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Niger Delta war flares up
Nigeria’s security forces have been carrying out their biggest co-ordinated operation for more than a decade – and possibly since the Biafran war – in the Niger Delta this month, using helicopters, aircraft and gunboats as well as three battalions of ground troops to try to flush militants and criminal gangs out of the creeks around Warri.
The military says it has destroyed camps belonging to Government Tompolo in Delta state which were seen as a key training ground for rebel fighters and a hub of oil bunkering – the theft of industrial quantities of crude oil worth millions of dollars a day – in the western delta.
Major-General Sarkin-Yaki Bello, who commanded the operation, has said he ordered a pinpoint helicopter attack on Tompolo’s home in the village of Oporoza on May 15. Local residents said a traditional festival was being held at the time and that hundreds fled into neighbouring communities. They say innocent civilians were killed.
Some Ijaw community leaders have accused the military of a targeted ethnic campaign as soldiers entered remote communities in the delta’s mangrove creeks to try to hunt down suspected gang members believed to have gone into hiding.
But many Nigerians say the military operation was long overdue. Residents in parts of the Niger Delta say their lives have been blighted by the rising criminality of armed gangs masquerading as political militants in recent years, and see the gunmen are plain criminals who are no longer fighting for their cause.
The lower house of parliament has urged the military to extend its campaign to destroy militant camps in other parts of the Niger Delta.
Tompolo, who has amassed a personal fortune from bunkering, appears to have been abandoned by other militant factions in neighbouring Rivers and Bayelsa states, with the main retaliatory attacks on the oil industry so far confined to the area around Warri in Delta state and apparently carried out by his own gunmen.
Was the military right to strike Tompolo’s camps? Does the apparent destruction of “Camp 5” make the western delta a safer place for the oil industry and local residents, or will it radicalise angry youths and win them over to the militants’ cause?
Should the military extend its offensive to known militant camps in Bayelsa and Rivers states, or would that stir the hornets’ nest and trigger an upsurge in violence and sabotage of industry installations across the Niger Delta?