On 30 January, at least two persons were killed in a bloody fight between Fulani herdsmen and members of Ohoro community in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State. The two victims were said to have died of machete wounds.
There were reports that two other members of the community were shot dead by soldiers deployed in the area to restore peace; but the Media Coordinator of the military Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta, Lt Col Timothy Antigha said: “There was no such thing”.
Local sources said trouble started when the herdsmen’s cows strayed into farmlands belonging to the community, and damaged crops. Angered by the trespass and damage, the farmers confronted the nomads. One source said the nomads suddenly attacked two of the farmers with daggers, killing them on the spot.
As news of the incident spread, youths in the community mobilized and went after the killers, in a bid to avenge the killing of their kinsmen; but they were unable to find the fleeing nomads. The youth then turned their anger against all Hausa-Fulani in the community, and sent many of them fleeing the area.
The near breakdown of law and order caused a major traffic gridlock along the Delta-Bayelsa stretch of the East-West Road. Reports of the incident also raised tensions as far as the state capital, Asaba, and other towns with Fulani residents.
This incident, coming at a time when many southerners are already fleeing deadly attacks by Islamist militants in the predominantly Hausa-Fulani far north of the country, could aggravate ethnic and religious relations in the Niger Delta.
However, the JTF said it had taken measures to restore peace in the Ohoro community and other towns in the area. Col Antigha said: “JTF is at the scene. Efforts are being made to calm down nerves with a view to commencing investigations”.
On 6 June, the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) announced that it would resume attacks on oil facilities in the region, specifically targeting facilities of the Italian oil firm, ENI.
In an online statement by its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, the group which had suspended attacks on oil facilities on 2 April, said: “The Eni group has actively participated in the theft of oil in the Niger Delta for decades, assisting the Nigerian military in its scorched earth and genocidal actions against the justice-seeking citizens of the Niger Delta…ENI and its subsidiaries are simply thieves and cheap opportunists.”.
The statement further accused Eni of backing the air raids being conducted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) against the regime of Muammar Ghadafi in Libya.
It said: “MEND observes with outrage the involvement of the ENI group of Italy in the attacks on the innocent citizens of Libya by western nations intent on plundering the mineral resources of that nation”.
“Why have these Western nations ignored the bombing of villages and civilians in the Niger Delta by the military?”
“If they are so concerned about the removal of dictators in Africa, why do they enjoy good relationships with dictators in Angola and Equatorial Guinea?”
“In solidarity with the oppressed people of Libya, we vow to henceforth pursue the complete destruction of all investments owned by ENI Group in Nigeria and urge all around Africa to do so”.
The military Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta has not made any response. Its spokesman, Lt. Col. Timothy Antigha said: “JTF is studying the purported statement from MEND, to determine its authenticity and will make its position known later.”
Also ENI has made no comment yet.
The company’s presence in Nigeria dates back to 1962. At present, it operates through its subsidiaries the Nigerian Agip Oil Company Ltd (NAOC), Agip Energy & Natural Resources (AENR) Ltd. and the Nigerian Agip Exploration Ltd (NAE). Eni also holds a 5% stake in the joint venture Nigeria-Agip-Shell-Elf (NASE), the main oil producing joint venture in the country.
Attacks by armed groups targeting the oil industry cut more than 30 percent of Nigeria’s crude production from 2006 to 2009. Since the third quarter of 2009, those attacks have subsided, after more than 25,000 militants, who had been campaigning for more local control of the delta’s energy resources accepted a government amnesty and disarmed. But some diehard elements had still not given up their arms.
In mid-March this year, a group blew up an oil well head belonging to ENI’s Agip unit in Clough Creek in Bayelsa State. An e-mailed statement claiming to be from MEND took responsibility for the attack and said it marks “the start of our promised campaign against the Nigerian oil industry”.
The statement said: “This attack and similar attacks on pipelines and flows stations which will take place within the next few days is a reminder to the Nigerian government and the general public not to take our threats for granted”. Col Antigha, dismissed that threat, saying the attack was “an isolated case”. MEND itself later issued another statement on 2 April, saying it had decided it suspend armed violence.
On 25 May, the Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta, exhumed a corpse suspected to be that of John Togo, fugitive leader of the disbanded Niger Delta Liberation Force (NDLF), in the creeks of Burutu Local Government Area, Delta State. But JTF said it needs a DNA verification before making any announcement.
There had been reports that Togo died on 14 May and was buried by his surviving fighters on the fringe of a riverine community in Delta State, but the JTF had repeatedly dismissed those reports, saying it needed irrefutable evidence. Some sources said JTF was led to the grave from which the corpse was exhumed, by a former NDLF fighter arrested a few days earlier. But Col Enang Ewang, Commander of Sector I of the JTF, said soldiers discovered the secret grave while searching for weapons which Togo’s group had allegedly buried in the forests.
The corpse exhumed by the JTF was already decomposing, but it still had the military combat uniform in which it was interred. It also had a scar very much like the one prominently across Togo’s face.
Amidst tight security, JTF ferried the corpse to the General Hospital in Warri, where it was deposited in the morgue. Troops have since cordoned off the morgue, allowing access only to senior military officers, State Security Service (SSS) officials and the police.
However, even as word spread that Togo’s corpse had been found, there were discordant reactions from his lawyer and his family. His lawyer, Mr Casely Omon-Irabor, denied that his client was dead. He said some members of his client’s family gave him a telephone number through which he had reached Togo and spoken with him, even after the reports of the exhumed corpse.
According to Omon-Irabor, “I spoke with the family and they said it was not true…I also got through to his boys. They said it is a lie, that it is the body of another soldier that was flown in. They gave me a number through which to reach him and I called and actually spoke with him. Togo is not dead”.
However, in the same breadth, there were reports that some members of Togo’s family were warming up to demand for his corpse, and also to drag JTF to court over what they claim was the “extra-judicial killing” of their son and brother.
They contend that Togo had already accepted the Federal Government’s amnesty, but returned to the creeks as he was still trying to work out some details of his participation in the programme. They further argue that at the time he was allegedly killed by the JTF, he had already announced his surrender, was not engaged in any criminal or violent activity, and had engaged some lawyers and other notable Nigerians to negotiate with the Federal Government on his behalf.
Amidst the claims and counter-claims, JTF has been treading cautiously, waiting to be doubly sure the corpse is Togo’s before making any categorical statement.
At a briefing for reporters at the Effurun Barracks, Colonel Ewang, confirmed that his men exhumed a corpse, but he said he could not yet confirm if it was Togo’s or not. “I have never met him in person,” Ewang said.
The JTF is reportedly arranging for a DNA test to determine, once and for all, whether the corpse is Togo’s or not. JTF’s spokesman, Lt Col Timothy Antigha, said the Task Force will not accept that Togo is dead until it receives the verdict of DNA experts, stressing that until then, it would consider Togo as “still at large”.
Said Antigha:“For now, the feeling of the JTF is that Togo is still at large and is being sought to account for his deeds. Until we get the report of a DNA expert, we will continue to assume that he is out there and that the report of his death remains a ploy by some persons to hoodwink the JTF”.
Col Antigha cautioned reporters not to be carried away by stories of Togo’s death, as it could turn out a huge embarrassment for both the media and the military, if such stories were eventually proved untrue.
On 19 May, the military Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta reported that on 18 May, it arrested two aides of the leader of the Niger Delta Liberation Force (NDLF), John Togo, in Aladja, near Warri, in Delta State. It added that one of the men had been shot dead while attempting to escape.
In a statement issued by its Media Coordinator, Lt Col Timothy Antigha in Yenagoa, the JTF reported as follows:
“As part of the ongoing mop-up operation, following the sacking of several John Togo camps in Bobou Creek and environs, the JTF is continuing in the pursuit of fleeing militants. In this regard, a JTF checkpoint in Aladja area of Delta State, acting on a tip-off at about 12pm yesterday (18 May), apprehended two John Togo militants who were sneaking into Warri. One militant attempted to escape, but was shot in the leg to incapacitate him. I regret to inform you that the victim later died. His corpse has been handed over to the police for further investigation”.
Antigha reiterated that the JTF was unrelenting in its on-going pursuit of Togo, as it believed the fugitive militant leader was still holed up somewhere in the creeks. He said Togo, realising that his arrest was imminent, had been spreading false stories aimed at diverting the attention of security agencies, in order to enable him evade arrest. He warned members of the public to disregard any stories suggesting that Togo had been killed.
The JTF said: “We want to warn law-abiding citizens to disregard the purported death of John Togo; they should always remain vigilant and report suspicious individuals milling around their communities to appropriate security agencies.”
On 17 May, the week-long fight between the military Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta and an armed group known as the Niger Delta Liberation Force (NDLF), seemed to be winding down, with the group offering a surrender statement amidst reports that its leader, “General” John Togo, had been killed.
In a statement entitled, “End of the Last Battle: Why we surrendered and abandoned Israel Barracks”, the group’s spokesman, “Captain” Mark Anthony said: “Today, we hereby declare that the JTF has won the final battle in the creeks”.
The statement said the NDLF leadership had reached a “gentleman’s” agreement with authorities of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, and therefore directed all combatants in its camps (said to number about 200) to vacate the creeks to their various towns and villages. It asked them to await further instructions to hand over, unconditionally, all NDLF weapons to the Nigerian Army, through the coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme and Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, on a later date.
The statement read in part: “NDLF took the best decision for the interest of the nation and people of Niger Delta. Our continued stay in the creeks will aggravate things and JTF cannot do anything as far as we have left the barracks”. The statement added that “If the game changes tomorrow, NDLF shall know how to go about it”.
The JTF, however, dismissed the NDLF statement as diversionary. In its own statement issued by its spokesman, Lt Col Timothy Antigha, the Task Force said: “Regarding the information being circulated on the internet about the ‘surrender’ of John Togo and his gang, please note that the JTF is unaware of such a development”. JTF said it viewed the “surrender” report merely as a ploy to hoodwink it into stopping its operations.
The statement said “a surrender cannot be effected in cyberspace or on the pages of newspapers” and that the purported surrender lacks legal backing without the amnesty. It said Togo and the NDLF leadership knew what to do if they wanted to truly surrender, warning that their self-proclaimed surrender would not shield them from the full wrath of the law, if caught.
It is unclear if Togo was still in a position to hear that message, as there were conflicting reports, suggesting the NDLF leader may have died. Some sources say that, in a battle with the JTF, he suffered serious gun injuries on both legs, was rushed to a riverine community in Bomadi Local Government Area of Delta State, treated by a traditional medicine man, but died two days later, and was buried.
NDLF spokesman, Anthony, insists that “Gen. John Togo is hale and hearty”. A statement by his lawyer, Casey Omon-Irabor, that his client was yet to leave the creeks as the modalities for his surrender had not been worked out with the Federal Government, implies he is still alive. However, anonymous sources in the community where he reportedly died, insist he was in fact buried on 14 May, but that residents do not want to talk about it for fear of attracting JTF’s attention.
The NDLF was formed in 2010 by former militants who had earlier accepted the Federal Government’s offer of amnesty, but then returned to the creeks. Its leaders had claimed disenchantment with the manner in which the amnesty programme was being implemented, but others say they simply found it difficult to stay away permanently, from the life of maritime and oil-related crimes that had been part of their earlier militancy. Their activities were however confined to only a small part of Delta State.
On 16 May, the militant Niger Delta Liberation Front (NDLF) led by suspected maritime robbery gang leader, ‘General’ John Togo, indicated that it was ready to surrender, on condition that its members would be allowed to join the Federal Government’s amnesty programme for Niger Delta militants; but the military Joint Task Force (JTF) said was not letting up its offensive.
A statement by the NDLF’s spokesperson ‘Captain’ Mark Anthony, said the decision to surrender was taken at its Israel Camp (located deep in the creeks of Delta State) on 14 May, and that it had directed its ‘soldiers’ to return to their home towns and cities, to await further directives. It said the decision to surrender was “not out of cowardice” but “was reached basically on humanitarian reasons”, to allow embattled locals return to their normal lives.
The group said it had “abandoned” its camps in the creeks, and that its “boys are no longer in the NDLF control”. It warned that if steps are not taken urgently to integrate them into the Federal Government’s amnesty programme, the result may be better imagined than said. It therefore appealed to the government to “make a quick decision so as to withdraw the weapons from NDLF” as the “NDLF armoury is still intact and shall be surrendered unconditionally at the Federal Government’s demand”.
However, the JTF’s Media Coordinator, Lt Col Timothy Antigha, told correspondents that the Task Force was not aware of the group’s plans to surrender. He said neither Togo nor any criminal in the region was in a position to negotiate a peace deal with the Federal Government, having failed to take advantage of the window that was provided by the amnesty programme in 2009.
Antigha said: “All militant youths were given the opportunity (to join the amnesty programme) but he (Togo) and a few others refused to toe the path of peace. Instead, he chose to carry arms and continue to terrorise innocent people in the creeks”.
Moreover, Antigha drew attention to the fact that late in 2010, after his attack on government troops led to a manhunt for him and his members, Togo had called the then JTF Commander, Maj Gen Charles Omeregie, similarly pleading for a ceasefire that would enable him to surrender. Antigha said the JTF would not be moved by such claims this time around.
A statement issued by JTF Media Coordinator on 16 May, read in part: “The JTF is continuing with its efforts to isolate renegade militant leader, John Togo, and his gang. In this regard, the JTF has been holding consultations with community leaders of riverine communities where John Togo has been hiding. The essence of this effort is to carry the leaders along and intimate them of the risk in providing safe haven for people, who constitute clear and present threat to the stability of the nation”.
It added: “JTF has so far discovered some recently constructed camps, built by John Togo, within Obubu creek and environs. The import of this discovery is that Togo is not considering giving up on militancy and criminal activities”. The Task Force is therefore continuing its campaign against Togo and his band.
It will be recalled that the renewed clashes between the military and the militants started on 11 May, following the unprovoked attack on a JTF patrol on 10 May, in which some personnel sustained various degrees of injuries. After the initial skirmishes on that day, the JTF returned on 12 May, attacking Togo and his boys more ferociously, with three aircraft, two gunboats and three speed boats.
The fighting, since then, has provoked unintended humanitarian consequences.
Col Antigha had said the communities near the area of operation had nothing to fear, as the military campaign was not directed at them. More recently, he has denounced press reports suggesting that the JTF had been destroying houses and killing people in Ayakoromo, saying the reports are “not only callous and irresponsible”, but “also false and misleading”. He has however conceded that it was possible that some villagers might have panicked due to the gunfire and relocated temporary.
Indeed, thousands of residents of several communities in the area, including Ayakoromor, Ofonbeghan, Gbekebor, Obotebe and New Town are reported to have fled their homes to seek refuge in safer areas. Community leaders in the area are urging the Federal Government to pursue a speedy termination of the violence, so that their people can return to their normal life. Security authorities, however, think the community leaders should rather be sending that message to Togo and his boys.
On 9 May, an explosion was reported at the Tanker Loading Bay of the Pipelines and Product Marketing Company (PPMC), near the Warri Refinery and Petrochemical Company, in Delta State. The explosion shook the complex and the nearby Ekpan and Ubeji communities.
Many residents initially thought the explosion was the commencement of an attack by armed groups in the region. On 5 May, a group of former militants, under the aegis of the Coalition of Niger Delta Freedom Fighters in Delta State, had served a 21-day ultimatum to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and President Goodluck Jonathan, to reverse what they called the imposition of Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan on the people of the state through an allegedly fraudulent 26 April election or face renewed violence. The group said it would attack oil installations if the election was not cancelled.
However, the spokesman of the military Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta, Lt Col Timothy Antigha, has ruled out any sabotage in the most recent blast. He said the Task Force was fully prepared to deal with any security developments in the Niger Delta and advised residents to go about their normal businesses.
The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the parent company of the PPMC and the Warri Refinery, is yet to issue any official statement on the incident. But some local sources said the explosion was caused by a petroleum tanker that caught fire while waiting to load at the facility. They said the tanker, which apparently had an electrical problem, may have been ignited by a spark from its engine, when the driver turned the ignition.
PPMC has not issued any statement on the extent of damage, but there have been no reports of any casualties.
On 5 April, an explosion rocked Latik Hotel, owned by Hon Peremobowei Ebebi, a former deputy state governor and senatorial candidate of the Labour Party in the forthcoming elections, in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Antigha, spokesman of the military Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta told an AFP reporter that “Unconfirmed reports indicated that there were no casualties”.
“We’ve not been able to confirm who was behind the bomb blast”, said Col Antigha, but some local sources say a dynamite was probably thrown into the premises from the back end of the hotel. The blast shattered windows and cracked walls, causing significant damage to the hotel kitchen, but apparently caused no major damage to the main three-storey building. Security forces cordoned off streets in the area to start investigations.
The blast is probably linked to the violence that has coloured political contests in Bayelsa State since last year, between incumbent governor Timipre Sylva’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and a range of opponents, particularly gathered in the Labour Party (LP). Political rallies have been marred by explosives and shootings. The governorship race, especially between Sylva and former presidential adviser Timi Alaibe of the LP, has been quite rough. In January, unknown gunmen killed about five of Alaibe’s supporters at his home. A week later, the Labour Party office in Yenagoa was bombed. However, none of these incidents has been traced to Governor Sylva.
The contest is no less fierce at other levels. Ebebi, in whose hotel the latest explosion occurred, was once Sylva’s deputy; but the two fell apart, leading to Ebebi’s impeachment over allegations of corruption in June 2010. After 8 months of legal battle, an Appeal Court on 16 February this year, ordered his reinstatement as Deputy Governor of the state, but the state government has appealed that ruling.
Last May, a car bomb exploded near the same hotel that was hit by the latest explosion, but there were no casualties. Last July, attackers in four speedboats threw explosives into Ebebi’s country home, killing a guard, according to some sources. But Ebebi was far away in Abuja, the federal capital, at the time.
The cause was not immediately clear and the extent of damage is not yet determined. However, on 16 March, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), in an email, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the operation “was carried out by our fighters”. It said the attack “is to mark the start of our promised campaign against the Nigerian oil industry”.
MEND had, in two earlier emails, warned that it would carry out attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta as well as campaign rallies in Abuja and Lagos. In claiming responsibility for the latest explosion, it stated that similar attacks on pipelines and flows stations will take place “within the next few days”, threatening that “the fight for the liberation of the Niger Delta has only begun” and that “the worst is yet to come”.
The military Joint Task Force (JTF) for security in the Niger Delta has not confirmed MEND’s claim. It said local community youths were suspected to have been behind the explosion. JTF spokesman Lt Col Timothy Antigha said: “The attack occurred on an oil well-head in the southern Ijaw area of Bayelsa State. It is an isolated issue … and investigations are ongoing to know the motives behind the attack”.
Some other sources suggest the explosion might have been the handiwork of a renegade militant leader in Bayelsa State who is said to have written the Agip authorities to demand some money, threatening the company to get set for an attack if it failed to pay.
On 15 March, the military Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta, also known as Operation Restore Hope, admonished members of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) to embrace the Federal Government’s amnesty and drop their threat to attack oil installations and gatherings in Abuja and Lagos.
Reacting to the threat issued by MEND on 12 March, the Joint Media Coordinator of the JTF, Lt. Col. Timothy Antigha, in a statement in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, said instead of threatening renewed attacks, those claiming to be MEND should submit themselves to amnesty processes.
Noting that relevant security agencies in the country are capable of handling any threats in Abuja and Lagos, Antigha said JTF would spare no effort to ensure security in its own area of operation, which is the Niger Delta.
Antigha said: “We wish to assure the people of the Niger Delta that we are on top of the situation and will do anything within the law to protect the people and foreigners doing business in the region”.
He urged MEND to seek non-violent resolution of any grievances. “We are advising them to always take advantage of the amnesty deal and always present contentious issues they might have to the Amnesty Committee”, he said.