- Soldiers attached to the 222 Battalion, Operation Delta Safe invaded three communities in Delta in search of oil pipeline vandals
- The military personnel laid siege to the three communities for about three days, grounding commercial activities
- The officer also imposed a curfew on the communities without the knowledge of their leaders
Okpare, Otor-Edo and Iwhrekreka communities in the Ughelli South local government area of Delta state were invaded by soldiers attached to the 222 Battalion, Agbarha-Otor, Ughelli North local government area on Operation Delta Safe searching for oil pipeline vandals, The Punch reports.
NAIJ.com gathered that the soldiers who laid siege to the three communities for about three days, also grounded commercial activities in the communities, disrupting among others, the weekly Okpare market day on Saturday.
Sources from the three affected communities said 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.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a youth leader in the community, said that men and youths had deserted the communities for the fear of being arrested by soldiers said to have mounted checkpoints in the area.
Gabriel Ekoh, the Okpare community secretary, while condemning the action of the soldiers, explained that his community does not condone oil theft and wondered why the military invaded the community.
Ekoh said: "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?"
The spokesman for the Joint Task Force, code-named Operation Delta Safe, Major Ibrahim Abdullahi, in his response to the development, 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.”
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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.
“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,” the source said.
According to an earlier report by NAIJ.com, no fewer than 15 suspected oil thieves and six vessels were handed over to the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), for prosecution in Port Harcourt on Sunday, November 8, by the Nigerian Navy .
The executive officer of Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS), Olusegun Soyemi during the handover of the thieves disclosed that the suspects were arrested for their alleged involvements in unlawful bunkering.
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