The Niger Delta region moved closer to armed hostilities yesterday following more attacks on oil facilities by youths believed to be supporters of ex-militant Government Ekpemupolo (alias Tompolo).
The latest attacks were launched with General Purpose Machine-guns (GPMG) by youths in several boats.
They were apparently reacting to last Thursday’s order by a Federal High Court for the arrest of Tompolo in connection with an alleged N34billion fraud.
Residents of the riverside communities said the militants paraded weapons more in number and sophistication than those used in previous crises.
Oil and gas pipelines in the creeks of Gbaramatu and Ugborodo areas of Warri South West and those in Egbema, North local government areas respectively of Delta state were struck in yesterday’s attacks.
“The gas pipeline, which runs from Olero creeks to Escravos were destroyed in the latest attack. Several crude lines were sabotaged while Makaraba, Otunana (Uton-Nana), Abiteye and Dibi flow stations were bombed,” one source said.
“The pipeline, which conveys gas from Saghara to Chevron, was also destroyed and there are several persons trapped in the communities. “The kind of explosives and bombs they used are not like those of before; the effects were felt in several communities as they went off intermittently.”
The facilities destroyed included those of the Nigerian Gas Company, Chevron NIGERIA Limited and NECONDE among others.
It was learnt that the attacks could spread to Bayelsa and other states of the region within days, as the perpetrators plan to cripple crude oil production and export.
There were indications that some operations of Chevron Nigeria were disrupted in the latest attacks.
The company was forced to airlift its workers on Friday after militants blocked the waterways and restricted movement of transport boats, including Chevron’s Jascon transport boat.
Although the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta was said to be fully prepared to deal with the onslaughts, the militants operated unhindered for several hours yesterday.
It was gathered that the attacks started in the wee hours of the day.
“The sheer force of the explosion shook several communities and there were several explosions. There is panic everywhere and the waterways have again been taken over by armed gangs.”
The Joint Media Campaign Centre Coordinator of the JTF, Col Isa Ado, could not be reached.
Telephone calls and SMS to his mobile lines were not answered. Tompolo said on Friday that he was not responsible for the first attacks.
However, security sources insisted that he is directly controlling the operation along with some of his close allies and his nephew who reportedly led the destruction of oil facilities in Warri North LGA yesterday.
Sources said dozens of former militants had returned to the creeks of Warri in what is believed to be preparation for more onslaughts on oil facilities, security operatives and communities.
Similarly, it was learnt that sophisticated arms and ammunition were deployed.
A source familiar with the terrain said: “Boats are freely moving in and out of (an Ijaw community) with guns and other weapons. “Boys are coming in from all over the region and they are being given their assignments and directives. “There is a stockpile of arms and petrol and boats are being fueled intermittently.
“This is not an ordinary operation, it is well planned and there seems to be several options and alternative plans.”
Residents of the riverside communities, comprising mostly women and children continued the flight for safety in upland communities like Warri, Sapele and Ogbe-Ijoh, among others. Some of the fleeing locals lamented that although they did not benefit from the largesse from militancy, they are made to face its consequences always.
“We are tired of running like this always. In 2009, it was because of the killing of soldiers. Today, it is because of Tompolo and EFCC.
We didn’t benefit from the NIMASA money, there were individuals who got billions, others millions but how much did we get? Nothing! Yet we are the ones who are always the victims,” a middle-aged woman lamented in smattering English.
Similarly, it was gathered that some Gbaramatu leaders have called Tompolo to caution him about the implications of engaging in a full blown war with federal forces.
It was gathered that at least 10 very high- ranking traditional titleholders have distanced themselves from the attacks.
“Most of our leaders are too afraid to speak out while others cannot talk because they are benefiting one way or the other,” a youth leader told our reporter on condition that he would not be named.