Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta on Sunday claimed that its fighters killed the 12 policemen whose boat was ambushed in Azuzama, Southern Ijaw, Bayelsa State, on Saturday and that the deaths were to teach the security forces a lesson for scorning its warning.
The militant group had last week announced that it would resume attacks in the oil rich Niger Delta by Friday to avenge alleged collaboration between the Federal Government and South Africa to jail its former leader, Henry Okah. Security agencies had dismissed the threat and said they were ready for MEND which tagged its promised resurgence of attacks, ‘Hurricane Exodus.’
MEND, in an online statement on Sunday, also disclosed that two of its fighters died in the exchange of fire with security agents. The crossfire lasted for 40 minutes.
It said it intercepted and engaged government forces in a fierce gun battle and killed the security agents in the process.
According to the militant group’s statement signed by its spokesperson, Jomo Gbomo, MEND said it would remain resolute in its resumption of hostilities. It also expressed the hope that Saturday’s clash would serve as a lesson to the Joint Task Force and stop it from making ‘careless’ utterances.
The JTF however on Sunday said its operatives had now been placed on the alert to forestall further violence in the restive Niger Delta.
Curiously, the Police commissioner in Bayelsa, Kingsley Omire, said the killing of his men had nothing to do with MEND’s threat of last week and said that he believed that the 12 policemen were still missing and their whereabouts was still a subject of intense search.
Omire blamed the fate of the policemen on a dispute between the gunmen and the government over their amnesty payments. The Federal Government has been paying all militants that laid down their arms under its amnesty programme commenced since 2010.
The MEND’s statement on Sunday reads, “For dismissing Hurricane Exodus as an ‘empty threat’ heavily armed fighters from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, at about 17:00 Hrs., Saturday 06, April 2013, intercepted and engaged government security forces in a fierce gunfight lasting over 40 minutes at Azuzama, Southern Ijaw, Bayelsa State, Nigeria.
“The clash which happened in the river left over 15 security forces dead as we also lost two (2) of our fighters in the battle. We hope this encounter will serve as a lesson to the Joint Task Force from making careless utterances that cannot be backed as we remain resolute in our resumption of hostilities.”
The militant group advised oil firms and members of the public to disregard the false sense of security being peddled by the JTF even as it disowned one Comrade Azizi who claimed to be its spokesman and advised members of the public to ignore his (Azizi) comments.
“All oil companies and the public are advised to ignore the false sense of security been peddled by the JTF as well as the false comments from a “Comrade Azizi”, who claims to be the spokesman for the group.
“This person is not known to MEND, does not speak for MEND and his utterances and style do not reflect our plans and actions,” it maintained.
The JTF spokesman, Lt.-Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, in a statement on Sunday said, “Our maritime and air assets have also been mobilised and we have intensified our patrols to dominate both land and water ways to check any assailant. We will not permit any lawlessness that will jeopardise the peace in the region.
“We again call on all peace loving and progressive Niger Deltans to dissociate themselves, their communities and leadership from this gang of retrogrades parading themselves as MEND.”
Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson on Sunday described the death of the 12 policemen as “tragic and disheartening.”
The governor, according to a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Daiel Markson, noted that the killings were “a constant reminder of how vulnerable we are in our collective efforts at pursuing and achieving lasting peace and unity in our state and country.”
Meanwhile, youths in the oil producing region have appealed to MEND to give peace a chance and shelve their planned resumption of hostilities.
National Coordinator of the Niger Delta Youth Parliament, Mr. Imoh Okoko, said in a telephone interview with The PUNCH on Sunday that it was imperative for MEND to sheathe its sword so as to ensure that the Federal Government would not have any excuse not to develop the region.
Okoko said, “We in the Niger Delta Youth Parliament believe that things would only get worse for the region if MEND carries out its threat of resuming hostilities. Creating more crises is not the best for Niger Delta now.
“We are appealing to MEND to exercise patience. President Goodluck Jonathan and Okah are from the same state. There is no need for MEND to strike so that the government will not have any excuse for not developing the Niger Delta.”
Read more: Punch Newspapers