The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) continued with its aerial bombardment of militants in the Arepo area of Ogun State, which started three days ago, with another assault on Saturday afternoon.
The first air assault was carried out by a NAF helicopter, which hovered over the area, located along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, at about 12.35pm.
In an operation which lasted about six minutes, it released four rockets towards the militants’ base located on a large island behind the area.
Frightened residents not only heard the heavy thud of the explosions but also the booming of heavy calibre machine gun, which the NAF helicopter also used to shell the militants’ base.
At 12.41pm, the operation was over and the helicopter left the area. However, about 18 minutes after the chopper left the operation’s theatre, a fast flying Alpha Jet appeared on the scene and after making a number of passes, dropped a number of bombs, which detonation could be heard all over the Arepo area.
About 10 minutes after dropping its bomb payload, the Alpha Jet flew away in a sonic boom. According to residents, this is the third day of the bombardment following the first sortie on Thursday evening.
It was learnt that the Air Force usually carries out two sorties before leaving the vicinity. However, perhaps due to the heavy down pour later on Saturday, no jet fighters or helicopters were seen after the first mid-day action.
Casualty figures were not readily available although reports have it that a large number of militants were killed on the first day of the Air Force action because they were caught unaware by the aerial onslaught.
Although the island is located quite some distance from Arepo proper, those who have been there said it is fairly large and has been turned into a small habitable village by the militants who have shanties, satellite dishes, beer parlours and other amenities to make their stay as comfortable as possible.
According to the source, the whole area is light up by a large diesel generator. Conversely, even though the military said it had reported its intention to people in the area, the sight of the military hardware and consequent explosions left many residents fearful.
However, speaking to Sunday Telegraph on the latest assault, Director Public Relations and Information (DPRI), Nigerian Air Force, (NAF), Group Captain Ayodele Famuyiwa, insisted that NAF would continue the operation, which is code-named ‘Awatse’, until it had ‘flushed out’ the militants.
“There is this operation called Operation Awatse; it is a joint force, which is to checkmate the activities of militants and pipeline vandals.”
Explaining further, he said: “What we (NAF) are doing there is to carry out surveillance activity to monitor their nefarious activities, as pertaining where they are or the area of concentration so that we can conduct strikes to be able to neutralize some of their accounts and flush them out of that border between Ogun and Lagos states.”
The Air Force spokesman also confirmed that the attacks had been carried out by both fixed wing and rotary assets and stressed that everything was being done to avoid collateral damage to innocent civilians.
“The Air Force has been there (Arepo), we deployed our platforms; we have our helicopter there, fixing them up with our Alpha Jet, because we need to be sure that what we are taking of are actually military targets in order to avoid a situation where innocent people are affected.
“The operation is going to continue as long as we have those criminal elements and until we are able to flush them out,” he said.
Last Friday, the military brass confirmed that government was deploying troops into strategic positions in the Niger Delta to prepare to use force against militants, if peace talks failed.
Last week, the government said it was talking to militants who have attacked oil and gas facilities in the main oil producing region in recent months, cutting crude production by 700,000 barrels per day, pushing Nigeria behind Angola to now make it Africa’s second producer.
“We have allowed the ongoing dialogue between the Federal Government and the militants. Our troops are in position. My message to the militants is to ensure they go to the negotiation table,” the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin, told reporters during a visit to the state governor.
On the possibility of using force if talks between the government and militants break down, Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, said: “It cannot be ruled out.”