Barely 10 hours after helicopter gunship of the Nigeria Air Force launched the second in the series of planned raids on oil bunkerers in the Niger Delta at the Ijaw community of Okerenkoko, Ijaw militants in retaliation yesterday hit four oil industry facilities in the area and in the process kidnapped nine expatriates.
The militants also set on fire the multi- billion dollar Forcados Oil Terminal Loading Platform. The resultant inferno has however been extinguished.
The attack on the oil facilities and kidnap of the nine oil workers led President Olusegun Obasanjo to convene a security council meeting after he came back from the convocation ceremony of the Nasarawa State University, Keffi.
But in an e-mailed statement, the militants listed those kidnapped as three Americans – Malcolm Hawkins, Cowdy Oswalt and Pussel Spell; a Briton, John Hudsmith; two Egyptians, Shadety Senary and Feisal Mohammed; two Thais, Semsak Mhadmhe and Arab Suwani and a Phillipino, Anthony Santos.
The militants, sources said, also blew up the Escravos- Lagos pipeline and went ahead to threaten users of the Warri Airport built by Shell. As a result of the activities of the militants, the airport is said to have been shut down.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc, the country’s biggest international oil producer, said the hostages were taken from a boat operated by a venture of Willbros Group Incorporated.
A spokesman of the company, Mr. Don Boham, said the militants also attacked three Shell facilities. Also, the pipeline which supplies crude oil from the Escravos Terminal belonging to Chevron Nigeria Limited to the Warri and Kaduna Refineries was blown off at Chanomi creek at a point near Madangho, an Itsekiri community.
Following an agency report, a spokesman of the joint military task force in the Niger Delta, Operation Restore Hope, Major Said Hammed, he heard that an attack had taken place but stated that he had no details about whether the attack was on Excravos pipeline.
A self-described spokes-man of the militants, Jomo Gbomo, said in the e-mail statement that, “that the Nigerian military have been preparing for weeks only for their incompetence to be revealed in mere minutes is enough warning to oil companies and their workers that they stand no chance against any of our units in the event of an attack.”
The militants in a commando-like operation launched the surprise attack on the Forcados Loading Platform by out-flanking a detachment of the Nigerian Army and Navy permanently stationed at the terminal.
The action of the militants, THISDAY gathered, caught the men of the Nigerian Navy which has just opened a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Beniboye Island near Forcados napping as the militants methodically set the Platform from which crude oil is pumped into vessels that come to load on fire, but the quick intervention of the men of the Shell Fire Service stationed at Forcados put out the fire.
It was learnt that the militants invaded the terminal under the cover of darkness spread out in groups. While some proceeded to blow up the loading platform, another group went into the camp where expatriates staff of Wilbros were lodged and abducted nine of them.
It would be recalled that the deadline given by the militant Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) expired at midnight Friday.
The action of the militants signaled the first direct confrontation between the Nigeria Armed Forces and the militants in recent time.
In attendance at the security council meeting convened by President Obasanjo were service chiefs and chief executives of oil companies operating in the Niger Delta.
Though yesterdayï¿½s development in the Niger Delta dominated deliberation at the parley the outcome of the meeting was not immediately clear last night.
Last month, MEND kidnapped four oil workers from a Tidewater Incorporation supply boat near the EA offshore field run by the Shell venture and held them for 19 days. MEND had among other things demanded the immediate release of the president of Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo Asari, who is facing a treason trial and former governor of Bayelsa State, DSP Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who is standing trial for alleged corruption.
But the four hostages were released unharmed.
Meanwhile, former Chief of Army Staff, General David Ejoor has justified the action of the youths of the Niger Delta.
Ejoor who spoke to newsmen at the Warri residence of the Ijaw National Leader, Chief Edwin Clark, said the action of the youth was the outcome of the refusal of the Federal Government to listen to the leadership of the people on how to solve the problem in the region.
Ejoor, who called the region a colony of Nigeria, said the only solution to the problem is for the Federal Government not only to dialogue with the people but increase the derivation and also, ensure that the people from whose land the wealth of the nation is gotten have a fair share of the resources.
Speaking with THISDAY last night, Comrade Joseph Evah, the Coordinator of Ijaw Monitoring Group, said the group was very sad that the new hostility caused by the Federal Government had brought the reprisal attack.