BY PHILIP NWOSU
THE Nigerian military yesterday deployed more arsenal to the creeks of Lagos and Ogun states, insisting that the aerial bombardment which started on Thursday afternoon will not end until the militants hiding there surrender.
“We are going to sustain the operation and we are going to dismantle vandals’ shanties scattered in the area”, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Ferguson Bobai told Saturday Sun yesterday.
Admiral Bobai said the operation to rid the Arepo area of vandals was a joint operation involving military and para-military agencies, the Department of State Security (DSS), the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC and the Fire Service Department.
Explaining the bombardment, he said it “was a directive from the Defence Headquarters and the need to bombard the area came following repeated pipeline vandalisation, kidnapping and armed robbery. Just last month, the military and component of the operation, code named Operation Awatse got directive from the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin to take drastic action in Arepo area with a view to dismantling vandals camps and shanties scattered at Arepo, Ibafo, Ishawo axis.”
Saturday Sun learnt that initially, the military was directed not use air power, but when it carried out assessment of the area, it was discovered that most of the vandals have moved from areas accessible by water to very difficult terrain. Following this development the Operation Awatse Commanders returned to the Chief of Defence Staff, demanding that airpower was the only way for the vandals to be dislodged. According to Rear Admiral Bobai, the CDS granted permission to do a general reassessment of the area and employ attack helicopters to dislodge the oil thieves.
The Lagos and Ogun State governments were subsequently informed of the impending operation. “We were in touch with Lagos and Ogun State governments, because these general area lies between the two states. So after informing them, we flew some surveillance Nigerian Air Force aircraft to gather important information concerning their activities and the location of their shanties and camps and we analysed the video and we were able to pin point some areas that needed to be destroyed. As a matter of fact, the revelation from the video shows some points where pipeline vandalism was on going because there were wooden boats with a lot of jerricans and we could see jerricans tied together and that was because they had a field day”, the military stated.
The FOC said the bombardment commenced on Thursday evening with four sorties which were able to hit target. After the attack a surveillance aircraft was deployed to do the after battle assessment for the military and after the first attack, it was gathered that the vandals came out from their hideouts to access the situation with guns and “we saw one of their canoes where they mounted a General Purpose Machine Gun, the interpretation here was that all that was happening there was deliberate and well planned, since they could arm themselves to that level. It is our wish that at the end of this bombardment, we would find means to go into that general area.”
“We had anticipated that some of them would run away during the bombardment, and the only way they could run away is either by land or by water and we have tasked the land component including the Army, Police, and NSCDC to block the get away routes. So we are going to sustain this operation and see where it would lead us”, the Naval Chief added.