From BAMIGBOLA GBOLAGUNTE, Akure
Tension mounts in Ondo State, especially in the coastal areas of the state as militants involved in petroleum pipeline vandalism in Arepo and Ikorodu areas of Lagos and Ogun have reportedly relocated to the state.
Strong indications emerged midweek that the Niger Delta militants involved in petroleum pipeline vandalization in Ikorodu and Arepo in Lagos State who were attacked by the military and other security forces have started relocating to the riverine parts of Ondo State, where many of them are believed to hail from.
The militants were said to have relocated to Arungbo, Safaragbo and other coastal communities in Ese-Odo Local Government Area of the State where many of them lived before they relocated to Lagos to carry out oil bunkering and other illegal activities.
Many of the militants, according to an impeccable source were members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) who were mainly Ijaw people of Ondo and Bayelsa States but returned to militancy and oil bunkering following the non-payment of their allowances introduced by the administration of ex-President Umaru Yar’adua in 2009 by the present government of President Muhammadu Buhari. There are indications that government has started paying the allowances.
Saturday Sun gathered that many of the pipeline vandals who are currently in Ondo State fled into the coastal hideouts for fear of being arrested or killed by security agents who are said to be on their trail.
A source in Arungbo, a riverine community in Ese Odo Local Government Area of Ondo state populated by Ijaws who preffered anonymity for fear of being attacked by the militants said “there have been influx of people into the town since last week and many of these people are not known to us in the community.”
Arungbo community is incidentally the hometown of the former Special Adviser to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan on Niger Delta Affairs and Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Amnesty, Hon Kingsley Kuku who is currently in the United States of America following attempts by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to arrest him over allegations of financial impropriety when he held sway in the amnesty office.
The source further hinted that “though some of the faces are from here, many of them had left the town and it was a big surprise to us to have seen them at this particular time. There are others who are not from the town but have their kinsmen in the town here.”
The source who claimed to be residing in the sleepy community said many of the militants who relocated to the town live on the river with their hosts, while a few others live on land, stressing that the community was aware of the presence of strange persons and doing everything possible to curtail their excesses in the town.
As a result of the ugly development, security agencies in the state have also intensified efforts to prevent the militants from carrying out their nefarious activities in any part of the state.
The State Commissioner of Police, Mrs Hilda Harrisson said the Police and other security agencies in the state have deployed operatives to rout the militants from their hideouts, stressing that intelligence officers have been sent to all parts of the state, especially the coastal region where the militants were said to be living.
The Police Commissioner who spoke through the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) for the state command, Mr Femi Joseph said “we consider it a rumour initially, but we are not taking any chance at all. We have started work on how to prevent them from any illegal act in any part of the state and we are working with other sister agencies.”
Also, the Yoruba ethnic militia, Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) has declared its readiness to fight militancy in Ondo State and ensure that the state is peaceful for industrial, social and other activities.
The group said it was aware of the relocation of some militants to the state and had concluded arrangements to tackle them in any location they may be hiding, stressing that “the OPC members in all the 18 Local Government Areas in the state are already prepared for the war. We shall fight them and we shall surely overcome them. We won’t allow them to turn Ondo State to a crisis-ridden state.”
Spokesperson of the OPC in the state, Mr Yemi Akintomiwa said the organization will collaborate with the police and other security agencies in the state to fight militancy, saying that members of the group in all the Local Government Areas have been equipped to face the militants and chase them out of the state.
According to him, the OPC in Lagos State collaborated with the police and the military before the militants were flushed out, assuring that similar thing will be done in the state.
Meanwhile, the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, Brig-Gen. Paul Boroh (Rtd) has expressed worry on the relocation of the militants to Ondo State, saying the militants have no cause to trouble the peace of the country, having being catered for by the Federal Government.
He disclosed that the Federal Government had since Monday commenced the payment of their allowances, saying that their agitation which was based on the non-payment of their allowances was not genuine.
Boroh who spoke through Mr Piriye Kiyaramo of the Media and Communication Department of the Amnesty Office assured all the ex-militants of adequate care and welfare, just as he called on them to embrace peace in the interest of the nation.
According to him “the hiccups in the payment of the stipends have been addressed, and the President Buhari led government attaches much importance to the Amnesty programme, which explains why the President in his inaugural address to the nation specifically promised to invest heavily in the projects, and programmes currently in place for the ex-agitators in the region.”
He reiterated the commitment of the Federal Government to making the amnesty programme run better for the benefit of the 30, 000 ex-agitators and other youths in the region, adding that President Buhari is already putting together a youth development and empowerment package that would directly impact the ex-agitators and other youths in the region.