The Defence Headquarters yesterday said security agencies have information on members of the Niger Delta Avengers and would soon reveal the identities of their sponsors.
It said the militants, who have been behind fresh attacks on oil and gas installations in the Niger Delta region, did not constitute a threat to Nigeria’s national security that the country’s armed forces cannot effectively deal with.
In an interview ,the Defence spokesman, Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar, said the nation’s security forces were closely watching the activities of the group, vowing that they would regret what they have done.
The Niger Delta Avengers, which has claimed responsibilities for series of attacks that have contributed to a sharp drop in Nigeria’s oil output to 1.65 million barrels per day (bpd) from 2.2 million bpd, has threatened to blow up more oil facilities unless the Federal Government meets its demands.
On Thursday, the militants issued a two-week ultimatum to oil companies in the Niger Delta to evacuate their staff or risk attacks.
The militant group has also been accused of recent attacks on security personnel in the region, leading to the death of soldiers and policemen.
General Abubakar noted that the armed forces were not in any way disturbed by the pronouncements of the group.
“What we are saying is that no miscreant and no militant activities, the world over, have ever succeeded in dislodging national defence forces,” he said.
He stated that the military has the mandate to ensure that no group or individual continues to perpetrate crimes against innocent citizens or property of the state with impunity.
“We must ensure that such groups are brought to book, we have the capacity, we are watching all they are doing closely and security agencies are all over the place.
“They (the security agents) are there not to intimidate anybody or harass anybody, but to ensure that there is total protection of life and property because not everybody in the Niger Delta is a militant.
“Those who claimed to be militants and who made pronouncements, the whole world has seen their actions…we are doing everything possible to ensure that we get those involved,” he said.
The spokesperson said the group’s masterminds would be exposed soon. “They are a group of frustrated individuals, working for some people who very soon everybody would come to know.
“The Defence Headquarters (is) working with other security agencies (and) would not allow some clique, because there are no militants now, the militants have enjoyed amnesty and have been given special trainings.”
He said the military was not going to apply “hard power” to deal with the situation except where it becomes “extremely necessary.
“We are synergizing with other security agencies, with community leaders and individuals to ensure that we extract information which would be useful to us. In a short time, they would regret what they have done.
“We are not hoping to deploy the use of hard power, unless it becomes extremely necessary. As I said not all of them are militants, even though we have all the information about them,” he said.
He also condemned the killing of soldiers who were deployed there to keep the peace.
“The soldiers are there for the protection of national assets, so why kill them, we are in total obedience to international best practices and that’s why we take cognizance of the conventions that Nigeria is a signatory to in the execution of most of our activities.
“Unless it becomes extremely beyond us, or beyond our operational exigencies, then we would employ other means, which are still within the mandate of our operations,” he said.
Abubakar recalled that some suspects were recently paraded before pressmen in the Niger Delta, noting that this shows the military has been systematic, professional and being extremely cautious in its operations.
However, a military officer attached to one of the units operating in the creeks in Delta State, said that troops had launched a manhunt for members of the Avengers group.
According to the senior officer, who does not want to be mentioned, soldiers had been
working on information by community members to effect the arrest of suspected militants, kidnappers and pipeline vandals.
He said a list of the suspects was compiled and sent to units, who were tasked with carrying out the arrests. “Many of the people on the list have been quietly invited and taken into custody,” he said.
Meanwhile, an authoritative source in the military has disclosed that the leadership of the Nigerian Armed Forces was considering the deployment of a large contingent of soldiers to the Niger Delta.
The source said the troops presently in the Niger Delta were capable of handling the threat posed by the Niger Delta Avengers, but deploying battle-hardened ones from the North East would “speed up the flushing of these terrorists, because the troops in the North East have acquired experience of working in difficult terrains.”
He said since the war with Boko Haram was almost over, the deployment may be a viable option, while urging Nigerians to remain calm, because the Nigerian military had the capacity to deal with any group that threatened the corporate existence of the country and its sponsors.
He said the military would be guided by its Rules of Engagement in the event of an operation in the Niger Delta. He urged the “law abiding people of the Niger Delta to cooperate with the military.”