The Nigerian military is collaborating with its counterpart in the Republic of Benin to free an oil vessel, MT LEON DIAS, which was hijacked off the Nigerian coast on Friday by suspected militants, believed to be supporters of the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu.
The pro-Biafran hijackers had also threatened to blow up the ship, which is said to have five foreign crew members, after 31 days, if the Federal Government failed to release Kanu.
Kanu is being prosecuted by the Department of State Services for running an illegal organisation (IPOB); threatening to break away from Nigeria to create an independent country; and importing radio transmitters and making inciting and seditious statements, while his co-accused persons had been charged with possession of firearms.
The Acting Director of Defence Information, Brig. Gen. Rabe Abubakar, had told The PUNCH on Tuesday that the ship was seized about 7.5 nautical miles off the Port of Cotonou in Benin Republic.
Dismissing the threat of the hijackers, however, Abubakar had threatened that the military would deal decisively with those he called criminals and saboteurs.
Abubakar, in an interview with one of our correspondents on Wednesday, confirmed an ongoing collaboration between the two neighbouring countries but did not elaborate.
The Defence Headquarters spokesperson said the military and other security agencies were making efforts to rescue the hijacked ship, without giving details.
Abubakar said, “The military and other security agencies are making efforts in that direction.”
But a military source, who confided in one of our correspondents, said the Nigerian Navy was collaborating with its counterpart in Benin Republic in the ongoing efforts to retrieve the hijacked vessel.
The top military source, who spoke on condition of anonymity with The PUNCH, explained that the militants held hostage a crew of five foreigners.
Investigation revealed that the crew members were from the Philippines, Russia, Ukraine and Georgia.
The military officer said the Nigerian Navy was involved in an exchange of information and intelligence with the Navy of Benin Republic.
He added, “One thing you must note is that the vessel in not in the Nigerian territorial waters. None of the crew members is a Nigerian.
“However, efforts are in top gear; we are exchanging information and intelligence with the Navy of Benin Republic.
“They are watching the tanker because it is in their territorial waters, 7.5 nautical miles off the coast of Cotonou.”
Reports had claimed that the 31-day ultimatum by the militants was given at the weekend by one ‘General Ben’, who is believed to be a Niger Delta militant.
A factional leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of a Sovereign State of Biafra, Uchenna Madu, had equally explained that the said ‘General Ben’ was one of the Niger Delta militants, who had volunteered to join forces with the secessionist’s groups.
“Ben is not a separatist but some Niger Delta militants have shown interest in working with us,” said Madu.
But Abubakar had, on Tuesday, contended that there were no more Niger Delta militants, describing the hijackers as criminals.
He had stated, “I must add that on this issue of militancy, there are no more militants now, what we have are criminals. The Amnesty programme has taken care of the militants.
“The military will treat those behind such acts as criminal and saboteurs; the law will take its course; the security agencies will do their job.”