•The FG backlash, panic in the creeks
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
IF the militants who sabotaged crude and gas pipelines in Delta State thought that by their action, they would succeed in brow-beating the Federal Government into bargaining amnesty with them and awarding them contracts for protection of pipelines in the region, then they seriously misfired.
According to a militant leader, “General” Levi (not real name), whose group claimed responsibility for the attacks that led to the shutdown of the Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries, they would not drop their arms until the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, “meets and negotiates” with them.
Apparently convinced that the damage in the face of dwindling oil price and crash of the Naira might force government to parley with the group, “General” Levi asserted, “We are ready to commence discussion and denounce association with this present situation. Henceforth, we are ready to block any channel for anyone not to go through to bomb oil pipelines.”
However, the reaction from President Muhammadu Buhari, a week after the explosions that destroyed the Escravos-Warri-Lagos-Abuja gas pipelines and other oil facilities in Warri South-west and Warri north local government areas of Delta State from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, UAE, jolted the militants.
Rather than plead for their understanding with his government, Buhari, during a meeting with the Nigerian community in UAE, vowed to deal with oil thieves, abductors and vandals of oil and gas pipelines.
It was not a story time for the President, who is ruing the attack that is costing the economy a daily loss of N470 million besides the closure of the refineries.
Recalling how the armed forces had dealt “deadly blows” on Boko Haram insurgents to re-launch the country on safety path, he declared, “The oil thieves and abductors are a less problematic target. We will re-organize and deal with them.”
Buhari’s tough mien actually staggered the militants, who held a secret meeting shortly after the January 14-16 attacks to review their exploit. Unknown to them, they had just given Buhari, who, all along, had been trying to be cautious about his actions/inactions on the unpredictable Niger Delta cannon fodder to unleash his “war” plan. A source said the reaction of the Federal Government threw the militants into disarray, as what they planned was not what they got.
A source said they might likely go back to the drawing board to plot their next move. But the dust their cunning strikes left is rumbling everywhere in the oil rich region.
A source told Sunday Vanguard, “Because of the strategic importance of Niger Delta to the nation, the Federal Government did not want to do anything that will provoke tension in the region and give people the excuse to blow up oil pipelines. But they have caused it themselves; so they should take anything that comes out of it.”
“You can see that Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries have been shut down because of crude supply challenges arising from recent attacks on vital crude oil pipelines. The NNPC shut the plants simultaneously penultimate Sunday after the Bonny –Okirika crude supply line to the Port Harcourt refinery and the Escravos-Warri crude supply line to the Kaduna refinery suffered breaches.”
The NNPC, in a statement by its Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Mr. Ohi Alegbe, said the corporation shut the plants, simultaneously, on Sunday, after the Bonny-Okrika crude supply line to the Port Harcourt refinery, and the Escravos-Warri crude supply line to the Kaduna refinery suffered breaches.
It stated that before the closure, the Port Harcourt refinery was recording a daily petrol yield of over 4.1 million litres, while the Kaduna refinery was posting a daily petrol production of about 1.3 million litres.
According to the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, the vandalism of the gas pipelines would affect negatively the Olorunsogo National Integrated Power Project plant, which has the capacity to supply 600 megawatts of electricity, and other power plants across the country.
The Special Adviser on Media to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Hakeem Bello, disclosed in a statement on Wednesday, that although security agencies had intensified the search for those behind the attack on the pipeline, their action would slow down the country’s power supply system.
Bello stated, “The sabotaged gas pipeline, which contributes to the Escravos-Lagos Pipeline System, has led to a loss of 160mmsfcd of gas daily. At a cost of $2.50 per thousand scf, this loss means about $400,000 loss to the country on a daily basis (N78.8m) in gas volume.”
No more tea party – Defense Minister
The Minister of Defense, Brigadier-General Monsur Mohammed-Dan-Ali (retd.), who stopped over in Warri, on Tuesday, for an on-the-spot assessment of the blown-up pipelines, gave a clear indication that the Federal Government was not going to huddle with criminals.
Even as residents of the various Delta State riverside communities lived in fear following the heavy deployment by the military, he directed the JTF Commander, Major General Alani Okunola, and his men to fish out the bombers.
“I came here to intensify assistance to the armed forces and provide them with the equipment that will help them to bring down these criminals. This was an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion”, the Minister stated.
“I believe it was well arranged and well planned. You can see the magnitude of the explosion. I believe this will be taken care of by members of our armed forces. We have intensified patrol. We are still looking for them and the Joint Task Force (JTF) Commander has assured me that they will get to the root of it.”
In his entourage were the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ite Ikwe Ibas; the Flag Officer Commanding, Central Naval Command, Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman, the JTF Commander, Major General Okunmola, Commander, 2 Battalion, Lt. Col Omoke Igwe Patrick, and Commander, Nigeria Navy Ship, NNS Delta, Commodore Raimi Mohammed.
Terrorism, no more pipeline vandalism —CNS
Speaking on Wednesday in Abuja and apparently re-echoing Buhari’s new “war” plan, the Chief of Naval Staff, Ibas, said, henceforth, the Nigerian Navy would treat such infraction as terrorist attack, rather than mere pipeline vandalism.
Describing the bomb blasts as unfortunate, the CNS, who delivered a lecture to Course 24 participants at the National Defence College, entitled, ‘Nigerian Navy: Challenges and Future Perspectives,’ noted that the Navy was not taking the sabotage nonchalantly because the act was capable of undermining the Navy’s recent push in sanitizing the nation’s maritime sector.
His words, “The incident that just happened recently is rather unfortunate and of course that cannot be taken lightly by any serious nation and of course the Nigerian Navy is not going to take it lightly as well.
“We have made it clear that it goes beyond just mere vandalism for the purpose of making any gains; this is absolute sabotage, something that can even be termed terrorism.
“If the guys were doing that to derive benefit from the destruction then one will say it is vandalism, but that is not the case”.
New order, fresh fears
A military source told Sunday Vanguard, at the weekend. “President Buhari has directed the Minister of Defense on what to do. When he said the militants who blew up the pipelines were less problematic than Boko Haram, the President has intelligence information at his disposal and, I tell you, it is just to re-organize as he said, they will be taken care of.”
“Some persons have been compromised before now because they know the militants and they parley with them. I am not supposed to tell you the changes that will be made, but you will see them with your eyes soon.”
Meanwhile, investigations showed that the JTF had been given an unambiguous order to stop at nothing to fish out the perpetrators of the attacks on the crude and gas pipelines in the Delta State and the Federal Government was prepared to provide more logistics. The threat by the JTF Commander that the task force would hold community leaders responsible for any future attacks in their areas had also raised the heartbeat of the people. Indeed, the fear of what it portends is what has made many riverside dwellers to flee their communities in the last one week.
Ijaw leaders and groups, who suspect that some persons were trying to get at a former militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, with the current development, have urged the military to be cautious so as not to exacerbate the already complicated state of affairs. However, normalcy has returned after the three-day bombings, especially when the task force took commanding control of some major entry and exit routes in the creeks of Warri, last Sunday, but the next line of action is like two peas in a pod.