By OKOSUN DENNIS
AS the mindless attacks on pipeline vandals at Arepo in Ogun state continues, the Nigerian Navy has justified why they have to attack the criminals using helicopters.
The Flag Officer Commanding Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Ferguson Bobai, at the weekend said it became necessary that the NN had to act the way they did because the vandals were using offensive weapons and had blocked every accessible route that would have made it possible to penetrate the waterways with trees.
Speaking with defence correspondents at the Headquarters in Apapa, the FOC explained said, “It has become necessary for me to brief you since we commence the on-going operations in Arepo, Ogun State. You are all very familiar with the ugly situations that have been developing around the area ranging from pipeline vandalism, kidnapping, and armed robbery.
“Last month, we got directives from the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) that we should carry out an operation in the general area of Arepo with a view to dismantling vandals’ camps and shanties around Arepo, Ibafo, Ishawo and other axis.
“Initially, we were directed not to use air power but after we carried out surveillance, a lot of them had moved from areas accessible by water and land to areas that are very difficult to access into the swampy areas and in the mangroves of the general operation area.
“We got the consent of the CDS that the best way we can take out the criminals was to resort to the use of air power. He granted us permission to do a general re-assessment and employ attack helicopters to take out those targets.
“We also got in touch with Ogun state and Lagos state governments because it was their domain. After we gathered necessary information through Airforce aircraft surveillance concerning their activities, the location of these shanties and camps, and having fully analyzed the videos, we were able to pinpoint some areas that we needed to destroy.
“Importantly, the revelations of the videos showed that a lot of pipeline vandalism was on-going because we could see wooden boats with lots of jerry cans together. The inaccessibility of where they are operating was just a hindrance to anybody going to that place.
“To block anybody coming after them, they cut trees to block the water ways outside the fact that the water is very shallow that only very small canoe can navigate. Sometimes, they have to remove the canoe from the water, take it to the other side that is a bit deep so that they can move. That underscores the importance why we have to use airpower to take them out.
Rear Admiral Bobai further explained that the operation began on Thursday, claiming that “we have initiated the operation; and had our first assault yesterday. We were able to knock off some targets and the surveillance aircraft went up to do the after battle assessment for us.
“Equally, we were able to interpret the video clips and could see that after the first attacks, they came out from where they were hiding with guns. They mounted their canoe with General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMG). The interpretation was that all that is happening there is “deliberate and well planned.”
“Since they could arm themselves to that magnitude, it is our wish that at the end of this operation, we would find a means of going into the place to comb the general area.
However, we anticipated that some of them would run away and the only two ways that they could leave that place, is either by land or water. For the land components- the army, police, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) have been able to identify some getaway routes and blocked them. The getaway routes by water, the naval forces have also blocked them and have also employed our Special Boat Service (SBS) are operating along to deal with that aspect.
Adding that the Department of State Security (DSS) was part of the operation, the FOC further added that they have blocked all the escape routes towards Ogun state. He pointed out that the operation was going to be sustained until they see the criminals routed.
In addition to using attack helicopters, Bobai said, “We are going to take out more targets using the Alfa jet. They are on the ground to enhance our operations. We have to use the air power because of the nature of the terrain.
Asked about the causality figures, Rear Admiral Bobai said he cannot comment on that now since they have not been able to access the general operation areas because of the terrain.
“We use air power because we could not access the place through land or water. To tell you the number of casualties on either side, I cannot tell you. We are yet to go into the area by either water or land, he explained.
On the protection of lives of kidnapped victims that might have been taken into hiding in the operations zone, the FOC reiterated they are mindful of the jerry cans not to have them exploded.
“As a result, we have asked that fire service should be brought close to the place in case of any eventualities. For the kidnapped victims, we are not oblivious of that to protect them during the attacks.
“However, the criminals built some wooden platforms under the mangroves; if we knock off those wooden platforms, it would be difficult for them to move in the swamp. We would sustain the operation as long as necessary.”
The Navy added that to arrest the resurgence of the criminalities, they are doing all within their powers to “get to the source of their sponsors.”
On whether they would bomb other locations like Igando that have been vulnerable for the past few days to criminal attacks, Admiral Bobai pointed out that his men are carefully selecting the areas we want to take out.
“If we identify any place, we shall storm it by land forces. We will not attack built-up areas because the casualty rate will be too much. That is why we carry out recce, look at the video, analyze them and be convinced that we need to take out the place.
For the past few years, Arepo and, lately Ikorodu, Ishawo have come under intense attacks by criminals elements especially pipeline vandals. In the process, a lot of civilians and security agents have been killed in such attacks.