SOLDIERS, yesterday morning, swooped on oil-rich Ogulagha, an Ijaw kingdom in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State, arresting six persons, including a chief, in connection with the bombing of Forcados 48 Export Line belonging to Shell Nigeria Petroleum Company, SNPECo, last Thursday, by the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA.
Among those seized were a notable leader in Ogulagha Kingdom, Chief Peter Tuasinde; chairman of Ogulagha community, Captain Prebor Solomon and Public Relations Officer of the community, Henry Agedigba, who went to find out from the Joint Task Force, JTF, in the Niger Delta, why they raided the community and apprehended his kinsmen.
Also arrested were a staff of S. J. Abed Catering Company in Forcados Terminal, Mr. John Borme; a businessman, Mr. Clement Ibada, and Ejor Burutu, who reportedly showed them the houses of persons they mentioned.
Vanguard learned that soldiers of the JTF invaded the community at 8.20 a.m on suspicion that some members of the community were involved in blowing up the crude oil pipeline.
Niger Delta Avengers claimed responsibility for the attack on the Forcados 48″ export line, saying it was because the company acted against its warning not to repair the facility, earlier bombed by the militant group.
FG should not dialogue with Avengers —Ex-DWSC
Similarly, former chairman of Delta Waterways Security Committee, DWSC, and Niger Delta activist, Chief Ayiri Emami, told Vanguard, yesterday, that Niger Delta Avengers were a bunch of criminals, and asked government, contrary to the opinion of some South-South leaders, not to negotiate with criminals.
“Why should they negotiate with criminals, if they are talking about neglect in the Niger Delta, all the ethnic groups are neglected and they have issues. So, if the government wants to dialogue, it should not be with criminals who are bombing pipelines, it should be on the basis of underdevelopment affecting the respective areas
“We, the Itsekiri ethnic group, have our own problems, but that has not made us to go and bomb pipelines. For instance, the Export Processing Zone, EPZ, is there and nothing is going on, we are neglected, there is no development. So I am against dialogue with criminals.”
Our people are not Avengers —Ogulagha youth leader
Chairman of the umbrella body of Ijaw Youths Council, IYC, clan structure, Doubra Collins Okotete, who confirmed the arrest of the six persons, condemned what he described as “harassment, intimidation and arrest of innocent people.”
He said: “They arrested them over allegation of being involved in the recent attack on SPDC-owned export line. I want to tell you that over 50 years of oil exploration and exploitation in our community, our people have always cooperated, supported and created the enabling environment for peaceful operations, despite the marginalization shown to our people by these multinational oil companies.”
Condemning the attacks on oil installations across Niger Delta by Niger Delta Avengers, Okotete called for the JTF to release the people arrested at Ogulagha and “correct the anomalies done to our people because Ogulagha man is not involved in such act.
“We have had issues with our visitors, that is the multinational oil companies, before and we have our own way of expressing our displeasures, not resorting to destroying our own facilities.
“No ransacking was done, no arms or incriminating materials were found with them. Some of them were already on their way to church before they were arrested.”
Oporoza, 24 hours after military exit
Meanwhile, Oporoza, the traditional headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom, vacated by soldiers after a six-day siege, last Friday, is still a shadow of itself 24 hours after, and it seemed it would take a longer time for normal life to return.
Vanguard on its visit to the community, observed that the regular stop-and-search along the waterways has stopped but commuters, especially those from Ogbe-Ijoh market waterside to Oporoza and its surrounding communities, still travel with their hearts in their mouths.
The journey, which lasted 55 minutes, was smooth, calm and devoid of any military checkpoint on the waterways. Returnee residents were apprehensive when they saw a group of journalists and they only started coming out in trickles moments after.
How I was butted with a rifle —80-yr-old Amadiowie
Recounting his ordeal, 80-year-old Amadiowie of Oporoza, Chief Francis Mala, said: “On the night the soldiers arrived Oporoza, I was in bed at about 2.00 a.m when I heard a knock on my door.
“I came out to check through the window and immediately I opened the window, I saw two soldiers with rifles and before I realized what was happening, one of them hit me twice on the face with the butt of his gun.
“Immediately they realized I was an old man, they fled into the night leaving me in a pool of blood from injuries.”
We don’t know our casualties yet
Vice chairman of the community, Morris Tebela, while denying link of the 10 persons from the community arrested by soldier to the Niger Delta Avengers, said: “They just came into the community and molested our boys, most of whom are students.
“We were shocked when we saw the boys taken away by the soldiers being paraded with guns, ammunition and other dangerous weapons on television as members of a militant group.
“Oporoza, as a community, does not condone the use of those items the army claimed to have found in the community. We are a fishing community and do not have any oil well, aside the fact that a pipeline passes behind the community and no one dares tamper with that pipeline.
“We have an examination starting on Monday to write here but that may not happen as the students have fled the community.
“As for causalities, we still have not ascertained if there is any loss of life as we will only know if there are causalities when everyone returns to the community. But we got information that two persons arrested by the soldiers died even though we are yet to confirm that.”
Tompolo’s room turned upside down
“We are still leaving in fear because we do not know the reason they (soldiers) left as the manner in which they left hurriedly calls for concern. We do not know if they have other plans.
“As am speaking, residents of the community still run and hide each time they see choppers or jet fighters, which personally I think should be used for international warfare and not for community invasion.
“Buildings that suffered the brute of the soldiers are the lavishly built Oporoza community guest house, some residential buildings with holes on the walls from gunshots, and the Oporoza ancestral home, which houses some deities of the community.”
At Oporoza community guest house, which houses a private room for former General Officer Commanding, GOC, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Government Ekpemupolo, aka Tompolo, was literally turned upside down.
Taking reporters on a tour of the guest house, Tebela said drinks and food items meant for guests of the Pere of Gbaramatu kingdom, HRM Oboro II, were allegedly taken away by the rampaging soldiers.
Desecration of Oporoza ancestral home
Also affected was the Oporoza ancestral home. According to one of the priests at the home, John Ojo, treasured and revered religious items in the home since the origin of the community were missing.
He said: “This place has been in existence right from the time of our forefathers and nobody enters here freely as you must be authorized before you can enter here.
“The army entered this place (ancestral home), desecrated the place and made away with some treasured items, including a gold sword which has been here for ages.”
Army should probe Oporoza looting — Mulade
Meanwhile, enraged chairman of Kokodiagbene community, Mr. Mulade Sheriff, yesterday, called on the JTF “to return all looted items from Oporoza Town, Gbaramatu Kingdom.”
“It is unpatriotic, unethical and unprofessional for the Nigerian Army, who invaded Oporoza and other Ijaw communities in search of vandals and militants to abandon their primary responsibility of fishing out the perpetrators to resort to looting of items belonging to Pere’s palace and law-abiding citizens within the community.
“It’s worthy to state that the Nigerian Army looted valuables worth over N300,000,000 and cash of about N70,000,000 meant for the completion of the Pere’s palace. We are appealing to the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Burutai, to probe his men, recover the looted items from the palace and other residents, and kindly return them to the law-abiding citizens of Oporoza.
“We believe the Nigerian Army has the capacity to thoroughly investigate and bring the looters to book in the interest of the image of the Army. As law-abiding citizens, we have no option than to institute a suit against the authority to recover our items, if the authority fails.
“The JTF’s continuous visits are posing serious threats to the communities. We are living in fear and bondage. Gbaramatu kingdom is host to oil and gas facilities and not to Avengers,” he said.
Avengers sponsored by PDP – Ex-Agitators
In the interim, National Coalition of the Niger Delta Ex-Agitators, NCNDE, has called on the Federal Government to flush out the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, which they described as criminal elements allegedly sponsored by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to stoke troubles from the region.
President of NCNDE, Israel Akpodoro, who stated this while chatting with newsmen, alleged that the PDP was in want of goading the Federal Government into military confrontation that might provoke public outcry, especially “the foreign communities with the ultimate aim of discrediting the All Progressives Congress, APC-led administration at home and abroad.”
According to Akpodoro, the second aim of the Avengers is to cripple the Nigerian economy to give reasons for the PDP to gloat and mock the administration.
Urging the Federal Government to go all out for those he described as criminal elements masquerading as freedom fighters and their sponsors, he said no amount of subterfuge could make anyone believe that the bad losers in the PDP were not behind the economic saboteurs.
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