By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
ON Wednesday, May 25, while a large cache of arms and ammunition, including 1,798 rifles, one 1981 assorted guns and 70 rocket propelled grenades, recovered from militants in Delta, Bayelsa and Ondo states were being destroyed at the Headquarters of the 82 Division, Nigerian Army, Enugu, men of the Joint Task Force, JTF, on the Niger_Delta embarked on an off the cuff and dangerous operation.
Saturday Vanguard learnt that the top secret mission to a riverine community in Delta state was led by a senior army officer from Sector 1 Command of the JTF in Warri, and by the time they ended, the soldiers were with the dead body of one of the most wanted militant leader by the task force, “General” John Togo, leader of the Niger_Delta Liberation Force, NDLF, which they exhumed from the furtive grave he was interred.
It was a job well executed by the task force because before now, the whereabouts of John Togo had become an embarrassment to the task force following media reports that he was dead, which the JTF dismissed as tissues of lies.
As at Friday, the remains of Togo, which were deposited in the mortuary of the Central Hospital, were being guarded by soldiers, who had cordoned off the place for fear that his men would take the corpse away from the morgue.
It was not only the JTF that dismissed the news of the death of John Togo earlier. The spokesman of the disbanded militant group, “Captain” Mark Anthony, on May 16, stated, “Gen John Togo is hale and hearty. He has left for an undisclosed fishing hamlet in a different Niger_Delta coastal state waiting for Mr. President’s statement”.
But one of the dependable sources in the creeks called on May 16 to confide in Saturday Vanguard that John Togo was dead but JTF spokesman, Lt. Col T.A. Antigha dismissed the story when he was contacted, same day, on Togo’s death.
He said it was a yawn by Togo and his managers to deceive the public and divert the attention of the task force from the manhunt for the militant leader.
After cross_checking the delicate information with our contacts, one of who confirmed that Togo was dead and buried, Vanguard, May 18, published a story, captioned, “John Togo feared dead” The report stated, “Militant leader, “General” John Togo of the Niger_Delta Liberation Force, NDLF, is feared dead in a battle with the Joint Task Force, JTF, on the Niger_Delta”.
“He was suspected to have been shot and wounded seriously on the leg by soldiers, last week, unknown to the authorities of task force, who have not relaxed the manhunt for him. A reliable source said John Togo was rushed to a riverine community in Bomadi local government area of Delta state for treatment by a traditional medicine man, but he gave up the ghost two days later”.
“Our source who is an indigene of the community said, “John Togo is dead and buried. He was shot on both legs and rushed to the community, his men did not believe he would die but he died. People in the community know but nobody wants to say it because of the consequences. As I speak to you, soldiers are in my community looking for information on John Togo”, he said.
However, many persons and organizations disbelieved the Vanguard story just as calls kept coming to editors on the authenticity of the story. On May 22, Sunday Vanguard came out with a report captioned, “How JTF bombed John Togo go death”. The story read in part, “Ex_militant leader, leader and commander of the Niger_Delta Liberation Force, NDLF, “General” John Togo died a painful and miserable death following injury he sustained in an aerial bombardment by the Joint Task Force, JTF, on the Niger_Delta”.
Besides the security agencies, some professional colleagues doubted the veracity of our story but Vanguard remained undaunted and followed up with a report, “John Togo allegedly buried in the forest”. The paper reported,
“Leader of the Niger_Delta Liberation Force, “General” John Togo, suspected to have died of gunshot wounds he sustained in an encounter with the Joint Task Force, JTF, on the Niger_Delta, was reportedly buried in the forest by his boys at the outskirt of a riverine community in Bomadi local government area of Delta State’.
“Our source who maintained that the militant leader was dead contrary to the claim of the NDLF spokesman, “Captain” Mark Anthony that he was alive and hearty, said, “Only the boys who took him to the secret place for burial can identify the place he was buried. He said most of John Togo’s boys who also sustained gunshot wounds ran to Efanna, Ezebiri and Ogodobiri communities for treatment but they usually melted into the thin air once they heard that the JTF had come to any of the communities.”
It was on May 26, exactly eight days after Vanguard broke the story of Togo’s death that the task force finally found the grave where he was buried in the forest as we reported and the corpse was exhumed and deposited in the morgue of Central Hospital, Warri.
Two days after, there was no official word yet from the task force on whose remains it was, but a military source confided in Saturday Vanguard that it was that of John Togo quite alright. He, however, said a DNA test might be carried out to find out the biological characteristics, as the task force could not declare the John Togo chapter closed in its records if his death was not properly established.
Saturday Vanguard reported on May 26 the big news of exhuming of the decomposing corpse of John Togo by men of the Joint Task Force, JTF at the fringe of a riverine community in Delta state, where the remains were buried as well as the death of the ammunition storekeeper of the group, who was also injured in the same aerial bombardment by the task force on May 12.
Togo was allegedly interred in a camouflage military uniform and his corpse was taken away in an ambulance after it was exhumed between 2:00-2:20pm, last Wednesday.