MILITARY commanders have stepped up the deployment of equipment in the Niger Delta by rolling out armoured tanks and other sophisticated military hardware in a show of force to discourage militants and criminal elements from perpetrating further violence in the region.
Of late, Niger Delta militants have attacked oil facilities with impunity, showing that they can blow up pipelines and curtail production despite the military presence in the region. In a bid to prevent the situation from getting out of control, the Nigerian military has decided to show its full might to avoid being overwhelmed as happened in the northeast with Boko Haram.
Yesterday, the Nigerian Army, which rolled out its tanks in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, said its operations will be complemented by the Nigerian Air Force, which has also deployed more personnel and war planes in an exercise code-named Operation Crocodile Smile. Nigerian Army spokesman Col Sani Usman said the operation was organised to prepare its troops for the task of routing out criminal elements and ending militancy in the oil-rich region.
Last week, some soldiers were caught selling arms and ammunitions to Boko Haram insurgents in the northeast, compounding the efforts to defeat terror in the region. Major General Lucky Irabor, the theatre commander of Operation Lafia Doyle, initiated to flush out Boko Haram, said that the military was worried by the development, which amounted to the betrayal of the Nigerian people.
Despite efforts by the federal government to court the militants and agree on a peaceful resolution of their grievances, the military said its action became justified by the increasing number of militant groups sprouting up and issuing threats to sabotage more oil and gas installations in the region. One of them, the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate, an Urhobo militant group, advised residents around major oil and gas facilities across the Niger Delta to evacuate immediately to avoid human casualties in its next attacks, saying several of the installations had been laden with explosives that would soon be detonated.
Col Usman said military personnel from the Second Brigade of the Nigerian Army stationed in Port Harcourt conducted the show of force as part of the exercise to prepare them for their responsibility in their area of command. He said, however, that the exercise was not all about showing force but also had humanitarian component, adding that troops of the 82 Division, touched the lives of over 500 people within the Bille Community in Degema Local Government Area of Rivers State on Saturday with a free medical outreach programme.