Meanwhile, militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers, said yesterday that in spite of the federal government’s deployment of fighter jets and the military in Delta State, it would not relent in its violent attacks on critical oil installations in the region.
The group, which said the heavy presence of the military would not stop them from their planned action that would shock the whole world, noted that Gbaramatu, now under military siege, was just one kingdom out the several Ijaw kingdoms spread across seven states.
The group, in a statement signed by its Spokesman, Brig-Gen Mudoch Agbinibo, said emphatically, “it is not our business what goes on in Gbaramatu Kingdom but our concern is the innocent children, women and aged people whom the Nigerian military has chased away from their homes now taking refuge in the forest”.
It alleged that some people (names withheld) benefitting from contracts for pipeline surveillance were behind the military invasion of Gbaramatu Kingdom in the guise of looking for the Niger Delta Avengers.
It queried: “The question is, why the innocent people of Gbaramatu, why the innocent pregnant women, why unleash terror on the aged people of Gbaramatu? Must you waste all these innocent blood just to secure the pipeline surveillance job?”
The militant group berated the International Community and the United Nations for looking the other way while the military occupied the kingdom.
The NDA also took a swipe on Tompolo for accepting the treatment being meted on his people wondering whether he would still refer to them as criminals.
The railings of the militants provided the opportunity for the Nigerian Army of not wanting to embrace dialogue yesterday.
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, who was represented by Brig.-Gen. J. Hamakim, at the ‘State of the Nation Conference’, organised by the Nigerian Bar Association in Abuja yesterday said the Army had not ruled out dialogue with the group
Speaking on the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers in the oil rich region, Hamakim said that dialogue with the group was not yet a realistic option.
He was responding to a submission that government should explore dialogue with the Niger Delta militants instead of applying force that could further worsen the nation’s oil production in the region.
Hamakim, said in his response, that there was no sign that the Niger Delta Avengers’ members were ready for dialogue.
He said: “I quite agree that dialogue is very important. But where it is not too obvious that the adversary is ready to come out and talk, you can also force such a person.
“I think that is what the Nigeria Army is trying to do. Yes, we don’t know the group’s leader, for now; that is the only option, possibly we have to bring the people out to know who you can dialogue with.”
He said the activities of the group were affecting oil production as the nation’s production had recently further plummeted to 1.1 million barrels per day.
He debunked the allegation that soldiers who were involved in the operations in Gbaramatu were killing innocent residents and raped women.
“We have done our investigation and nothing like that is happening,” he said.
He also said the demonstrations by Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) leading to a clash between the protesters and security forces in Onitsha on Monday, were not peaceful.
Hamakim said: “Remember that lives were lost, policemen were killed, some were thrown overboard and the military has rules of engagement.
“The question is how peaceful is the peaceful demonstration. How peaceful was the demonstration at that time? If it was that peaceful, how come we lost security agencies.
“The rule of engagement is that if you feel threatened, you have the mandate to respond. What we can say is, that was not at all a demonstration that you can say was peaceful.”
He regretted that other security agencies in the country had been “overwhelmed”, a situation which he said had necessitated the Army to move “from the last line of defence to the first line of defence”.
In a related development, the Flag Officer Central Naval Command, Yenagoa, Commodore Mohammed Garba, said last night that five suspects had been arrested in connection with the bombings of NNPC crude pipelines in Batan community in Warri South West Local Government.
Briefing journalists at the NNS Delta, Warri, Commodore Garba disclosed that two of the suspects have been moved to another military location.
He said another three were arrested while siphing crude oil from an oil well head close to the bombed Batan community where the NNPC crude lines were bombed in Batan community.
Commodore Garba denied intimidation of innocent people in the search for members of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) in both Delta and Bayelsa States.
He said the operations were in line with international best practices noting that the “enemies of the state are resorting to propaganda to win sympathy.
The naval boss explained that the deployment of fighter jets and gun ships were to aide the Joint Military operations going on in the region.
But spokesman of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, has accused President Muhammadu of not having a grasp of the issues in the Niger Delta.
‘’He’s in power , but he cannot grasp the issues in the Niger Delta. He was in the military, but he was mostly about capturing, molesting and gaining ground for the government. But in a democratic government it’s not like that.
‘’He’s still saying he’s going after this and that. He can go after criminal elements but a situation where you make people less human, doesn’t make sense,’’ the Ijaw chief said.
He added: “He (Buhari) should change his approach of ‘I will kill you, I will destroy you’. The avengers have a bad approach, but what is pushing them is beyond the knowledge of the president.
‘’A holistic approach is needed, the amnesty programme is just scratching the problem. The problem of molestation, deprivation, hunger and telling the people that they are not good enough to be educated. Stopping work at the maritime school is saying the same thing’’, he said.
In another development, some lawmakers from the Niger Delta have warned the military against compounding the crisis in the region.
Reacting yesterday to the invasion of Gbaramatu community in Delta State by the heavily armed soldiers, who claimed to be looking for members of the Niger Delta Avengers, a new militant group who had recently claimed responsibility on the attacks of oil facilities, Hon. Daniel Reyeneiju, representing Warri Federal Constituency of Delta State, said deployment of troops and aerial bombardment to the region was a wrong move and may aggravate the situation.
Speaking with THISDAY, the lawmaker said the same hard approach had been deployed in the region before, and only served to aggravate the militancy.
Reyeneiju recalled that at the height of militancy at the inception of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua Administration, oil production dropped from 2.2 million bpd to 800,000.
“We must have institutional memory, and be able to examine how the issues were resolved then,” he said.
He said that while it is necessary to bring those involved in ‘’economic sabotage’’ to justice, deployment of troops — who would harass innocent civilians, is also an act of injustice against the people of the region.
“Nobody seems to know what has caused the resurgence of militancy in the region, because even the Avengers have not come out with any demands, and this makes us all worried,” Reyeneiju said.
He advised the federal government to work closely with the state governments and leaders of the Niger Delta states.
In the same vein, Hon. Diri Nonye from Bayelsa said the scenario of the Odi invasion, where several civilians were killed by soldiers, is being replayed.
“Vandals have destroyed and on the run, innocent Ijaw residents are now targets of military invasion. This is not acceptable,” he said.
Nonye called in the military to be proactive and properly target the vandals involved in destruction of pipelines, instead of harassing civilians.
On his part, Hon. Kingsley Chinda (Rivers PDP) lamented that the current administration, even though a civilian one, seems bent on militarising the Nigerian state.
“It is unconscionable to assault, harass and gruesomely murder innocent citizens including pregnant women under the guise of searching for perceived criminals’’, Chinda said.
“This marks the difference between a civilian democrat and military born again Democrat. I call on the commander of the armed forces to immediately withdraw the solders and fight crime in line with the rule of law and conscionable standards.”