By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Sam Oyadongha, Egufe Yafugborhi & Tare Youdeowei
***More oil facilities to be bombed in N-Delta, other places —Avengers
WARRI—The activities of Niger Delta Avengers, the new militant group in the oil-rich region, have forced Royal Dutch Shell to evacuate most of its staff from its production facility, Eja OML 79.
This came as different security agencies and militants held separate undisclosed meetings to re-appraise their tactics, following a fresh directive by President Muhammadu Buhari that the group, which claimed responsibility for the recent bombing of oil/gas installations in Warri, Delta State, be overpowered.
Shell evacuation was carried out by three helicopters weekend. The evacuation saw 98 key personnel airlifted by helicopters from Eja OML 79, run by Royal Dutch Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Corporation, SPDC, where production of 90,000 barrels of oil per day has been halted.
Sources said that a small group of staff was left on the platform to carry out skeletal operations. The staff and facility are offered protection by two gunboats belonging to the Military Joint Taskforce.
Close to Eja 79 is the Bonga Field, which has a larger production capacity and is operated by another Shell subsidiary, Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company, SNEPCO.
Sources said some staff had been evacuated from Bonga, while the wider security implication is being reviewed by the company.
Last week, Niger Delta Avengers, blew up Chevron Valve Platform in Abiteye, Warri North Local Government Area of Delta State. They had earlier in the year, blown up pipelines in the state.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, who spoke at the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, South-South governors meeting in Asaba, condemned the recent attack on Chevron facility, adding that “gas pipeline vandalism is very unfortunate.”
Meanwhile, former militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, yesterday, said he had no apology to offer to the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA, which, last Tuesday, issued him a three-day ultimatum to withdraw his alleged denunciation of the group and its violent activities.
Also, Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, apex Ijaw youth organisation, in a statement by its spokesperson, Mr. Eric Omare, threw its weight behind Tompolo, maintaining that the militant group should not force him to support their destructive mission, just as the Centre for the Peace and Environmental Justice, CEPEJ, and Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative, IPDI, condemned the resort to violence by Niger Delta Avengers.
However, Itsekiri and Ijaw leaders, Chief Ayiri Emami and Johnny Michael, who spoke to Vanguard on phone, fingered an ex-militant leader for the bombings, saying the militant group was acting his script.
Tension in Niger Delta
Also, fresh tension mounted, weekend, in Delta State, as different security agencies met over President Buhari ‘s order to them to crush the new militant group.
It was gathered that riverine dwellers in Gbaramatu Kingdom, Warri South West Local Government Area of the state, wary of the danger activities of militants posed to their lives, were relocating to Warri and other parts of the state, yesterday, to avoid being trapped in a cross fire.
On its part, the militant group seemed not ready to backtrack from its vow to devastate oil installations in the region and other parts of the country.
A source close to the group said: “The boys are not afraid of the security agencies, they will cripple oil and gas supply to the country as long as government remains recalcitrant to their demands.”
Last month, spokesperson of the group, Col. Madoch Agbinibo, said: “The Presidency can set up a permanent security force as stated by the Vice President when he visited the SPDC, Forcados Terminal. We are not deterred by such threats and shall continue blowing up pipelines until the Niger Delta people are no longer marginalized by the Nigerian actors.”
Vanguard gathered that the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin, penultimate weekend, paid an operational visit to Bayelsa State as part of on-going efforts to rid the Niger Delta of pipeline vandals and crude oil thieves.
Efforts to reach the Commander of the Joint Task Force, JTF code named, Operation Pulo Shield, Major General Alani Okunlola and Commanding Officer of NNS Delta, Commodore Raimi Mohammed on the latest directive, proved fruitless.
Tompolo, who also spoke to Vanguard through his Media Adviser and Consultant, Mr. Paul Bebenimibo said: “He (Tompolo) will not apologize to them (Niger Delta Avengers). If not for his current issues with the Federal Government, he (Tompolo) would have gone after them and exposed them because they seem to make things difficult for him, as the government is pointing fingers at him, but he cannot do anything in his current situation.”
He listed two prominent Itsekiri and Ijaw activists, both stalwarts of All Progressives Congress, APC, in Delta State, who he said, “are only looking for attention from the government, so they use the development to seek relevance from the government, they may be behind these guys.”
The militant group in a statement by its spokesperson, Col. Mudoch Agbinibo, May 3, was angered by Tompolo’s advice to servicing companies to go about their normal operations, particularly repair of the Forcados Terminal 48-inch pipeline.
The group alleged Tompolo had “taken side with the Federal government to fight Niger Delta people.”
Two days after the ultimatum, the militant group on Thursday, May 5, bombed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC crude and gas lines and Well D25 in Abiteye, a key gas well operated by Chevron Nigeria Limited, CNL.
Tompolo did the right thing — IYC
IYC spokesperson, Mr. Eric Omare, however, told Vanguard: “We do not see the justification in the Niger Delta Avengers embarking on destruction of oil facilities because Tompolo denounced the group. I think Tompolo did the proper thing by coming out to inform the entire world that he was not part of the Niger Delta Avengers when there were insinuations to the effect that he was behind them.
“As with other cases of attack on oil facilities, the Niger Delta environment and people are the ultimate victim and would suffer from these latest attacks. The IYC believe that irrespective of the grievances, there are better ways of expressing them rather than contributing to the further destruction of the already massively degraded Niger Delta environment.
On fresh directive by President Buhari to security agencies to crush the militants, he said: “While the IYC does not support the attacks on oil facilities, we hasten to add that it should not be used as a justification to attack innocent Niger Delta communities.”
You’re causing more harm than good —CEPEJ
National Coordinator of CEPEJ, Sheriff Mulade, in a statement, condemning the bombings by Niger Delta Avengers, said: “The deadly attacks have cut oil and gas production and caused attendant devastation of the environment.”
It asked the militants to “lay down their arms as their activities were antithetical to the genuine agitation of the people and the overall development of the oil rich region.”
Stop bombing oil installations—IPDI
Speaking through its national president, Austin Ozobo, the IPDI, yesterday, warned the Niger Delta Avengers to stop bombing of oil facilities to avoid further harm to the nation’s economy.
Faulting the recent attacks on major oil pipelines in the country, he warned: “Those threatening former agitator, Tompolo and the nation’s economy should desist from that.”
He advised those complaining of marginalization of Niger Delta, particularly the Niger Delta to lay down their arms.
N-Delta Avengers is non-existent — Ayiri
Itsekiri leader and activist, Chief Ayiri Emami, however, took a different position. While he condemned the attacks by the so-called Niger-Delta Avengers, which he said does not exist, he said: “The attacks are just to create a platform for negotiation with President Buhari.
“I know that Mr. President is intelligent enough not to fall for just gimmick. Some of us volunteered to cooperate with the security agencies free of charge to fish out the perpetrators of these bombings, but the Delta State Government did not see reason with us. They held a state security meeting asking why security agencies were working with us.
“They know the person directing his boys to do these things and should bring them out.”
Stop jeopardizing Gbaramatu indigenes — Michael
Ijaw leader, Chief Johnny Michael, who spoke in a similar vein, said: “There is nothing strange or new in what is happening. It is what we are already used to, but my worry is that these people should stop endangering the life of Gbaramatu people.
“The people causing this havoc are known, the security agencies should not compromise, they should have good intelligence information to identify them and bring them to book. I also want to say that they should stop calling the name of APC in this matter. APC is a progressive party, anybody who wants to join the party should do so, but they should stop blackmailing us.”
He said that many Gbaramatu leaders know those carrying out the bombings, but because of fear, they would not be able to speak out and urged the security agencies to do their work.
He noted that a “well known ex-militants, who fed fat on the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, cannot be ruled out in the renewed attacks on oil facilities, imploring youths in the Niger Delta region not to allow themselves to be used to cause havoc again.
According to him, no wise Niger Delta youth was ready to go back to the creeks, considering the pains they passed through during the dark days of militancy.
Saying that the Ijaws were not ready to be at loggerhead with the Federal Government, Chief Michael, added that Ijaws were still licking their wounds since the Nigerian Army destroyed their communities.
He expressed displeasure over the unabated bombimgs of oil facilities in the region, adding that with the performance of the present government, he does not expect Niger Deltans to go back to the creeks again.
He said he was worried about the insinuation in some quarters linking him to attacks on oil facilities and made it clear that he was not and was never part of pipeline bombings in the Niger Delta region, warning politicians, any person or group of persons not to associate him with criminality.
Chief Michael, said he had no case with the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, just as he asked those who have problems with the EFCC to go and solve their problems with the commission without involving innocent people of the region.
He expressed confidence in the administration of President Buhari, urging Niger Deltans to support his government as he is poised to develop the region to the delight of the people.
Also reacting to the attacks, the Foundation for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade, FHRACC, said: “The ongoing oil war being perpetrated by some groups in the creeks of Niger Delta is not the best option for the region.”
Its National President, Alaowei Cleric, said in a statement, “We have passed the stage of destroying oil facilities to press home our demands especially now that the main actors of the emancipation struggle have accepted Presidential Amnesty. If anyone is not satisfied with the activities of the present government, he should register his grouse within the ambit of the law.”