Several riverine communities, including Oporoza and Ogulagha in Delta State, and Ezetu, Aggeh and others in Bayelsa State, have been struck by food and transportation crises following the ongoing Operation Crocodile Smile of the military in the region.
Vanguard gathered that transporters are afraid to ply the waterways because of alleged harassment by soldiers, making it impossible for traders to take food items to riverine villages.
Fishermen also find it difficult to carry out their occupation for the same reason.
Meanwhile, the sector One of Operation Delta Safe, the new Joint Task Force in Niger Delta, has announced several arrests and seizures barely one month after it commenced its fight against oil theft and sundry crimes in its area of operation.
However, Akperhe Olomu community, Ughelli South Local Government Area, Delta State, has accused authorities of new military task force, Operation Crocodile Smile of lying about Wednesday’s arrest of Mrs. Amrevweatefa Odada, a septuagenarian and three others still in custody at the 3 Battalion, Effurun Barracks.
Others arrested along with the septuagenarian in Akperhe at 3a.m., Wednesday were Vincent Ekeke, Henry Koko alongside Mrs. Rachael Abbah, who was earlier arrested in Ughelli, headquarters of Ughelli North council.
The army in a statement same day by Col. Sani Usman, Director Army Public Relations, Abuja, had however, indicated that a patrol team of its troops of 222 Battalion, 4 Brigade arrested the quartet at the Ughelli residence of Gabriel Ogbudje, an alleged suspected militant still at large.
At Akperhe yesterday, the community spokesman, Sunday Okoyoyo told Vanguard that, “We are very angry as a community. The army told half truth to give the arrested old woman and the three other bad names. Gabriel Ogbudje whom they are looking for resides in Ughelli, not Akperhe.”
However, reacting to the alleged harassment of the locals, Ijaw leader, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, told Vanguard in Warri, yesterday: “There is a humanitarian crisis in Gbaramatu as we speak. The Crocodile Smile soldiers have not moved directly into the communities, but they have taken over the waterways, scaring and harassing those going about their normal businesses.
“What that means is that our people are now confined in their homes. They cannot go out or travel on the waterways, which sustain their existence as riverine communities. The panic is aggravated by the report reaching them that army has taken over Warri township too.”
On his part, Secretary of Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Eric Omare, said: “The massive deployment of military men in the Niger Delta and the consequent harassment and intimidation of villagers in the riverine communities by military officers is taking a toll on riverine transportation.
“As a result of the denial of movement, harassment and intimidation, some transporters in the riverine areas have stopped plying those routes. The communities worst affected are Ezetu, Aggeh, Iduwini communities, all in Bayelsa State and Gbaramatu, Ogulagha, Burutu, Forcados, Ekeremor, Ijansa and surrounding communities in Delta State.
On his part, Public Relations Officer of Oporoza Youth Executive, Paul Kirifade, who spoke on phone, complained: “We are being harassed daily on allegation of being involved in illegal oil bunkering or being members of Niger Delta Avengers.”
No attack in Ogbe-Ijoh but we’re scared—Akemetubo
Chairman, Ogbe-Ijoh Governing Council, Alex Akemetubo, told Vanguard: “For now, we have not recorded any form of assault or intimidation on our people by the soldiers, but the people are scared with the presence of the military along the water ways.”