (JTF), in the Niger-Delta.

The officials said after visits to at least seven Ijaw communities in Warri South-West Local Government Area, Delta State, where the security task force had extended their two-week military campaign against the militants, they could say without fear of contradiction, that certain accounts they had read in the newspapers were a far cry from the reality on ground.

Although a number of houses had been torched in the communities visited, there was no evidence of large-scale destruction of residential buildings as reported in some newspapers, they said. “What we found remarkable was that only women and children came out to receive the relief materials we took along with us during the visit,” the Red Cross official said, noting that they had decided to take the relief materials provided by NEMA, despite reports that “no lives remained in the affected communities.”

As reported above, and in other places, NEMA and the Red Cross were only allowed to visit the communities in wooden boats with paddles, even though “to reach the closest of the communities to Warri ordinarily takes two hours by a speedboat“. Regardless of the scale of the destruction, it is clear the military assault has created a huge internally displaced refugee population.

Sokari writes:

The back story to the present military operation in Warri South West is beginning to unfold in some quite sinister ways.

… if one takes the view that the military option is a part of a well planned offensive against the Niger Delta resistance by the Northern mafia that runs the country AND the latest report from chidi opara reports then something might be brewing.

Another piece in this unfolding tragedy is the British and more lately French governments offer to send arms to be used against militants and their support of Nigeria having a seat on the Security Council.

Two issues are at stake here for both Nigeria and these two European governments – the free flowing of cheap oil and preventing the break up of Nigeria in which all three of them will loose big time.

The US is not mentioned here, but it has been increasing its arms transfers to Nigeria for several years. The Niger Delta has been a focus of AFRICOM, and of the mercenaries, the private military and security corporations who thrive on armed conflict.

chidi opara reports says the JTF assault is the result of advice from a secret group of security advisors to Yar’Adua:

Information available to chidi opara reports indicate that the mandate of the Joint Taskforce On Security(JTF), currently engaged in fiece gun battle with the Movement For The Emmancipation Of Niger Delta(MEND) in the creeks of Delta State, may be expanded, if the advice of a group of shadow security advisers to the President is accepted. The JTF currently have a mandate that is limited to the Niger Delta region.

This group, according to a senior Presidency contact, “met recently and forwarded a memo to Mr. President to expand the JTF mandate to include the South-eastern and the South-western regions of the country“. This group we learnt comprises retired senior security and military personnels from Northern Nigeria. It has a retired Colonel who served in the military intelligence corps during the regime of Ibrahim Babangida as leader.

Meanwhile, chidi opara reports can now reveal that there is increased security survillance on some vocal elements in the country. We can now confirm that security survillance on Professor Pat Utomi, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, Professor Tam David-west and others have increased in the last few days.

chidi opara reports also reports they are ceasing operations for the time being. Due to surveillance they feel there is too much danger to their contacts and volunteers to continue publishing for now.

“it has become necessary to scale down our operations because of the need to protect our network members and contacts, most of whom the security agencies I learnt, have started closing in on”.

This Day is reporting today that the militants may be interested in amnesty.

Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said at the weekend it would consider the federal government’s offer of amnesty only if the movement’s leader, Mr. Henry Okah, was released from detention.

However, THISDAY checks, reveal that many of the militant leaders have been making overtures to government that they were ready to lay down their arms but that they do not trust political leaders from the area.

One of MEND’s commanders, Farah Dagogo, told Dow Jones the movement could also hold off further attacks on the oil industry if the companies can embark on mass employment of capable people from their host communities.

According to Dagogo, “President Umaru Yar’Adua says ‘we want to give amnesty. They should start with (Henry Okah). At least we will know they are sincere.”

I remember hearing someone say there is more to a left hook than meets the eye. That is most certainly metaphorically true in the Niger Delta.

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