There was palpable tension across Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South West Local Government area of Delta State yesterday as heavily-armed soldiers from Sector One of the Joint Task Force (JTF) invaded Oporoza and three other communities in search of suspected militants.
The operation, which was commanded by an Army Captain, (names withheld), caught the indigenes of the affected communities unaware and sent jitters down the spines of youths and men.
THISDAY checks revealed that the soldiers decided to visit Oporoza, where the country home of ex-militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo alias Tompolo is located, to fish out suspected militants allegedly behind recent bombings of oil facilities in the Kingdom.
The four other communities invaded were Mekama, Tejubor, Okpaleme (which were invaded a week ago) as well as Okerenkoko.
Community sources disclosed that the soldiers arrived Oporoza, the headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom, at about 8a.m in speed boats and gun boats and went in search of the militants in some of the homes already marked, allegedly based on intelligence report.
“The soldiers broke into several houses in search of targeted persons, sending panic round by communities and causing residents to desert their homes and seek cover in the bushes”, the source said.
Chairman of Kokodiagbene community in Gbaramatu Kingdom, Comrade Sheriff Mulade, who confirmed incident said many residents fled to the bush upon sighting the armed soldiers.
Mulade, who is also the National Coordinator of the Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ), disclosed that many of the people who fled into the bush for cover including, women and children, had returned as at last night.
He called on the federal government to halt incessant harassment of their kinsmen as many of them were already traumatised and finding it difficult to cope.
Also, Acting Secretary of the Gbaramatu Traditional Council, Chief Godspower Gbenekama expressed worries that nobody seemed to be doing anything about the incessant invasion and harassment of the Ijaw people in the kingdom.
“We’re worried that in spite of the peace initiative with the Federal Government, troops are still invading our communities, harassing and intimidating our people who have committed no offence. Our people are getting fed up and may react soon. They live in perpetual fear and trepidation. “
I don’t know where we’re going. We should not be tagged as criminals so that we don’t end up as one,” he warned.
Gbenekama called on the Delta State government, local and multinational oil companies to prevail on the federal government to stop the injustices meted out on the people of the kingdom.
According to him, what will put paid to attacks on oil and gas facilities in the region is for the federal government to partner host communities in safeguarding them, insisting that the military cannot do the job alone.
He also called on all Niger Delta leaders from all over to come together and speak with one voice and stop apportioning blames on themselves, adding that the federal government should evacuate houseboats of soldiers from communities that have no oil and gas facilities to reduce tension in the region.
Spokesman of Joint Task Force (JTF), Lt-Col Olaolu Daodu, could not be reached last night for confirmation and purpose of the invasion.
Meanwhile, Sand-Sand Community in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, yesterday wrote to the National Assembly over an alleged invasion and destruction of the coastal area by the Nigerian military.
The affected indigenes of the community alleged that soldiers in search of suspected members of the militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), burnt down houses, churches and schools during the raid.
But the military admitted carrying out an operation in the fishing community, noting that it (community) allowed wanted militants to regroup and carry out criminal activities in the area.
According to the military authorities, the Joint Task Force, JTF, codenamed Operation Delta Safe (ODS), acted on intelligence that wanted kingpins of some militant groups were rebuilding a camp earlier demolished by the troops.
Spokesman of the special security outfit in the Niger Delta, Lt. Col. Olaolu Daudu, disclosed that during the operation, one militant identified simply as “Edo boy” was killed.
Daudu said the troops during the engagement succeeded in ridding the area of the militants and destroyed their hideouts. “Troops in conjunction with own Special Forces conducted patrols to Sand-sand fishing camp in Bayelsa State and came upon suspected militants who had regrouped to resuscitate a camp earlier destroyed.
“Own troops engaged the suspected militants and killed one of them popularly called Edoboy. He was one of the notorious kingpins on the wanted list of security agencies who had been terrorising innocent members of the communities in the area”, he said.
However in a petition written by the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), on behalf of the community and addressed to the Speaker of the Federal House of Representative and the Senate, through member of the House of Representatives representing Yenagoa/Kolokuma/Opokuma constituency of Bayelsa State, Mr. Douye Diri, Sand-Sand community urged the National Assembly leadership to organise a fact-finding mission to the raided area.
The CLO, through its Bayelsa Chairman, Chief Nengi James, said in the letter that the sand-sand community, built over 40 years ago, was destroyed by the military while in search of suspected members of the NDA.
As part of its demands, the community asked the National Assembly leadership to pay a visit to the community to check the level of destruction and displacement of persons as well as ascertain the claim of the Military.
“We call on the National Assembly to commence investigation into the destruction and invasion of the community and sanction those responsible as it is a crime against humanity and infringement of the people’s rights. We call on the Federal Government and the National Assembly to consider the rebuilding of the damaged community for the purpose of resettling the displaced people, particularly women and children.
“We equally urge the federal government to compensate members of the community who have lost valuables worth millions of naira especially fishing gears and trading commodities”, the rights group said. It added that there was no iota of truth that militants were found in the community, describing the alleged invasion as ‘illegal’.