Ahead of Tuesday’s visit by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State, tension on Sunday enveloped the Niger Delta region over alleged arrest and invasion of some ex-militant leaders’ homes in the state by soldiers.
Our correspondent reliably learnt that scores of ex-militants, including a top ex-militant leader, Mr. Bounanawei Smith, alias King of the Forest, were arrested in a fresh crackdown in what sources said were not unconnected with renewed hostilities and fresh threat by the Niger Delta Avengers to attack oil facilities.
Osinbajo is scheduled to visit Gbaramatu Kingdom where the embattled ex-militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo, hails from.
Osinbajo’s visit is for the purpose of holding talks with leaders of Gbaramatu, which had become a hub of militants’ activities in recent times.
Security, ahead of the visit, has been beefed up both on land and in the sea, as gunboats and military personnel, dispatched to strategic locations in Warri South-West were seen, while military vans were also seen on Saturday and Sunday patrolling flashpoints in the state.
Sources close to Smith told our correspondent on Sunday that operatives of the Joint Task Force, code-named: Operation Delta Safe, invaded the ex-militant leader’s home at Esiso Estate along Effurun/Sapele Road in Effurun, Uvwie Local Government Area in the late hours of Saturday.
The ex-militant leader was said to be holding a meeting with some members of the Ijaw Youth Council when the soldiers allegedly forcefully broke into his home before arresting him and seven others, whose identities were not known as of the time of filing this report.
It was further learnt that some other ex-agitators were also arrested on Saturday by the military and were held at the Warri Naval Base of the Nigerian Navy Ship Delta awaiting to be moved to the Defence Headquarters in Abuja.
Smith was only recently appointed by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa as a member of the state’s Land and Waterways Security Committee, charged with the responsibility of working with security agencies to ensure peace in the state.
The Commander, NNS Delta, Commodore Joseph Dzunve, when contacted on the telephone on Sunday, confirmed that several persons were arrested and were being held at the Naval Base Warri. He declined to give details of the arrest.
The spokesman for the IYC, Mr. Eric Omare, confirmed the arrest of the ex-militants in a statement issued on Sunday in Warri, describing the arrest as primitive and capable of fuelling restiveness in the region.
The statement read in part, “The Ijaw Youth Council states that the Federal Government is inciting crisis in the Niger Delta by the continued invasion, arrest and detention of Niger Deltans, especially ex-agitators, without any justifiable reason. The latest of such invasion and arrest is the commando-style arrest of ex-agitator, Bounanawei Smith, alias King of the Forest.
“Mr. Bounanawei was arrested in his guest house by military men while hosting some Ijaw Youth Council members. They invaded and ransacked the whole of his guest house and some of the IYC members who were with him narrowly escaped death when the military officers shot sporadically into his apartment.
“The IYC condemn this naked, primitive and unwarranted display of force. It is on record that Mr. Bounanawei had since accepted amnesty and had been very active in maintaining peace and security in the Niger Delta especially in Delta State.”
The IYC recalled that the invasion, arrest and detention of Niger Deltans by the military had become a norm in the region.
“On January 1, 2017, while the entire world was celebrating the New Year, military officers invaded Gbaraun community, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, shot into the community, arrested a youth leader, Kalami Inakemeduo, under the guise that he is a militant and he is being detained up till this moment.
“This is in addition to several other Ijaw youths languishing in military detention such as Aboy Muturu, Ezekiel Daniel, Victor Odogu (the IYC spokesman, Abuja chapter) and several others. These persons have been in the DSS and military detention for more than eight months without trial and no reason has been given for their arrest,” the statement added.
The IYC, in the statement, demanded immediate release of all ex-militants arrested by the security agents including Smith, Aboy Muturu, Ezekiel Daniel, Victor Odogu, Kalami Inakemeduo and other Ijaws in detention across the country.