By Samuel Oyadongha & Emem Idio

IGBOMOTORU—The waterways are the most dangerous place to be in Bayelsa State, which by its topography, has so many rivers, rivulets, creeks, tributaries and large swathe of mangrove swamps, making it more deltaic than Delta and Rivers state respectively.

militants
militants

Investigations by Niger Delta Voice showed that pirates and oil thieves in Southern Ijaw area have made the waterways of the state unsafe.

The Joint Task Force, JTF, Bayelsa State Police Command, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, Bayelsa state and other security agencies have been locked in a battle with the armed gangs.

Southern Ijaw is most notorious 

Public Relations Officer, NSCDC, Bayelsa, Dauzuo Izonfate, said: “Almost the whole of Southern Ijaw local government area, not only Azuzuama and Lobia, are notorious for criminal activities, especially bunkering, pipeline vandalism, sea piracy and illegal petroleum refineries.

“These criminal activities are common and widespread in these areas and have gradually become a part of life of the people and in some cases a means of livelihood.”

He said the Command had in the course of its operations in the area, destroyed over 680 illegal local refineries, while scores of arrests had also been made, noting that perpetrators of the illegal acts were not just ex-militants that were left out of the amnesty programme, but also cult gangs and locals, lured to the illicit trade on account of its lucrative nature.

 

NSCDC plans aerial surveillance

“Because of the rampant cases of these criminal acts, we have permanently positioned our men in areas we consider as major flash points and we are collaborating with the Joint Task Force, JTF, code- named Operation Pulo Shield and other security operatives,  including the Task Force on Illegal Refineries and Bunkering in Southern Ijaw local government area.

He said: “In no distant time, we will be deploying aircraft on aerial surveillance of these areas,” he added.

 

Hideaways

In the East senatorial district, the Ogbia-Nembe-Brass waterways could best be described as the epicentre for the rampaging sea pirates, a development that has compelled many travellers to go through the Emakalakala end in Ogbia council area to travel on the yet to be completed Ogbia-Nembe road route, using Hilux Jeep with auxiliary.

Also, in the Central senatorial district, Azuzuama, Lobia and Igbomotoru flank of Southern Ijaw local government area has a lot in common.

These communities are situated in deep mangrove swamp close to the Atlantic Ocean and could only be accessed by water.

At the height of militancy in the Niger Delta, the area constituted the hub and stronghold of the militant leaders, who had since embraced the Presidential Amnesty Programme.

The ex-creek lords then called the shots in the communities and adjoining settlements where their camps were located and to a large extent, there was peace in the area so long as the natives complied with their proclamation, though the rights of those opposed to them were violated.

 

Massacre of 11 cops

Even with the dismantling of the camps across the state as part of the condition for the amnesty programme, the Azuzuama and Lobia axis of Southern Ijaw council area is dreaded by many due to the activities of a rag-tag criminal gang terrorizing the area and commuters plying the waterways.

The area is also noted for its infamy as witnessed in April 2013 brutal massacre of 11 policemen by armed youths.

The area also witnessed the shooting to death of eight persons in Lobia by armed youths, last May. These are the putrid reminders of the notoriety of these communities.

 

Still on rampage

It was learned that most of the boys, chiefly those not captured in the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, remain unemployed and uneducated, but they are well- armed.

They have been terrorizing the waterways, ambushing sea going vessels, carrying out robbery attacks on passenger boats and ferries plying the waterways, as well as kidnapping.

Though the Joint Task Force sometime, last June, arrested one of the leaders of the ragtag gang involved in the killing of the policemen, the members are still on the loose and terrorizing the area.

The Azuzuama and Lobia communities are enclaves that are notorious for bunkering activities. Hundreds of local refineries have been burnt by officers of the Joint Task Force, yet the perpetrators are not relenting.

 

Ex-militants to the rescue!

This sad turn of event along the state waterways necessitated the constitution of some ex-militants into a special task force by the state government to curb criminality in the creeks of the state.

The 11-man task force, according to a statement, is to complement the activities of the marine branch of Operation Doo Akpor in safeguarding the lives and property of the people along the creeks and waterways.

The task force is also expected to stem the tide of kidnap-pings, illegal bunkering and oil pipeline vandalism that have been on the increase in recent times in the state.

The governor in the statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, explained that the task force was expected to liaise with the Operation Doo Akpor-Marine component, which is to be headed by a Naval Officer.

 

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