THE Nigerian Army said on Tuesday that talks with the militant group, Niger Delta Avengers, which has launched unrelenting attacks on oil installations and weaken crude production in the Niger Delta, could not be an option now.

The Army, justifying its ongoing operations in Gbaramatu, Delta State, said the use of force was for now the only available option until the leaders of the militant group were apprehended.

Representing the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.Gen. Tukur Buratai, Brig.Gen. J. Hamakim, said this at the ‘State of the Nation Conference’, organised by the Nigerian Bar Association in Abuja on Tuesday.

Various heads of anti-corruption and security agencies, including the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase; Controller General of Prisons, Ahmed Ja’afaru; and Director-General of the Department of State Services, Lawal Daura, were represented by officers of their agencies at the event.

The NBA President, Mr. Augustine Alegeh; Chief Judge of Kogi State, Nasiru Ajanah; Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Anti-Corruption, Mr. Babajide Akinloye; two contenders for the office of the NBA presidency, Messrs Abubakar Mahmud and Joe Kyari-Gadzama, among many other Senior Advocates of Nigeria, were in attendance.

A member of the House of Representatives, Linda Ikpeazu, represented the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, as the chairman of the event.

During the conference on Tuesday, the Army was accused of failing to explore dialogue with the Niger Delta militants but resorting to the use of force, which the people said could lead to war in the region.

The Army was also accused, during the event, of attacking members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, who were allegedly demonstrating peacefully in Onitsha, Anambra State, on Monday.

But Hamakim, in his response, said there was no sign that the Niger Delta Avengers’ members were ready for talks.

He said, “I quite agree that dialogue is very important. But where it is not too obvious that the adversary is ready to come out and talk, you can also force such a person.

“I think that is what the Nigerian Army is trying to do. Yes, we don’t know the group’s leader, for now; that is the only option, possibly we have to bring the people out to know who you can talk with.”

He said the activities of the group had cut the nation’s oil production to 1.1 million out of 2.2 million barrels per day.

He debunked the allegation that soldiers who were involved in the operations in Gbaramatu were killing innocent residents and raping women.

“We have done our investigation and nothing like that is happening,” he said.

He added that the demonstrations by IPOB that led to a clash between the protesters and security forces and left two policemen and 30 others dead in Onitsha, Anambra State on Monday, were not peaceful.

Hamakim stated, “Remember that lives were lost; policemen were killed; some were thrown overboard and the military has rules of engagement.

“The rule of engagement is that if you feel threatened, you have the mandate to respond. What we can say is that that was not at all a demonstration that you can say was peaceful.”

—- Okorochukwu Ikechukwu ( Correspondent)