Perhaps ahead of the February 16 presidential elections, gunboats, said to number about 20, have been deployed to parts of inflammable Gbaramatu kingdom in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State.
The development, as gathered on Friday, has begun to create panic among natives and folks living and doing their local businesses in the riverine area.
But the Commander, the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS DELTA), Warri Naval Base, when contacted by Saturday Tribune on Friday on the development, denied the allegation that the military had declared a war on people living in the creeks.
“Escravos were carrying out routine patrols. It wasn’t meant to intimidate or harass anyone. Just to keep the waterways safe,” the top naval officer enthused through a WhatsApp message.
A fortnight ago, it will be recalled, some concerned citizens of the kingdom had raised their voices against an alleged deployment of warships and gunboats to the area, but the military had, in a statement, denied the allegations, warning media houses to stop joining hands with elements in spreading fake news.
As of Friday morning, military hardwares in form of gunboats and helicopter gunships and personnel, were being reportedly and gradually deployed to the area 15 days to the presidential elections.
It was gathered that the troops were carrying out stop and search operations on vessels and people aboard the marine transportation devices.
Reacting to the development on Friday, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), in a statement signed by its president, Pereotubo Roland Oweilaemi, Esq., described it as an unconstitutional declaration of war against the Ijaws, nay the Niger Delta in a rather no-war situation.
“The subtle deployment of troops to the Gbaramatu Kingdom by the Nigerian armed forces called for concern.
“IYC chose to keep silent over the incident because the military has earlier denied sending troops to the Kingdom.
“In spite of the denials, IYC is receiving distress calls from the Kingdom with pictorial evidence of how armoured gunboats have been deployed to the area to cause tension.
“We have even seen for ourselves the bizarre movements of troops to the creeks. We don’t know the rationale behind these strange deployments of troops to an area that is peaceful?
“The presence of the armed forces in the Kingdom have caused tension in the entire Niger Delta. People cannot go about their lawful businesses as the soldiers are harassing and intimidating travellers who ply the waterways.
“Currently, the more than 20 armoured gunboats stationed in the Gbaramatu Kingdom have been carrying out stop and search operations thereby hindering free movements of people in the Creeks.
“Even the revered Gbaramatu King’s entourage was subjected to such horrendous and sacrilegious treatment.
“He was emotionally and psychologically humiliated by the unlawful and unjustified invasion of the Kingdom,” the IYC youth leader claimed.
According to Oweilaemi, “while the armoured gunboats are being stationed in the Kingdom to harass and intimidate passersby, a helicopter gunship is hovering around the area as if there is war in the creeks.
“We have it on good authority that the presence of the troops there is because of the pending general elections,” he alleged, warning the Federal Government not plunge the region into another round of crisis.
He further described the military’s action as “a challenge to war,” reiterating that “We are not at war with the Federal Government.
“Niger Delta is not a conquered territory. The plan, according to our source, is to deploy troops massively to the region during the elections so that the ruling government at the centre and its agents can rig the elections to their own favour.
“IYC is fully aware that the government is also planning to clamp down on some dissent voices in the region including the leadership of the IYC through trump allegations of security threats.
“In spite of the provocations, IYC is appealing to the Niger Delta people to be law-abiding.
“We, however, warn that our people will not fold their hands and allow political players to turn our region into a launchpad for military operations. We will take every legal step to resist it,” he vowed.
While advocating a free and fair election, the IYC called on President Mohammadu Buhari to immediately order the withdrawal troops from the region.
It also urged the international community and friends of the country to prevail on the Buhari government not to set the Niger Delta on fire because of its political ambition.
Meanwhile, Coordinator, Joint Media Campaign Centre of the Operation Delta Safe (OPDS), Major Ibrahim Abdulahi, who had, on January 22, 2019, urged journalists to always authenticate claims before publication, did not respond to inquiries sent to his WhatsApp’s handle on Friday in spite of perusing them.
The unreplied message sent to him read: “Good day, officer. Is OPDS part of the troops allegedly manning gunboats in Gbaramatu kingdom, Delta State now ahead of elections? Pls, respond. Thanks.”