There was confusion on Monday, over the purported arrest of five suspected members of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) by the Nigerian military in connection with the destruction of several oil and gas platforms in the region.
While the Defence Headquarters has confirmed the arrests, leaders of Gbaramatu, an Ijaw community in the Niger Delta, kicked against the rounding up of the persons, insisting that the “suspects’’ were Chevron contract workers on duty at the time.
The five persons whose names were given as Samuel Emiko, Alfred Timede, Kelvin Mordi, Henry Arogboritse and Isaac Edemde, THISDAY was told, were on routine patrol of oil facilities along the Utunana flow station in Warri South West local government of Delta State, when they were picked up by the military.
The quintet, it was learnt, were employed as surveillance guards under the Chevron’s Pipeline and Facilities Surveillance Programme (PFSP) which has been in operation for several years.
The said PFSP was reportedly contracted to a firm which then employed the services of youths from the host communities of Ijaw and Itsekiri.
While three of the workers now in custody of the military were said to be from Omadino, an Itsekiri village in Warri North, the rest two were said to have come from Kokodiagbene, an Ijaw community, hosts to Utunana Flow Station in Gbaramatu kingdom.
When contacted monday, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, an Ijaw leader and Spokesman of the community noted that they were vehemently against the intimidation and indiscriminate arrest of innocent persons.
The community leader alleged that after the soldiers arrested the suspects with their speedboats bearing the inscription of PFFP and with a Chevron logo on it, they moved to Kokodiagbene and invaded buildings and tortured youths in a bid to force them to accept their membership of the militant group.
He called for the immediate release of the workers , describing the action of the military as a ploy to intimidate the people of Gbaramatu.
“Three of the workers are from Itsekiri (Omadino) while two are from Kokodiagbene, an Ijaw community. They were arrested on their routine check of oil facilities within Utunana flow station with a speedboat which had Chevron’s name boldly written on it. The boat they were caught in also belongs to Chevron.
“They were employed under the Chevron’s Pipeline and Facilities Surveillance Programme (PFSP) through the Ijaw/Itsekiri Regional Development Committee GMoU with host communities,” he said.
He added that the security operatives were looking for a way to cover up their inadequacies, after they ‘goofed’ several times.
He urged the authorities to ignore a popular businessman/politician from the Itsekiri stock, whom he accused of inducing the military action because of his alleged differences with Mr Government Ekpemupolo, aka, Tompolo, who’s currently on the run after he was declared wanted by the federal government .
Meanwhile, in a statement titled: ‘The Continuous Military Siege on Me and Gbaramatu Kingdom Unfortunate,’ yesterday, Tompolo lamented that his people were being punished for the crimes they were innocent of.
“I wish to humbly express my disappointment and displeasure with the federal government and the Nigerian Military on the continuous siege on me and Gbaramatu Communities under the guise of looking for members of the nascent Niger Delta Avengers.
“It baffles me that the Nigerian military has refused to believe me that I am not part of the group and its activities as contained in several media statements. I am obviously a victim of circumstance in this matter because of my case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),’’ he said.
Tompolo swore that he could not resort to the destruction of oil facilities because of “trumped-up charges’’ against him by the EFCC.
“If not for the common insinuation that the Nigerian Judiciary is on trial, why would my case with the EFCC become the greatest issue in Nigeria today, when there are so many important things to talk about?,’’ he queried.
Like his kinsman, the ex-warlord also accused the Itsekiri businessman/politician of arm-twisting the authorities by the ‘unfounded claims’ that he was behind the Niger Delta Avengers group, when according to him, there is no single proof to back the claim.
However, the Defence Headquarters has said it would be too early to name the suspected members and possible leaders of the new militant group, NDA who were recently arrested by the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Warri, Delta State.
The Director of Defence Information (DDI), Brig-Gen. Rabe Abubakar, in his response , said that those behind the recent attacks at the oil facilities in the region would be unmasked at the appropriate time.
Abubakar called for patience, saying that the issue at hand is of national interest that requires painstaking investigation.
According to him, the shielding of the suspects’ identities would be crucial towards getting more information needed to apprehend the masterminds of the NDA.
He said: “The names will be supplied at an appropriate time. Please we advise that we should be patient with us.
“We want to advise that this is not a matter that should be rushed as it is an issue that has to do with national interest, which require diligent investigation with a view to unravel more information.”
In the same vein, the Commander of JTF Operation Pulo Shield, Maj-Gen. Alani Okunlola, has called for calm and understanding from members of the public.
Okunlola, who responded to inquiries about the recent operations, noted that “its still too early as investigation is ongoing.”
The Defence spokesman had on Sunday confirmed the arrest of suspected members of the resurgent militant group, who were allegedly responsible for the attacks on Chevron oil facilities.
“This is to confirm the arrest of some suspected members of niger delta avengers investigation is currently on going,” Abubakar stated .
The DDI also promised that the “military will continue to do its best to guard strategic facilities and provide security to lives and property.”
He noted that the military actions was in line with our rule of engagement and urged the “community and traditional rulers and patriotic citizens to cooperate with us in our efforts to get rid of criminals in our great country.”
Meanwhile, the military authorities had debunked the report that the arrested five suspects in connection with the recent pipeline bombings in the Niger Delta, are staff of Chevron Nigeria Limited.
A very senior military officer who is privy to the ongoing operations, insisted that those apprehended by the military are connected to the NDA.
The top general simply said: “They are not Chevron Staff”, adding that the real identities of the suspects would be revealed after the conclusion of their investigations.