By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta
As tension rose over the possibility of the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers, RNDA, and a coalition of nine militant groups restarting the bombing of oil installations in the Niger Delta region, the scare of the Nigerian Army launching Operation Crocodile Smile II in the oil province startled the people, during the week.
It was however clear that despite the disagreement between the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF and the Pan Niger Delta People’s Congress, PNDCP, over the leadership of the region, their common interest still mattered to them and they would not want soldiers to harass their people.
Various leaders of the region close to the RNDA and even the militants were put under pressure to call off their plan.
Leader of RNDA and coordinator of the coalition of nine militant groups, self-styled “Major General” Johnmark Ezonbi, in a statement, last Monday, temporary calling off the ultimatum given the federal government on resumption of hostilities by militants if it did not commence negotiation with PNDPC, said: “RNDA noted with regret that though the ultimatum expired 12 midnight yesterday (Sunday), RNDA has already decided to temporarily suspend action but are still on red alert in the creek.”
It said: “The pleas from the paramount ruler of Seimbri Kingdom and former national Chairman of TROMPCON, HM Pere Charles Ayemi Botu, the Ogulagha Monarch HM Joseph Timiyan, High Chief Mike Loyibo, Coordinator of PNDPC, former Governor of Bayelsa Chief Timipre Sylva, former Minister of Police Affairs, Alaowei Broderick Bozimo, Professor Benjamin Okaba Secretary PNDPC and Dr Mike Emuh, National Chairman of HOSTCOM, among other notable Niger Deltans cannot just be neglected, hence we decided to temporarily suspend the ultimatum, which can also be resumed if the promises made are not fulfilled within limited time frame.”
Some 48 hours earlier, PNDPC coordinator, Chief Loyibo, had called Saturday Vanguard, saying he had been inundated by calls on his sick bed to intervene and ensure that militants did not resume hostilities in the region, so as not to give the Army the opportunity to “invade” the region.
Calling on RNDA and other militants to withdraw their threat to recommence attack on oil installations, he asserted: “The mere fact that we have leadership problem in the region between PNDPC and Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, does not warrant fresh attacks on oil facilities. It is not in our interest; it will destroy us and kill us environmentally.”
“There has been so much pressure on me to douse the tension, particularly on the issue of the threat to bomb oil installations, hence my appeal to the boys in the creek not to do so. There is so much tension already in the country. For the sake of national unity and integration, they should shelve the idea and allow the peace process to continue.
“We should not do anything deliberately to bring down Chief Edwin Clark, who has paid his dues on things that affect the region. He is our father and leader and we should accord him that respect and give him soft-landing for the sake of God,” he said
Loyibo added: “Our enemies are happy with these disagreements; we are stronger when we work together. Let me particularly thank Alaowei Broderick Bozimo, Brig Gen Paul Boroh (retd), Hon Justice Francis Tabai (retd.), Elder T K Ogoriba, Mr. Famous Daunemigha, Chief Daniel Ekpebide, Hon Nicholas Mutu, president of Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Oweilaemi Pereotubo and Minister of State (Petroleum), Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, for their efforts so far on the peace process.”
“I appeal to our people to be ready to resume talks again, we must warn our boys not again touch oil installations, they should give government time to implement our demands. I believe in the personal integrity of our leaders, Mr. President and Vice President to take us to the Promised Land,” he added.
Ijaw women under the aegis of Delta Ijaw Women Initiative, DIWI, were the first to cry out that the Nigeria Army should keep soldiers away from the riverine communities, as women in the oil communities require development and peace, not ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’ that military authorities plan to launch in the South-South and parts of South-West regions.
President, DIWI, Hon. Ebimaye Bebenimibo,while reacting to a statement by the Director, Army Public Relations, Brig Gen Sani Usman, that the army was set to launch Operation Crocodile Smile II, in the South-South and some parts of the South-West, said the women would rather prefer the army to launch ‘Operation Massive Development’ in the oil region.
Her words: “What the women in the riverine communities need now are development, peace and empowerment, not an atmosphere of chaos and tension that the army and other security agencies are planning to unleash on them.”
“We are, therefore, calling on the relevant authorities, especially the Chief of Army Staff, COAS, Tukur Yusuf Buratai, to ensure such exercise does not take place in our riverine communities to the detriment of the good and law- abiding people of the Niger Delta, especially those in the riverine communities. They (the army) should therefore keep away from our riverine communities,” she said.
“It is a known fact the last time the army carried out Crocodile Smile in the riverine communities, it left the women in tears and with a painful experience, especially with the wrongful arrest of 10 youths, who were from one of the riverine communities.
“Imagine the trauma those women had to go through until their innocent children were later released. Those Delta Ijaw women are yet to recover from that last incident, and now the army is again set to carry out another of such exercise, thereby heightening their fears,” she added.
The foremost regional body, PANDEF, in a statement, Wednesday, by the Coordinating Secretary, Dr. Alfred Mulade, said: “PANDEF was taken aback by the announcement of the Director of Army Public Relations, Brig- General Sani Usman of the readiness of the Nigerian Army to Launch ‘Operation Crocodile Smile 11’ in the oil-rich South-South region, just as ‘Operation Python Dance’ was being deployed in the South-East zone of Nigeria, which has elicited mixed reactions from wide range stakeholders.”
“ Whilst it is not the position of PANDEF to challenge operational deployments of Nigerian soldiers in any part of Nigeria in accordance with best practices and rules of engagement, and without prejudice to the constitutional role of the military in a democratic setting, we, however observe that, this contemplated deployment of the ‘Operation Crocodile Smile 11’ is certainly misconceived, especially at this time when the region is gradually coming to terms with the urgent need for sustaining the relative peace in the region.”
PANDEF noted: “It is on record that the previous launch of the ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’ in the Niger Delta, last year, left in its trail bitter tales of woes, including harassment, destruction of helpless communities and killings of innocent persons. There is palpable fear that the second coming of this Operation Crocodile Smile’ will not be any better, as it is fraught with the tendencies for heating up the fragile peace in the Niger Delta region.”
Its words: “This fear and concern is being expressed by cross section of the people of the helpless communities and stakeholders in the region, including the Delta Ijaw Women Initiative (DIWI), a body of concerned women, which had also lend its voice to the call for restraint on the part the Nigerian Military in the planned deployment of ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’ in the region.”
National leader of PNDPC, HM Charles Ayemi-Botu, alias Lion of the Niger, in a statement the previous day, described the plan by the Nigerian Army to launch Operation Crocodile Smile II in both the South-South and South-West regions, as offensive.
His words:”The recent statement by the Army Spokesman, Brigadier-General Sani Kukasheka Usman that the Nigerian Army will soon launch Operation Crocodile Smile II in the South-West and South-South regions of the country signifies the beating of war drums.
“When Operation Crocodile Smile I was launched about a year ago, following attacks on oil installations in Niger Delta by agitators in the Niger Delta, traditional rulers, leaders and the International Community made fervent appeals to the federal government and the agitators to sheathe their swords and embrace dialogue with a view to finding peaceful solution to the region’s developmental problems.
“A ceasefire was brokered sequel to the meeting of patriotic Niger Deltans on 19th August 2016 and the subsequent announcement of the ceasefire on Sunday, August 21, 2016, had brought about relative peace and oil production that was reduced 700,000 barrels a day skyrocketed to about 2.2 million barrels a day.
“In the light of the foregoing, the salient question is what has made the military to propose another detour to militarize the tension-prone Niger Delta region that is the economic livewire of our beloved country, Nigeria? Is it Mr. President’s directive or a unilateral action by the military to unnecessarily and unconstitutionally heat up the polity,” the monarch said.
Noting that the Army has not been unable to wipe out the blood-thirsty Boko Haram in the North East region despite support from multinational forces, HM Ayemi-Botu asserted: “Another worrisome and intriguing aspect of the military is the formation and launching of various disquieting operational code names like Lafiya Dole in the North East, Operation Harbin Kunama 2 in the North West and part of North Central ,Operation Egwu Eke 2 (Python Dance) in the South-East and Operation Crocodile Smile in the South-South and parts of South-West.”
“But wise counseling suffices that instead of polarizing and proliferating the troops throughout the country, military authorities should concentrate and pull all their arsenals and personnel to fight the insurgents, who are affiliated with international terrorist groups such as the ISIS, Islamic Maghreb and El Shaba,” he added.
A group, 21st Century Youth of Niger Delta, warned: “Bringing a military operation to the Niger Delta in the guise of Operation Crocodile Smile II is counterproductive and would exacerbate the fragile tension in the Niger Delta region as the Niger Delta people are averse to being under siege.”
Its words: “The only panacea to the impending doom and catastrophe that could befall Nigeria anytime is the total restructuring of Nigeria and the quick implementation of the agreement reached with PANDEF.