The Nigerian military has defended its decision to dislodge vandals and militants operating at Arepo with air strikes, saying it was due to the inaccessibility of the swampy hideouts of the criminals.
It said the joint operation involving the Army, Police, State Security Service (SSS) and Civil Defence, deployed air strikes in order to be able to get at the criminals and destroy their base of operations.
The Flag Officer Commanding Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Ferguson Bobai, who addressed the media yesterday, said the obnoxious development of kidnapping, robbery attacks and vandalism, which has overtime pervaded the area, prompted military action.
The FOC, however, said the force was yet to put a figure to the number of casualties recorded in its first strike action as it was yet to wholly gain access to the creeks.
He said: “We have commenced an ongoing operation around Arepo.
“We are all very familiar with the ugly situation that have been developing around Arepo, ranging from pipeline vandalism to kidnapping, armed robbery, and so on.
“Just last month, we got directive from the Chief of Defence Staff that we should carry out an operation to the general area of Arepo, with a view to dismantling vandals’ shanties scattered around Arepo, Ibafo, Ishawo.
“Initially, we were directed not to use air power, but when we carried out assessment of the operation area, a lot of them had moved from areas accessible by water and land to areas that are very swampy, into the mangroves of the area.
“We had to get back to the CDS that the best way we can take out these targets is by the use of air power, and the CDS granted us permission to do a general re-assessment and employ attack helicopters to take out those targets.
“We had to use air power because of the nature of the terrain”.
He pointed out that an assessment of the target area revealed that oil bunkering operation was ongoing on a large scale.
Rear Admiral Bobai vowed to bring to book the sponsors of the act and thwart the extant market they supply.
“Yesterday, we initiated the operation and we were able to knock off some targets, then a surveillance aircraft went up to do the after battle surveillance for us.
“We were able to interpret the video clip, and we could see that after the first attack, they came out from where they were hiding with guns.
“We could see one of their canoes which they mounted a GPMG on it. The interpretation is that all that is happening there is deliberate and well planned since they could arm themselves to that magnitude.
“It is our wish that at the end of this operation, we would find a means to go into the place to comb that general area.
“We anticipated that some of them will run away and the only two ways they could leave that place is either by land or water.
“The land component: the army, the police, Civil defence have identified some get-away routes.
“The get-away routes by water, the naval forces have blocked them. We have also employed the SSS.
“On the other hand, we have blocked escape routes towards Ogun State.
“The essence of having blockages on land is that when they are running out, we would be able to grab them, profile them, investigate them and trace their sponsors.
“Being in business means that they have a market. We want to identify that market. We are going to sustain this operation and see where it would take us”.
Mr. Bobai added that the two states involved, Lagos and Ogun, have been adequately informed of the operation, adding that residents had no cause to panic.
“We are in touch with Ogun and Lagos state governments because the general operation area lies between the states”, he said.