Palpable fear and widespread tension have gripped the Niger Delta communities preparatory to the launch of a major military onslaught on militants codenamed ‘Operation Crocodile Smile’.
On Saturday, special military drills to commence the operation are said to have reached the peak and the development is creating panic in the region.
The operation, it was learnt, was designed by the military to equip the amphibious and internal security operations in the riverine areas against the activities of Niger Delta militants.
It was also learnt that the exercise resulted in massive deployment of troops in the creeks of the region through the Sapele waterways in Delta State.
Community residents said they observed many military gunboats, battle-ready soldiers and other maritime military hardwares moving into the creeks.
The President of the Ijaw Youth Council Worldwide, Mr. Udengs Eradiri, has demanded suspension of the military operation in the spirit of the other ongoing dialogue to resolve the crisis in the region.
Eradiri, who advised the Federal Government to call off the military operations, said he had been inundated with complaints of people scampering for safety and fleeing into the forest on sighting the troops.
He said such operations amounted to insincerity on the part of the government to be demanding dialogue and at the same time conducting an exercise to launch a major military offensive in the region.
Eradiri insisted that any form of military action in the region could jeopardise the efforts of the Niger Delta leaders spearheaded by Chief Edwin Clark to resolve the crisis.
The IYC President said, “The Edwin Clark Committee has brought all Niger Delta leaders together. The Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta and the Niger Delta Avengers support them. The other day, the Minister for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, met with them again.
“The unfortunate fact is whether government is sincere in this whole business. How can the military within the period announce that they are carrying out an exercise in the Niger Delta?
“They should have suspended whatever exercise they wanted to carry out. There is a heavy presence of military, mobilising into the Niger Delta through Sapele. That exercise should have been suspended at this period.
Eradiri noted that the government still held the knife and the yam in resolving the crisis in the region, advising President Muhammadu Buhari to demonstrate sincerity of purpose in the resolution of the problems.
He alleged, “President Buhari has not shown sincerity. He must withdraw the military from the Niger Delta if he wants genuine discussions. We are skeptical seeing many soldiers, mobilising and jumping here and there.
“We don’t have a Sambisa forest where militants are stationed and waiting for the government like in the North. There is nothing like that. This battle is more of an intelligence-civil strategy instead of an invasion that is old-fashioned. It will clearly jeopardise the dialogue.”