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Threats of a military confrontation between the Joint (Military) Task Force members and an unrepentant militant leader cause panic in a community in Rivers State

For the better part of last week, the residents of Obubu Creek, near Ayakoromo community in Burutu local government area of Delta State, lived in fear. Many residents of the area had to flee their homes to avoid being caught in the cross fire following the renewed exchange of gun fire between the Joint Military Task Force, JTF, and John Ipoko a.k.a John Togo, leader of the Niger Delta Liberation Force, NDLF. Togo is one of the main militants leader who refused to surrender and embrace the amnesty programme of the federal government.

 Fighting erupted in the area on May 10, when John Togo’s men laid ambush for the JTF men in Obubu creek where the military boat was grounded. In the ensuing battle, the JTF suffered heavy casualties. Irked by the action of John Togo and his gang, the JTF has been combing the creeks and communities in the area in a bid to deal decisively with John Togo who was last year declared wanted for the killing of some soldiers in the area.

 Timothy Antigha, Lt. Col and spokesman of the JTF, confirmed that the latest onslaught against John Togo was   propelled by “the unprovoked attack on a JTF patrol on 10th May 2011,” during which “some personnel sustained various degrees of injuries and have been evacuated for adequate medical attention.”  He said that in the process, the JTF discovered that John Togo had set up more camps in the creeks. “I would also like to disclose that the JTF has so far discovered some recently constructed camps, built by John Togo within Obubu Creek and environs. It is from these new camps that recent cases of sea robbery and harassment of traders in the creeks have been staged.

The import of this discovery is that Togo is not considering giving up on militancy and criminal activities,” he said.

He was emphatic that the JTF would not relent in its efforts until the renegade militant leader was either apprehended or killed with less collateral damage to the riverine communities where he had gone into hiding.

The reprisal action of the JTF has provoked outcry from the residents of Obubu Creek and environs, especially Ayakoromor community. Newswatch gathered that tension in the area was further heightened when John Togo alerted the Ayakoromor community that the JTF would raid the community and advised them to move from the area so as not to be caught in the cross fire.The presence of large troops armed to the teeth has caused panic and apprehension among the residents.

Alawei Cleric, national co-ordinator of Ijaw Youth Welfare Association, IYWA, said the way JTF was going about its manhunt for John Togo was horrendous. He explained that Ayakoromor community had been turned into a ghost town.

Friday Igbegbe, a leader in the community called on the federal government to order the soldiers to stop the sporadic shootings in the community. He was worried that the people of Ayakoromor have once again become refugees in neighbouring communities.

But the JTF said there was no cause for residents of the area to panic because the flash point area was not within the range of civilian concentration. The JTF spokesman told Newswatch that there was no need for community members to flee their homes because there was no threat whatsoever. According to him, the strategy of the task force has been to isolate innocent community members from the criminals, while carrying out its operation.

But Antigha is not satisfied with the level of co-operation from the community members.

On the recent reports that John Togo and members of his gang were ready to surrender, the JTF spokesman said he was not aware of such development. According to him, the JTF is not aware of the information being circulated on the internet about the surrender of John Togo and his gang. “Surrender cannot be effected through the cyberspace or on the pages of newspapers. If John Togo and his co-travellers are serious about surrendering, they know what to do. Until that is done, any news of surrender is seen as diversionary and a decoy, and should be disregarded,” he told Newswatch.    

 He explained that the JTF has been holding consultations with community leaders in the riverine communities where John Togo has been hiding.

But Mark Anthony, spokesman of the NDLF, said the resurgence of violence in the area was because the JTF attacked them with two war planes and three gun boats in Bobougbene creek in Burutu local government area of Delta State.

The latest unrest appears to have been induced by local politics rather than any renewed campaign of violence against the oil industry. Newswatch learnt that the military went on the offensive after a statement issued by a group “Coalition of Niger Delta Freedom Fighters” two weeks ago. The group warned of renewed attacks following the victory of Emmanuel Uduaghan, governor of Delta State, in the recent governorship poll.

 

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