More military equipment have been moved to the Niger Delta, where the army says it is flushing out criminals.
The weapons include: Main Battle Tank, two Mine-Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles and three Scorpion Tanks from the Headquarters of Nigerian Armour Corps.
Heavy military hardware and battle-ready personnel have been seen in the creeks and on streets of Niger Delta states.
It is all in a bid to strengthen the ongoing Operation Crocodile Smile, the army said yesterday.
It was gathered that the hardware, including amphibious vehicles, boats and Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) moved from Benin City, through Warri to other towns at the weekend.
Troops have seized several suspects in a bid to rid the Niger Delta of criminals.
Besides, two illegal refineries have been smashed.
The army says it is flushing militants and criminals out of the creeks as its exercise, Operation Crocodile Smile, enters the third day.
According to the Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col. Sani Usman, 4 Brigade troops have raided hideouts of suspected criminal in Ajaosolo, Okogho, Opumani and Obodo.
The Army spokesperson said following intelligence reports, the refineries were destroyed by the troops traversing Ayakoromo and Esaba water ways in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State.
Troops also intercepted suspected illegal oil bunkerer with 1 “Cotonou Boat” laden with crude oil, 3 X 40 Horse power Yamaha Speedboats and 5 X 200 Litres of illegally refined diesel oil.
In a similar exercise near Bomadi town and Pendo and Tuomu in Bururtu Local Government Area of Delta State, two suspects, Mr. Tokolo Sawyer and Miss Showman Ebiere, were arrested at “Loveth Plaze”.
Mr Kingsley Ebidimo and seven others with unidentified mission were also arrested at Pendo, allegedly carrying a substance believed to be Marijuana. Other items allegedly found on them include one axe, two cutting saw and a long iron bender.
As part of the training, the troops have also been patroling waterways in the creeks and have recovered two “Cotonou Boats” and a 75 Horse Power Speedboat, 30 X 200 Litres plastic drums containing liquid suspected to be illegally refined crude oil in the creeks at Ovwahwa in Ughelli South Local Government Area. Three suspects – Messrs College Owahwa, Joseph Katte and Olisa Patrick – found around the vicinity have been arrested. They are being questioned.
In addition to the training, troops are carrying out free medical outreaches at central area Sapele and near Olu of Warri, palace. The exercise continues.
Indigenes of Kokodiagbene community in Gbaramatu kingdom of Warri South-West Council Area of Delta State have hailed the heavy presence of troops in the riverside communities. But, they advise the troops to be hummane in carrying out their assignment.
A statement signed by the Chairman of the community, Comrade Sheriff Mulade, said the military patrol boats were searching for militants, oil thieves and other criminals.
According to the statement, the deployment of the military personnel in the Niger Delta is a welcome development, which will help to protect oil facilities and creeks, as well as reduce waterway robberies.
Mulade, however, appealed to the troops to be professional and diplomatic as they go about their duties.
“It will curb and prevent sea piracy attacking traders, reduce crimes and eradicate illegal bunkering activities in the creeks of the Niger Delta, but we want to strongly advise the military authority to apply professionalism and diplomacy”, he said.
Mulade noted that the deployment of more troops raised tension among the residents of riverine communities, who now live in fear, even as some are relocating to nearby communities. He said there had been rumours of possible military invasion of host communities to flow stations and other oil installations, especially in Gbaramatu kingdom .