The Arogbo Ijaw National Front has accused the Nigerian Army of exacerbating inter-ethnic tensions and other forms of violence in the riverine parts of Ondo State by launching an ill-advised manhunt for the founder of a vigilante group that had secured peace and order in the area.
In a statement, the group declared that the current tension in the area arose from military operations that had forced members of a local anti-crime group, the Gallery Security Services, to abandon their duty posts. One source said the soldiers had initiated an unwarranted search for Bibopre Ajube, who founded a vigilante group, saying that the military officials had falsely accused the vigilante members of carrying out an attack on an oil pipeline.
Mr. Ajube, founder of Gallery Services who also once served as a top official of the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), told our correspondent his life was in danger from Nigerian troops frantically searching for him in the area.
Ebielatei Lubi, chairman of the Ese Odo local government area, stated that the presence and activities of Nigerian troops was exacerbating “fear, insecurity and apprehension” in parts of the local government area.
James Akubirisei, president of the Arogbo Ijaw National Front, signed a statement alleging that soldiers had scared away local groups that had been ensuring the reign of law and order in the area. Mr. Akubirisei’s group also accused the troops of abducting one Ebi Molos, adding that the victim’s whereabouts remained unknown.
According to the statement, the military’s “continued search for the founder of Gallery Security Services is already heating up the security in the area because the man has contributed to the peace of the riverine [more] than any other individual.” The group stated that the manhunt for Mr. Ajube was ill advised and of concern to members of the community.
The group urged the military to call off the manhunt which had driven members of Gallery Services away from their posts, adding that the vigilante group’s absence was likely to trigger inter-ethnic hostilities and even armed robberies.
The statement described Mr. Ajube as “a man who has committed his resources and time to curb criminality even beyond Ondo State,” adding, “the search for him over very imaginary reasons is curious and suspicious. We are compelled to say that this development is orchestrated by selfish politicians who are bent on getting Chief Ajube out of the way in view of the forthcoming governorship election in the state.”
Local government council chairman, Mr. Lubi, described the presence of the troops in his area as needless, adding that their presence was capable of overheating the area. Declaring that the soldiers’ manhunt was based on misleading intelligence, the local government chair asserted that nobody in his area was involved in the bombing of an oil pipeline in the Delta.
Speaking to our correspondent, Mr. Ajube described himself as a victim of people determined to punish him for his great efforts to ensure peace, law and order in the area.
According to him, he and his group had always cooperated with the Federal Government to arrest pipeline vandalism and illegal bunkering in the coastal areas. He said it was ironic that soldiers had mounted a manhunt for him even as pipeline vandals and their sponsors were also targeting him.
He said he had not only lost money but also the lives of some young men who teamed up with him to rid the area of criminals.
He said it was sad that the government had gone out of its way to characterize him as an enemy despite the fact that he had made sacrifices to safeguard the country’s interests after embracing the Federal Government’s amnesty program.