Sold­ers in­vade Delta com­mu­ni­ties, ransack homes for oil thieves

The Punch - - FRONT PAGE - Theophilus Ono­jeghen, Warri

SOL­DIERS on Oper­a­tion Delta Safe have in­vaded Ok­pare, Otor-edo and Iwhrekreka com­mu­ni­ties in the Ughelli South Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Area of Delta State search­ing for oil pipe­line van­dals.

It was gath­ered that the sol­diers, at­tached to the 222 Bat­tal­ion, Ag­barhaO­tor, Ughelli north Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Area, laid siege to the three com­mu­ni­ties for about three days.

The in­va­sion was said to have grounded com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties in the com­mu­ni­ties, dis­rupt­ing, among oth­ers, the weekly Ok­pare mar­ket day on Satur­day. Goods were al­legedly de­stroyed by the sol­diers in their bid to force the mar­ket to close.

Sources from the three af­fected com­mu­ni­ties told our cor­re­spon­dent that the sol­diers stormed the com­mu­ni­ties under the guise of search­ing for sus­pected pipe­line van­dals us­ing the com­mu­ni­ties for cover.

They were said to have de­manded that the res­i­dents of the com­mu­ni­ties should pro­duce the sus­pects.

It was learnt that the mil­i­tary per­son­nel led by an army cap­tain also im­posed a cur­few on the com­mu­ni­ties with­out the knowl­edge of their lead­ers as any­one seen be­tween the hours of 8pm to 6am was mo­lested and ar­rested.

A youth leader in the com­mu­nity, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, told our cor­re­spon­dent that men and youths had de­serted the com­mu­ni­ties for the fear of be­ing ar­rested by sol­diers said to have mounted check­points in the area.

Scores of women, par­tic­u­larly from Ok­pare, whose hus­bands were not found at home dur­ing the raids, were al­leged to have been flogged by the sol­diers.

Some youths from the com­mu­ni­ties whose iden­ti­ties could not be im­me­di­ately as­cer­tained were said to have been ar­rested for their al­leged in­volve­ment in il­le­gal oil bunker­ing on the out­skirts of the com­mu­ni­ties.

The Ok­pare com­mu­nity sec­re­tary, mr. Gabriel Ekoh, who said he was out­side the state for per­sonal en­gage­ments, said he had re­ceived sev­eral calls from mem­bers of the com­mu­nity on the de­vel­op­ment.

While con­demn­ing the ac­tion of the sol­diers, he ex­plained that his com­mu­nity does not con­done oil theft and won­dered why the mil­i­tary in­vaded the com­mu­nity.

“In the first place, Ok­pare com­mu­nity is not a site for bunker­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. I don’t know why they (sol­diers) are ter­ror­is­ing our com­mu­nity. If at all they are look­ing for a par­tic­u­lar per­son, it is not enough to dis­turb the peace of an en­tire com­mu­nity. All oil fa­cil­i­ties in our land have not been tem­pered with.

“I heard that on the mar­ket day, they (sol­diers) beat some in­no­cent per­sons at the Ok­pare mar­ket and to­day (mon­day) has not been easy. Ev­ery­body has been run­ning…they are pur­su­ing old men and women in the com­mu­nity. This is un­called for. We don’t know what had led to this where mil­i­tary men are ha­rass­ing an en­tire com­mu­nity. What have we done?”

In his re­sponse to the de­vel­op­ment, spokesman for the Joint Task Force, co­de­named Oper­a­tion Delta Safe, ma­jor Ibrahim Ab­dul­lahi, said, “We, in the JTF, are not de­ployed here to at­tack any­body, we are de­ployed here on a man­date.

“Our man­date is to pro­tect oil and gas in­fras­truc­ture, de­ter and pre­vent mil­i­tancy, sea rob­bery, crude oil theft and other forms of crim­i­nal­ity within the joint op­er­a­tional area. That’s what we have been do­ing and we will not de­vi­ate from that man­date.”

Giv­ing fur­ther clar­i­fi­ca­tion, a mil­i­tary source con­firmed the search for the sus­pects say­ing the sol­diers’ pres­ence was due to the ac­tiv­i­ties of oil thieves op­er­at­ing in the area.

The source said, “I can con­firm to you that our men are there in the com­mu­ni­ties you men­tioned. If you re­mem­ber, there has been a spate of oil bunker­ing in these com­mu­ni­ties. We are here to only ar­rest those in­volved in pipe­line van­dal­ism and crude oil theft. no in­di­gene of these com­mu­ni­ties has been mo­lested or at­tacked. Our ac­tion here is not also an in­va­sion.”

• L-R: Min­is­ter of In­for­ma­tion and Cul­ture, Al­haji Lai Mo­hammed; a for­mer Pres­i­dent of Repub­lic of Ghana, Mr. John Dra­mani Ma­hama; and La­gos State Gover­nor, Mr. Ak­in­wunmi Am­bode, dur­ing the La­gos Tourism Sum­mit with the theme “Des­ti­na­tion La­gos: To­wards A Sus­tain­able Tourism-driven Econ­omy” in La­gos... on Mon­day. Photo: La­gos State Gov­ern­ment House

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