Adelani Adepegba and Peter Dada
Some vandals allegedly responsible for attacks on communities in Lagos and Ogun states are escaping in large numbers to riverine communities in the Ilaje and Ese-Odo local government areas of Ondo State.
Investigations on Monday showed that the insurgents, who escaped the intensified aerial bombardment by the Nigerian Air Force of their camps at Arepo, Ogun, and Ikorodu, Lagos, had been sighted in Ore, Okitipupa and the riverine communities of Ondo State.
A top security source told one of our correspondents that security reports showed that some of the militants had sneaked into the Ondo reverine communities.
He said, ‘‘Arepo can no longer contain them. Some of them have run to Ondo to hide in the riverine areas.’’
It was further gathered that some of them were still trapped in Arepo and other communities in Lagos and were making frantic moves to flee.
A source in Ese-Odo said since the military started the bombardment of the militants’ camps on Friday, many of them had fled and regrouped in Ondo State.
The source said, “We have sighted them in some communities here. It seems Arepo is too hot for them.”
A resident of Ajagba in the Irele Local Government Area of the state, who identified himself simply as Francis, said there were strange faces in the local government, adding that it was difficult to identify whether they were fleeing militants or not.’’
He said, “Many people from Niger Delta states are living with us. Some of them do have visitors staying with them, so there is no way we can know if the new faces are the fleeing militants or not. “
Another resident of the state, Musa, who lives in Ore, Odigbo Local Government Area, said the high population made it possible for the militants to run to the commercial town and hide there.
“Ore is a commercial town with people from various tribes here. It is possible for strange people to come and hide here,’’ he said.
But the Director of Public Relations and Information of the Nigerian Air Force, Group Capt. Ayodele Famuyiwa, told one of our correspondents on the telephone on Monday that the vandals were seen together on Sunday, probably to perfect a plan to run.
He said the cameras on NAF’s platforms that were used for night operations picked some of the insurgents having meetings.
He said the ongoing aerial operation against the vandals would continue until they were flushed out of the Ogun and Lagos areas completely.
The fighter aircrafts of NAF had destroyed the major camps of the vandals at Arepo, known as Fatola and Abuja, and two others during four days of sustained aerial offensive in the area.
He said, “They are almost out of Arepo, an area where they had consolidated their position. Maybe, it is so strategic to them because even in the night, they tried to come back; when we did night flying, the cameras still picked them.
“We see them coming together as if they wanted to hold meetings, maybe to run away during the day.
“Some of them tried to run into the mangrove. You know that place is very thick and that is why our operation is going to continue until we flush them out completely.”
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, said it had arrested additional 21 fleeing militants in the creeks of Arepo, Fatola and other parts of Lagos, bringing the total number of arrests to 40.
The agency stated that the ongoing operation against pipeline vandals would not stop until all the miscreants were arrested.
The NSCDC Public Relations Officer, Emma Okeh, told one of our correspondents on the telephone on Monday that the militants were being detained at centres run by the military and the Department of State Services.
Okeh said, “Apart from the 19 suspects that were arrested since Thursday when the operation against the militants started, we have apprehended 21 others, bringing the total number to 40.”
The spokesman said the suspects would eventually be arraigned in court, adding that it would be done after all the militants in the operational area might have been arrested.
The Ondo State Police Command told one of our correspondents that policemen were on the ground to prevent militants from “doing anything” in the state.
The Public Relations Officer of the state police command, Mr. Femi Joseph, said although there was no report about fleeing militants regrouping in Ondo, the police were not leaving anything to chance.
The PPRO said, “I don’t think the information that the fleeing militants are in this state is true, and if they are here, there is no way they can regroup to carry out any activity because our men are on the ground everywhere.
“We are not taking the security of the state for granted, but I don’t think any militant is here.
“We call on our people not to hesitate to inform the police whenever they notice any strange face or witness activities of some strange people in their communities so that we can move in to deal with such people.”
The Ondo State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Kayode Akinmade, said the state government was not aware of any militant’s visit to the state.
He said the security agencies in the state were, however, up to the task to curb any criminal activity in any part of the state, adding that the state government was committed to the protection of lives and property of the residents.