What started out as an attack on illegal oil bunkerers according to the military in the delta region in Nigeria turned into outright warfare between the local militias and the military .
The Federal Government has run out of patience with communities suspected to be harbouring militant Niger Delta youths.
Yesterday its Joint Military Task Force in the Niger Delta, Operation Restore Hope, bombarded Okorenkoko, an Ijaw community in Warri.
Community leaders on the other hand claimed that about 20 persons died while several others sustained serious injuries.
According to the Public Relations Officer for the task force, Major Saheed Hammed,
A military helicopter sighted some barges used for oil bunkering along the creek adjacent to Okorenkoko and subsequently reported the incident to base.
Accordingly, he said, the Air Force was ordered to destroy the barges. “The bombardment of the barges caused an explosion, which community leaders now refer to as the bombardment of the entire community.”
But community leaders who spoke anonymously to THISDAY in Warri claimed four Air Force helicopters carried out the aerial bombardment that left about 20 civilians dead.
According to them, the community reputed as the heartland of Ijaw youth militancy, has been the target of the military since some Ijaw youths took hostage, in January four expatriates working for an oil servicing company engaged by Shell Petroleum Development Company.
The community leaders said the military had left them in no doubt that government believed the hostages were detained Okorenkoko, explaining that its difficult terrain had made it difficult for any operation by the Nigerian Army.
The military operation, which reportedly took place around 1pm yesterday, left the oil city of Warri swarming with victims of the bombardment who claimed the military aircraft took off from Osubi Airstrip, owned by Shell, to rain bombs on their community.
The victims most of whom were brought in by speed boats had series of wounds as soldiers guarding the Miller Waterside Jetty prevented newsmen from speaking to them as they were being evacuated.
It would be recalled that elders of the last week expressed fears of a possible attack on the community by the military.
Perhaps fearing a reprisal attack on account of claims that its airstrip was used as a base by the military for the attack, Shell’s spokesman, Mr. Joe Aniah, said the airstrip was under the management of the Federal Government and, therefore, was not in a position to confirm that the military helicopters used for the operation took off from the airstrip.
The latest reports indicate there have already been some explosions at a Shell Petroleum Develop-ment Company (SPDC) facility in Rivers State.
went up in flames yesterday, leading to the closure of a flow station
with a daily production capacity of 37, 800 barrels.
The huge fire, which will cost the oil company about $2.27 million (N295 million) daily in revenue, forced the closure of a flow station identified as Cawthorne Channel field, said to be close to the ill-fated facility.
This situation needs to be watched closely.