Source: Vanguard (Lagos)
By Hector Igbikiowubo, Kingsley Omonobi, Simon Ebegbulem & Samuel Oyadongha
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
* Fighting continues after attack on Shell flow-station
* Security council meets, Obasanjo summons N-Delta govs
WARRI — FIGHTING between soldiers and militants in the Niger Delta continued yesterday following the attack on the Shell Petroleum Development Company operated Benisede flowstation which left 13 military personnel dead and an equal number of civilian casualties. Information from Yenagoa last night indicated that security agencies had arrested a man believed to be the mastermind of last week's kidnap of four oil workers in Bayelsa.
It was gathered that a high powered security council meeting scheduled by the Presidency for yesterday was rescheduled for today to enable government collate enough data on the situation in the area and take a decision on the next course of action.
A resident who fled the scene of the fighting told Vanguard yesterday that fighting continued between soldiers and the militants for the better part of Sunday and the wee hours of yesterday.
Mr. Johnbull Igoniwari said rapid exchange of gunfire heightened after troop reinforcements came in. “The soldiers are shooting at anything that moves. This problem at Benisede did not start today. The soldiers there have always been very highhanded and our people had previously made our case known to the authorities including Shell.
“But nobody listened. I recall a time last year when one of our boys was killed and several people injured, we made our complaint but nobody listened. Shell simply got in army reinforcement to stifle us. The problems have simply become more and more complicated,” he said.
On the current state of affairs in the area, he said young men in Ojobo, the host community of the Benisede flow-station, had since left the area for fear of arrest by the army on suspicion of being part of the attack on the station. “You know whenever such things happen, the army starts arresting younger people indiscriminately under the excuse that they are being held on one suspicion or the other,” Igoniwari said.
On the motives behind the attack on the flow-station, he said he was not aware, adding that the Ijaw people have always been subjected to one form of deprivation and subjugation for one reason or the other.
"Don’t you know that we have been turned into tenants in our own houses? What is happening in Ijaw land is the same thing as people invading your house, take over your wife and daughters and repeatedly rape them in front of you. Then they dare you to talk.That is the situation in Ijaw land today.
“Even our leaders who dare to speak up are humiliated publicly for one reason or the other. I beg, I do not know why the station was attacked. But I can assure you that unlike my generation which sat down and did nothing, the youths have seen the light and will not sit back and do nothing,” he said.
* Presidency reacts
President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday summoned governors of four Niger Delta states to a special security council meeting to be attended by all security chiefs in the country as well as ministers responsible for security related Ministries of Defence and Police.
The meeting which is scheduled for 9:00a.m. at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, is coming on the heels of a directive, yesterday, by the president to security agencies to fish out the perpetrators (militants) who killed the soldiers sent to Bayelsa State to protect the Benisede flowstation.
Military sources told Vanguard that the directive to fish out the perpetrators was to pre-empt any reaction of soldiers who may want to embark on a reprisal akin to the Odi and Zaki-Biam attacks.
Those to attend today's meeting are Governors Goodluck Jonathan of Bayelsa State, James Ibori of Delta State, Peter Odili of Rivers State and Olusegun Agagu of Ondo State.
Also invited are National Security Adviser, General Aliyu Gusau (rtd); Minister of Defence, Engr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso; Minister of State for Defence, Dr. Rowland Oritsejafor; Minister of Police Affairs, Alaowei Broderick Bozimo; and Internal Affairs Minister, Ambassador Magaji Mohammed.
Others are the Chief of Defence Staff, General Alexander Ogomudia; Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Martin Agwai; Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ganiyu Adekeye; Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Jonah Wuyep; Inspector-General of Police, Mr Sunday Ehindero; Chief of Defence Intelligence, Maj-General Halidu Giwa; DG SSS, Col Kayode Are and DG NIA.
As a prelude to the meeting today, Chief of Defence Staff, General Ogomudia yesterday held a three-hour meeting with Air Marshal Jonah Wuyep, Chief of Air Staff; Vice Admiral Ganiyu Adekeye, Chief of Naval Staff; and Chief of Defence Intelligence, Major-General Halidu Giwa.
Also yesterday, Minister of Police Affairs, Alaowei Broderick Bozimo, held a three-hour meeting with the Inspector-General of Police and other DIGs on the matter of security in the Niger Delta.
Speaking on the development, a Presidency official said government was disturbed by the dare-devilry of the militants, adding that security reports would determine the next line of action.
"You can be rest assured that government would take drastic measures to safeguard lives and property in the Niger Delta,” the official said.
General Alex Ogomudia,Chief of Army Staff arrived Warri yesterday to get first hand information on the development, while more troops have also been deployed to police the troubled area.
* Shell reaction
In another statement yesterday, the SPDC said there was no new net impact on production as a result of the attack on the Benisede flow-station, adding that the company’s share of the 106,000 barrels per day shut-in due to the attack on the Trans-Ramos pipeline is 30 per cent.
“A number of people have been given medical attention and about 10 persons are currently being hospitalised at the Shell hospital in Warri. There are reports of fatalities but we are only able to confirm one SPDC catering contractor staff fatality at this time. We cannot give further comments on reported non-SPDC cases and we are cooperating fully with the authorities.
“Our thoughts go out to all the families of all of those affected. All possible steps are being taken by SPDC to ensure the safety and security of staff and contractors and the communities in which we operate at all times.
“SPDC would like to clarify that it has no current plans to pull out of the Niger Delta. Following the general insecurity in the Benisede area, the company thought it prudent to minimize the risk to personnel by evacuating staff from the station and neighbouring fields,” Mr Don Boham, SPDC’s Corporate External Affairs Manager said.
*Militants threaten continued action
Meanwhile, some militant youths who spoke to Vanguard on phone refused to disclose their names, accusing Shell of collaborating with the Federal Government to impoverish the people of the Niger Delta and intimidating those whom they described as the voice of the people.
“Let them bring all troops in the Niger Delta, nothing will happen. Unless they release Asari and Alamieyeseigha before we can even sit with them to discuss anything. Shell collaborates with the government in killing us and we will make sure that they leave the entire Niger Delta.
“They have no hiding place here. Nothing will stop us from fighting this war. This is just the beginning. Why should they be killing any one of us who is fighting our course, why?They removed Alamieyeseigha and detained Dokubo and they think it is the end. We will tell them that we have people that can fight and die if possible,” they said.
Following a blast on the Trans-Ramos pipeline and the kidnapping of four expatriate workers, a group calling itself the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) claimed that it was responsible for the action. The group seeks independence for the region’s 14-million-strong Ijaw ethnic group.
“We are capable and determined to destroy the ability of Nigeria to export oil,” the group warned, in a statement, weekend.
MEND demanded the release of Ijaw leaders, Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who will appear in court today to face treason charges, and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, a former state governor accused of embezzlement.
* Tension mounts in Niger Delta
Tension has heightened in Ekeremor local government area of Bayelsa State over fears of possible reprisal attack from the military following Sunday raid on the Benisede flow station by unknown armed youths in which a number of soldiers were killed.
Sources from the troubled area told Vanguard that some of the natives had started fleeing their homes to neighbouring communities in Bayelsa and Delta States.
It was gathered that following the surprise dawn attack on the Benisede flow station in which heavy military causalities were recorded, security has been beefed up in the coastal fringe of the Bayelsa West senatorial district to curb the excesses of the rampaging youths.
One of the fleeing natives who spoke to Vanguard said “although the perpetrators of the act are not from our communities, there is palpable fear back home as everybody is concerned about the unfolding drama in the creeks and the possible counter attack from the soldiers.”
According to him, there has been heavy movement of troops in the creeks in the aftermath of the upsurge of violent attacks against the Anglo-Dutch oil giant SPDC personnel and facilities in the area.
Although Yenagoa, the capital city, is calm, there has been heavy security reinforcement around all the entry and exit routes to the state with commuters subjected to intensive search by armed soldiers.
Occupants of private and commercial vehicles were made to get down and walk through series of check points with their luggage thoroughly searched before they are allowed to proceed on their journey thereby causing heavy traffic jam on the roads.
A security source who described the situation in the creeks as a trying period for the state said the measure was aimed at checking the proliferation of dangerous weapons.