Ongoing combined military and police action against pipeline vandals in the creeks of Arepo, Ogun State and parts of Ikorodu in Lagos State is another demonstration of the Federal Government’s determination to crack down on criminals wherever they congregate.
In an offensive coded ‘Operation Awathe’, Arepo axis came under bombardment penultimate weekend, with casualties recorded. Air Force helicopters were deployed in the onslaught while the Navy, Army and Police boarded combat boats and combed the creeks.
The objective is to flush out the criminals terrorising riverine communities in Ikorodu and its environs from their hideouts through sustained aerial and amphibious assaults. The joint military action appears to be yielding results. There are reports that some of the criminals had fled the area to other riverine locations. Pockets of others are still hiding in the deep recesses of the creeks. Residents have continued to flee the affected communities for fear of further attacks.
The military response came a little late but it is welcome. Many innocent lives have been lost since the criminals became active in those areas. Several families were displaced with their property abandoned while their owners vowed never to return. Those who managed to secure theirs before the situation escalated hurriedly sold them off cheaply.
It needs to be reiterated that the government has the duty and responsibility to protect the people as enshrined in the constitution. The military authorities are, therefore, right to defend the people without waiting for them to resort to self help. The intervention also prevented the situation from assuming an ethnic coloration.
Parts of the affected communities are areas inhabited by riverine people who depend on the creeks for their survival. The right of such people to earn a living should be respected while fishing out the criminal elements among them. Care should be taken to avoid civilian casualties and collateral damage. Conscious efforts should be made to avoid a repeat of the Gbaramatu community incident in Delta State where local people were harassed by soldiers during the hunt for Niger Delta Avengers.
We commend the military efforts so far but urge them to exercise restraint in enforcing their rules of engagement to forestall avoidable casualties. Local residents should partner in the effort by providing intelligence reports on suspicious characters and identified criminals operating in their areas. The identities of such people should not be shielded.
We commend Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and the Lagos State Government for their efforts to ensure the return of calm to the troubled areas, and hope the Federal Government will deploy the same vigour and fire power to curtail the excesses of rampaging herdsmen and armed bandits across the country.