Unbridled instinct for quick money-making of most Nigerians, no doubt, remains one of the greatest threats to efforts aimed at stopping the upsurge in illegal bunkering of petroleum products across the Niger Delta region.
In the recent past, allegations have been levelled against some military men attached to the Joint Task Force (JTF), under Operation Restore Hope, for aiding and abating illegal oil bunkering in the region. Confirmed reports say the illegal deal is currently thriving successfully under the nose of some security personnel along the waterways and waterfronts.
Only recently, Wikileaks, said to be an oil servicing firm in the Niger Delta, openly accused the JTF men for being neck-deep in the nefarious act. Without mincing words, the firm alleged that some military men (JTF) are deeply involved in stealing crude oil at the waterfronts and the waterways in order to make quick money to the detriment of the nation.
Expectedly, JTF spokesman, Lt. Col. Timothy Antigah denied the allegation, saying the military men are rather committed to ending the nefarious act of illegal oil bunkering across the Niger Delta. To buttress JTF claims, he said about 50 suspects involved in illegal oil bunkering were arrested between January and this month in the region.
What’s more, the Commander in charge of 82 Battalion, Lt Col. Greg Omorogbe also claimed that over 50 illegal refineries have been destroyed in the Bodo (Ogoni) and Andoni axis where a vast area of the mangrove has been razed down by fire, caused by oil spill. The military, he said, had been having a running battle with the “criminal gang” involved in the oil theft.
Also, the JTF spokesman alleged that foreigners were colluding with criminals in the Niger Delta region to perpetrate illegal oil theft, but assured that the task force was determined to stop the illegal deal.
But the claim of the JTF spokesman that some of his men were not involved in the illegal act, is being taken with a pinch of salt by the public. Why? Not too long ago, the JTF authorities had cause to arrest two soldiers and three civilians for alleged involvement in illegal bunkering activities in an Ogoni community in Rivers State.
Sadly, the two ill-fated soldiers, sources said, were among the security personnel drafted by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) to the area to check the activities of illegal bunkerers. As it were, some JTF men who arrived the scene of crime, following a tip off, immediately apprehended the two soldiers (illegal bunkerers), got them beaten up and moved them to Port Harcourt along with their civilian collaborators.
The question now is: why would soldiers drafted to the area to stop illegal bunkering activities, remove their uniforms and got involved in the illegal deal? Perhaps, they want to have a share of the national cake right there before they are retired from active service.
Worse still, members of the Civil Defence Crops, sometime ago, also arrested some die-hard illegal bunkerers at the Abuloma waterfronts, with scores of drums and jerrycans, loaded with petroleum products. The deal, reports say, is still persisting in the area, with the consent of some topshots in the society. Yet, the JTF is parading the area and other parts of Niger Delta.
In Rivers State, to be specific, illegal oil bunkering was believed by many to have eased off, following the persistent combing of pipelines, especially along the waterways by security operatives. But from all indications, illegal bunkering of petroleum products has assumed a frenetic and feverish pitch in the recent past, within the coastal towns.
More worrisome is the fact that JTF men (soldiers) had been neck-deep in the illegal business in the recent past, according to reports, with containers of crude oil, leaving the coastal towns to designated spots. Sadly enough, the nefarious trade has to a great extent, exposed the coastal towns to serious danger.
Another mind-boggling question on this touchy issue is: where are members of the military taskforce (soldiers and navalmen) mandated to call the bluff of the die-hard illegal bunkerers? Why is this illegal business still thriving with ease along the coastal towns?
Again, can it be true that some top security operatives benefit in some way from the illegal bunkering business? This is unfortunate, to say the least. Perhaps, a properly constituted panel of inquiry should be set up by the authorities concerned to unravel the mystery surrounding the ease with which illegal bunkerers are carrying out their nefarious deals.
In the alternative, a new task force should be reconstituted as a matter of urgency, to police the pipelines, along the waterfronts and in the hinterland. Yes. The authorities must do something and urgently too, in order to nip in the bud, the antics of illegal bunkerers, especially, the soldiers conniving with die-hard oil bunkerers.
One can recall sadly that a young man, not too long ago, was said to have been choked to death somewhere at Alesa-Eleme, while scooping petrol with others from a burst petroleum pipe, vandalised by illegal oil bunkerers. Regrettably, women and children also had a field day from the damaged pipeline in spite of the dangers they were exposed to-the possibility of a fire outbreak as had been recorded in some other parts of the country, in the past years.
What was worrisome about this particular incident was that the petrol was reportedly being scooped from the burst pipe, under the nose of armed security personnel. Yet, nobody was apprehended. This is sad, to say the least.
It is instructive to state that authorities of the JTF, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the oil firms cannot fold their arms and watch illegal bunkerers, and some misguided security operatives, hold the nation to ransom. Indeed, something needs to be done now to protect the nation’s economy.
Yes, the country depends largely on petroleum products to keep its economy afloat. Therefore, the JTF, being the body saddled with the responsibility of curbing the excesses of illegal bunkerers at the waterfronts and waterways, must monitor (on regular basis), the activities of some of its men in order not to drag its name in the mud.
Agreed, the incident of oil theft is not new in the Niger Delta region. But the authorities of JTF and other authorities concerned must be alive to their responsibilities, so that the region would in the near future be rid of the nefarious act.