Armed youths in Delta State yesterday blew up strategic pipelines in the Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State in what some residents feared to be a reaction to the Thursday court order for the arrest of ex-militant Government Ekpemupolo alias Tompolo by security operatives.
Blown up were several oil installations between Ikpokpo and Odidi flow stations, mostly in Gbaramatu kingdom, just hours after a Federal High Court in Lagos ordered security operatives to arrest Ekpemupolo in connection with an alleged N34billion fraud.
The development sparked fresh tension in Tompolo’s Gbaramatu sphere of influence.
But the ex-war lord denied involvement in the attack .
“I am not responsible for the attack and I condemn it as a dastardly act. I am aware that some persons might want to destroy oil installations and link it with me. That was why I said before time that I have nothing to do with it,” he said.
“I could not have gone ahead to carry out such action knowing that every finger would be pointed at me because of my case with the Federal Government.”
Tompolo, who spoke through Mr Paul Bebenimibo, his media aide, urged those who carried out the attacks to change their ways.
He said he was willing to help the Federal Government and relevant security operatives fish out the masterminds of the attacks and bring them to book.
Justice Ibrahim Buba issued a bench warrant for Tompolo’s arrest after he failed to report in court to face criminal charges filed against him by the Economic and Finacial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The explosions started shortly before midnight and raged till the early hours of yesterday.
Hundreds of residents of the riverside communities were fleeing their homes yesterday for fear that fresh hostilities might break out between militants and soldiers on account of the blowing up of the pipelines.
Odidi flow stations were said to be on fire at press time.
Residents of the riverside communities said smoke filled the air.
“A trunk line was blown up with suspected (IED) Improvised Explosive Device in the early hours of today and there are report of armed gangs patrolling the waterways,” a reliable security operative said.
It was gathered that the armed groups started mobilizing as early as 11am on Thursday and commenced the destruction of oil installations in the wee hours of Friday.
“Several explosions were also heard across the communities in Warri SW as bombs were going off, shots were being fired sporadically. We do not know if anybody was killed, but the shooting was much and it continued for several hours,” a source said.
It could not be independently ascertained if the incidents affected oil production activities of the oil companies operating in the area, including Chevron Nigeria Limited and NECONDE, among others.
Col Isa Ado of the Joint Media Campaign Centre of the Joint Task Force did not respond to telephone call and was yet to return the call at press time.
However, it was learnt that transportation to and from oil locations and riverside communities was disrupted.
A source said: “Boats conveying workers going on time-off could not leave Escravos this morning due to the insecurity in the waterways. There is tension and we are taking precautionary measures to safeguard our staff and contractors,” an oil company official said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Tompolo’s kinsmen are divided over the latest uprising in their kingdom.
Gbaramatu leaders, who mostly spoke on condition of anonymity ostensibly due to fear of possible backlash, expressed fears that the attack could trigger fresh mayhem on innocent members of the kingdom.
“EFCC invitation is not a death sentence, if you are invited to and clear your name. Nobody should drag the nation into another avoidable chaos,” one community leader said.
Chief Michael Johnny, an indigene of Okerenkoko, told our reporter in a telephone conversation that the Gbaramatu people have no grievance with the Federal Government.
On Friday’s bombing, Johnny said: “I am aware there is tension in the waterways but I don’t think my people are planning for war, so am not worried.”
Another source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, accused the All Progressive Party-led Federal Government of intimidation.
“We are solidly behind Tompolo because his case is our case. This is nothing but an attempt to cow him and the Ijaw man can never succumb to intimidation and blackmail. They want to force him to join the APC but he refused that’s why they are after him.”
Ekpemupolo who hails from Kurutie community in Gbaramatu had claimed on Thursday that some people who are aggrieved by the re-election of Governor Henry Seriake-Dickson of Bayelsa State last weekend were planning to bomb crude oil facilities and pipelines and other facilities in the Niger Delta and blame same on him
He asked such people “ not to resort to destruction of national assets, especially crude oil facilities and pipelines and attribute it to me because of my position on the election.”
Destroying crude oil facilities,he said, would not do the country any good and urged them “to support the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to succeed.”
Tompolo alleged that he was being persecuted for refusing to support the All Progressives Congress, APC, governorship candidate, in the Bayelsa election.