By Emma Amaize, South-South Regional Editor
WARRI — NOBODY in his normal state of mind would disapprove a fight-back by the Joint Task Force, JTF, in the Niger-Delta after about nine of its soldiers were shot dead and a number of its gunboats destroyed by militants, under the aegis of the Niger-Delta Liberation Force, NDLF, headed by wanted militant leader, “General” John Togo during a fierce gun battle on Wednesday, November 17.
But what has come to be instantaneously denounced is the Task Force unleashing its anger on an entire community because of the unlawful activities of an outlaw and his boys, who the people had no power to discipline.
This is exactly the plight of the people of Ayakoromor community in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State, whose ancestral home was raided by the Task Force on December 1 with military aircraft and gun boats.
Community leaders claimed that over 100 villagers were killed and some of them given mass burial on the orders of the invading soldiers, an allegation that the Task Force flatly denied.
Commander of the JTF, Major-General Charles Omoregie who admitted that some soldiers were killed and injured by John Togo and his fighters without mentioning the figure in the November 17 clash, weeks after, asserted that the target was not the community, but two of Togo’s militant camps in Ayokoromor and Okirika.
Chairman of the community, Chief Albert Doutimiyebo said it was not true as the community leaders had earlier showed the Task Force the location of John Togo’s camp, which is some kilometres away from the town, adding that the community chairman, D.C. Oguruguru announced to the people on December 1 when news came that the soldiers were about to storm the community that they should remain in their houses, as prior to that day, the JTF had assured that its target was John Togo’s camp.
He said the raid on December 1 was not targeted at Togo’s camp but on the community, which was why his people were slaughtered like goats and their houses razed. Major-General Omoregie, however, said militants opened fire on the soldiers as they were approaching the community about 25 miles away, and his men returned fire in self defence.
Despite the accusations, denials and counter-accusations, what is clear is that Ayakoromor community with a population of about 15, 000 persons was desecrated. The community in reality was razed despite the denials of the Task Force and many persons died.
Major-General Omoregie, however, dismissed as false during a chat with Vanguard Metro the allegation that the JTF carried out the attack because it is dominated by Northern soldiers, who were on a mission to wipe out Niger-Delta people because of their oil.
“I am the commander of the Task Force and I am from Edo State in Niger-Delta, so how can somebody say JTF is on an ethnic-cleansing mission because it is dominated by Northerners,” he queried.
The Forum for Justice and Human Rights Defence, FJHD, based in Warri, Delta State, which reeled out at least 19 names of dead villagers was angry that that the Federal Government was relying on the JTF, which carried out the attack to give it situation report on the incident.
The National Coordinator, Barrister Oghenejabor Ikimi also accused both the Federal and state governments of insensitivity to the plight of the people. His words: “To make matters worse, President Goodluck Jonathan in a recent statement credited to him insisting that from JTF reports made available to him (a report from the aggressor) indicates that nobody died in the invasion of Ayakoromor.
This we submit is an indication of how insensitive our leaders are to the plight of the people of Ayakoromor.
“Available reports reaching our office through a villager who simply gave his name as Damien was that JTF operatives are carrying out mass burial of dead victims of the above bombardments and the looting of properties of some persons who had deserted the Ayakoromor community in the wake of the above military invasion and which said properties are being carted away through the Okwagbe Waterside route in the Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State”, he asserted.
“We call on the Federal Government to stop pretending with its supply of relief materials to the displaced people of Ayakoromor by urgently rebuilding the said community and to further compensate victims and surviving families of victims who either lost their properties and or lives in the said JTF massacre,” he added.
On the state government, he said: “The attention of the forum has been drawn to a recent statement credited to the Delta State Government calling on Deltans and in particular the displaced people of Ayakoromor to remain calm and go about their normal business.
We make bold to ask the State Government, what normal business do they expect the displaced people of Ayakoromor to observe when the people are presently mourning their loved ones who have been killed by JTF operatives and their houses, properties, stores e.t.c , burnt down in the process by JTF operatives and have been left to bury their dead”.
“Are these normal times for the traumatized people of Ayakoromor? Definitely not! Is the State Government so insensitive to the present plight of the people of Ayakoromor that it does not know that the displaced people of Ayakoromor are destitutes and the entire Ayakoromor community is desolate as a result of the bombardment by JTF operatives? What pretence?”
More angry reactions continued to trail at press time with complaints by Ayakoromor community that the Task Force was suppressing its leaders from saying the truth.
A leader of the community told Vanguard Metro in Warri that the community chairman, Mr. D.C. Oguruguru who was arrested by the JTF on December 1 and released later was being cajoled by soldiers since the incident.
He also said the urban chairman of the community, Chief Albert Doutimiyebo had been summoned by the Task Force, but he declined to be intimidated by the soldiers, who allegedly destroyed his community.
JTF can’t justify mass murder- Ekiyor
Former national president of the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, and House of Representatives aspirant in Patani/Bomadi Federal Constituency of Delta State, Dr. Chris Ekiyor told Vanguard Metro: “The mass murder in Ayokoromor by the Joint Task Force, JTF, on the Niger-Delta did not justify its manhunt for militant leader, “General” John Togo.
“While I strongly disagree with the recent re-grouping of militants after amnesty was granted, it does not justify the genocide perpetuated by the JTF, similar issue of militant uprising occurred in Jos and Bauchi, the JTF did not raze down Jos or Bauchi. The due process of the law took its course, but each time it’s a Niger-Delta community, the military just burn down the place. This military terrorism must stop. The Ijaws must no longer be used as guinea pigs to test weaponry.
“It is an obvious fact that the military occupation force codenamed, JTF, has taken delight in the burning and bombing of Ijaw communities. In last 10 years, over 40 ijaw communities and settlements have been razed down , this being higher than any known rascality that we know.
“Each time there is youth restiveness or altercation between militants and this force of occupation, rather than engage the groups via UN rules of engagement, they take delight in killing and maiming of women and children in helpless ijaw communities. The latest being the bombing of Ayakoromo in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State in the guise of looking for John Togo.This act is dastardly inhuman and against all known convention,” he added.
Movement for Delta Ijaw Development Agenda, MFDIDA, on its part, urged the Joint Task Force, JTF, on the Niger-Delta to stop killing law-abiding citizens of Ayokoromor in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State under the guise of searching for militant leader, John Togo, who does not reside in Ayokoromor community.
Group cries foul
In a statement signed by the chairman, Mr. Austin Ozobo and two others, the group said: “The military was not fair and transparent in their operation. We strongly condemn the bombing that nearly eliminated the whole community.
This is another genocide attack coupled with extra-judicial killing on the peace-loving community. John Togo did not even have a single building in Ayakoromor as it was reported. The attack was highly provocative as they were being misled”.
MFDIDA cried foul over the alleged unprecedented casualty figure in the Ayakoromo bombardment and appealed to the Task Force to stop further attacks on the innocent people in the community.
The group also called on President, Goodluck Jonathan to caution the JTF to have respect for human life and avoid further extra judicial killings of residents in the community and Niger-Delta in general.
“Why must the JTF deploy over 15 gunboats, including three aircraft bombers to evacuate the entire community of over 5000 people when there is no external war. This is an act of lawlessness and must be avoided,” it stated.
JTF targeted women, men, children – Bisina
Coordinator of the Niger-Delta development activist, Mr. Joel Bisina told Vanguard Metro: “The Nigerian state is carrying out its phased war plan against the Ijaw people. This war started in 1999 from Odi. The usual claim of hunting down militant leaders is just to legitimize the war. From Odito Gbaramatu and to the current attack on Ayakoromor, nothing has changed. The target is innocent men, women and children, whose fundamental human rights are being violated.
“The so-called militant leaders and the military always go unhurt, richer and more powerful, leaving trails of death, pains and sorrow on innocent Ijaws who are Nigerians. Ijaw is constantly being tortured, dehumanized and degraded. This is a clear violation of known UN conventions that Nigeria is signatory to,” he asserted.
Togo should surrender now – Eregbene
Also, the Delta Ijaw Mandate for Dr. Goodluck Jonathan/Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, led by Mallam Yusuf Eregbene, condemned what it described as JTF killings of innocent souls in Ayokoromor.
The group, which visited some of the affected villagers, accused the Task Force of using the search for John Togo as an escape route to continue its destruction and extortion business in the Niger-Delta, saying: “Even in civil war, this kind of killing and wanton destruction were not seen”.
It, however, called on John Togo to surrender all arms and ammunition in his possession to the Federal Government, pointing out: “It is an aberration for any Niger-Deltan to contemplate militancy at this level of the prevailing peace in the region.
“We sympathise with the victims of both militancy and the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire and urge the bereaved families to take heart and bear the loss. We also call on the Federal and state governments to come to the aid of Ayokoromor people and find lasting solution to this impasse by setting up a panel of inquiry to determine the remote and immediate causes of the resurgence in the creeks,” the group said.
Ijaw women call for inquiry
Ijaw women under the auspices of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Western Zone , also condemned in strong terms the senseless destruction of properties and killing of lives in Ayakromor community in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State as carried out by the Joint Military Task Force in Delta State under the pretext of hunting for militants.
Women leader, IYC, western zone, Tonbra Kasikoro said: “The military attacks which had combined both land and aerial bombardments had been unequal in severity and highhandedness which have resulted in the death of several persons and destruction of homes. We condemn in totality the approach of the military which manifests in its discriminatory responses to crisis in our region which are always done with excessive force.
“Nigeria has been experiencing all sorts of criminality all over, but there has never been a place in any other part of the country where this level of combined military invasion and destruction had taken place in which communities are raided and levelled down and several people turned into internally displaced persons.
“This invasion has violated all known international human rights and humanitarian standards, especially as there was no attempt by the Federal Government to evacuate innocent and unarmed civilians before the military actions took place
“We are, therefore, calling on the Federal Government to stop the ongoing invasion of the communities and take immediate steps to attend to the internal refugees that resulted from the military action and rebuild all the destroyed towns and communities”.
The group continued: “We are also calling on the international community to establish an independent investigation team to carry out an independent investigation into the carnage that had taken place.
“In conclusion, we wish to remind the FG that this action is only opening up old wounds which is not the situation that we ought to be dealing with at this period of reconciliation”.