Tobi Soniyi, Senator Iroegbu in Abuja and
Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
Prospects of a confrontation between
Niger Delta militants and the military
heightened yesterday as the Nigerian
Army announced that its Special Forces
had started exercises in preparation for
combat in the restive oil rich region.
The Army in a statement by its Director of
Public Relations (DAPR), Col. Sani
Usman, said it had started conducting
exercises for its Special Forces on
maritime warfare. “The Nigerian Army
will from this weekend commence
another training exercise code named
‘Exercise Crocodile Smile’ in 82 Division
and part of 2 Division areas of
responsibility traversing the South-south
geo-political region,” he said.
But Bayelsa State Governor Seriake
Dickson wednesday met with President
Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja and said
force was not the solution to the problem
that had massively constrained the
country’s crude oil production output.
The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt-Gen.
Tukur Buratai, had warned last week that
if the militants failed to accept the federal
government’s offer of dialogue over their
grievances, the military would have to
step in to protect the nation’s oil and gas
assets that had been the target of a
militant group, Niger Delta
Avengers’ (NDA) consistent acts of
sabotage.
The federal government’s strategy for
dialogue would appear to be experiencing
some hiccups as the main militant group,
the Avengers, has consistently expressed
reservations about the sincerity of the
process even as some other stakeholders
query the government’s option of using
proxy for the proposed talks.
Obviously not wanting to be caught
unawares, the Nigerian Army has started
preparing for a possible confrontation
with the militants, conducting exercises
for its Special Forces on maritime
warfare.
Usman wednesday said: “The aim of the
exercise is to practise our Special Forces
and other units of the Nigerian Army in
Amphibious and Internal Security
Operations in riverine environment and
also check criminal activities like
kidnapping, militancy and piracy and
other forms of criminal activities in
support of the civil authority.”
He urged members of the public “not to
panic on the sight of unusual movement
of large number of troops, heavy military
weapons and equipment in these areas”.
As part of the military’s preparation, its
Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta,
Operation Delta Safe, also warned the
militants not take it for granted, saying it
had the capacity to crush them.
Rear Admiral Joseph Okojie, the new
Commander of the outfit covering Delta,
Rivers, Bayelsa, parts of Ondo and Akwa
Ibom States, described the crisis in the
region as a fifth generation security
threat, but stressed that Nigerians would
soon begin to see the results from the
efforts by the forces to tackle the violent
agitators.
Okojie, who spoke with journalists in
Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, where the JTF,
ODS is headquartered, assured Nigerians
that the military had total control of the
security infrastructure in the country, but
added that the military remained
subservient to the political leadership of
the country.
He noted that the federal government, the
minister of defence, the chief of defence
staff and all the service chiefs were fully
involved in the current operations to rout
all criminalities in the oil-rich region.
“The ODS will not shirk its responsibility
of securing the Niger Delta. We will
ensure that there is sanctity of our
territorial integrity, but we have to make
sure that collateral damage is minimised.
“We are on top of the security
manifestations and at the appropriate
time, if necessary, action will be taken to
ensure there is peace.
“If there is need to up the tempo, we will
do it, but for now (our operations) are
driven by the political imperatives of our
leaders. The political leadership has come
out with clear instructions while we also
carry out our core duty,” he said.
Flanked by his lieutenants in charge of
land operations, maritime and civil
military operations, Okojie explained that
in the last few weeks, his men had
successfully foiled cases of pipeline
vandalism, kidnapping, illegal oil refining,
piracy and other criminalities in the
region.
“These are complex operations, but we
are trained for that and very soon
everyone will begin to see the results,” he
said.
He added: “We are quite capable of
enforcing our mandate. This is a fifth
generation warfare. Not everyone there is
a criminal. It is complex and you must
consider innocent people. Every situation
demands its own solution. We wouldn’t
want to hear complaints that people are
being killed.”
He urged the media to be objective and
professional in reporting the security
challenges in the region, saying that the
military would continue to keep its
mandate of providing a safe environment
for economic prosperity.
According to Okojie, “We have seen
reports emanating from faceless sources
that tend to compromise national security
in the mainstream media and want to
restate our commitment to the mandate
given to Operation Delta Safe.
“Our mandate does not include
engagement in propaganda with any
interest and wish to restate that the
territorial integrity of our country is
sacrosanct.
“We implore the media to rise to the
occasion and subject their security related
stories to the dictates of their professional
ethics.”
But Dickson told State House
correspondents in Abuja wednesday that
he discussed the looming violent
confrontation between the militants and
the military with Buhari and expressed the
view that there was no alternative to
dialogue in the conflict.
“I have said that the issues in the Niger
Delta, the terrain, the historic nature of the
issues and challenges are such that
military solution may not be the way
forward,” he said without giving details of
his discussions with the president.
According to him, “For us who are
products of political system, who are at
this level, we have a duty to mobilise
communal and local leadership, we have
a duty to support the work that the
intelligence and security agencies are
doing; we have a duty to ensure that
issues are better appreciated and that we
fill the communication gap. And where
there are issues, those issues need be
addressed. And it is also our duty to
network like I’m doing to ensure that
problems that are identified as the root
cause of some of these challenges are
looked into.
“The military solution as I have always
maintained is not the right option, we are
hopeful that the ongoing discussions will
yield the desired result. I have always
been in support of negotiations, of
dialogue as the sustainable way forward.
Dialogue will bring out the issues and
then we will all unite around these
common issues to move our country
forward.”
Dickson, however, thanked Buhari for not
interfering in the state election which he
won on the platform of the Peoples
Democratic Party (PDP), and extended an
olive branch to his opponents in the
election, asking them to bury the hatchet
by joining hands with him to build the
Bayelsa of their dream.
He said: “I came in this afternoon to have
discussions with Mr. President. That is
because my position has been and I
believe that is the right position every
political leader should take which is that
after general election political leaders and
citizens must unite and address common
issues and find solutions to the problems
of our country.
“All over the world, once nations have
crisis, once nations come under attack,
leaders unite across political lines and
come together.
“I came in to have discussion with Mr.
President and I thank him for that
opportunity and we cross fertilised ideas
around issues of security. Of course as
you know Bayelsa is central to the
maintenance of law and order and
stability in our country particularly in the
Niger Delta region.
“Bayelsa is the epicentre of the issues that
have to do with the Niger Delta. We had
fruitful discussions on the need for
political leaders, governmental and
political leaders to work together to
support the work of the security agencies
and foster better understanding of even
people who have grievances and that we
are committed to do together.”
The governor expressed joy that the state
Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja
yesterday upheld his election, saying the
judgment was an affirmation that his
emergence as a true product of the
democratic exercise of rights of the
people of Bayelsa State in the 5 December
and 9 January, 2016 elections.
He said: “Again, I want to use this
opportunity to appreciate Mr. President
for his non-interference contrary to the
propaganda and the name dropping that
some politicians back home and even in
Abuja embarked upon. There is no name
they didn’t call, there is no claim that they
didn’t make but I’m telling Nigerians, I’m
telling Bayelsans to disregard all that
propaganda, the president never had
anything to do by way of negatively
influencing the last general election in
Bayelsa and also the outcome of the
tribunal proceedings. That is important
because if our nation must move forward,
if our democracy must be strengthened, if
our nation must be stable, then
institutions must be allowed to grow.
“I want to use this opportunity to call on
my opponent, brother and friend and
fellow citizen of Bayelsa and all others to
join hands with us so that we can render
service to our people and build a stronger
and more stable and prosperous
Bayelsa.”
On the crisis rocking the PDP, Dickson
said the nation needed a political party in
opposition that is strong and well
organised.
He said that the party was working very
hard to ensure that some of the issues
and disputes in the party were resolved.
He said that the party’s convention would
produce a virile, credible opposition party
that would work for democracy and the
Nigerian nation.
According to him, “We need opposition
that plays by the rule; that knows that
there comes a time when people across
divides must unite for the sake of our
country. You expect to see those types of
issues and disputes in any political party
and we are working hard to address
them.”

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