The Good Times Are Over For Oil Thieves In Rivers, Here’s Why...

The Good Times Are Over For Oil Thieves In Rivers, Here’s Why (PHOTOS)

By Eseme MacDonald | Associate Editor on September 11, 2015
Nyesom Wike Rivers State
Nyesom WIke

For a long time, they reigned. From creeks to creeks, they set up shops. Their tools were crude; their tactics crude too; but the money they made was not crude. They were sweet cash made from almost zero investment.

Welcome to the world of Rivers’ operators of illegal oil refineries whose presence was felt from Buguma to Okrika to Obio Akpor and many other parts of the state.

The good times are going away. Almost no week has passed in the last one month that they have not had bad times with the Army or the Navy. Soon, the Air Force may even go after them. The police are also not left out of the battle to kill the economic saboteurs called oil thieves and illegal bunkerers.

Suspected oil thieves.
Suspected oil thieves.

The country was shocked about three weeks ago when an illegal refinery was discovered not far from the Rivers State Government House. The Army made the shocking find. It is the biggest illegal bunkering site ever discovered anywhere in the country. It is near the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and two kilometres away from the Rivers state Government House, Port Harcourt.

The Commander of the 2 Brigade, Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, Brig.-Gen. Stevenson Olabanji, told reporters in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, that the discovery followed a tip-off. Thousands of litres of illegally refined diesel were discovered at the site.

Illegal refinery set ablaze in Rivers State
Illegal refinery set ablaze in Rivers State

Olabanji added that army personnel were immediately deplored in the site, located at Makoba Beach.

The Commander said: “About 16:40 hours on Monday, we got an information that some illegal bunkering activities were going on along Makoba Beach.

“On arrival, our personnel discovered illegal activities, which involved bunkering (of illegally refined petroleum products) and lifting of diesel to local boats.

“At the site, we found over 5,000 drums loaded with illegally refined diesel, four tanker trucks containing 132,000 litres of diesel combined and a badge with 165,000 litres of stolen diesel.

“This discovery is unprecedented, because since we started our operations 10 days ago, this is about the biggest that we have uncovered.”

Olabanji also stated that additional 150 drums loaded with about 3,150 litres of diesel were also discovered in 21 Cotonou boats in the area.

He noted that 13 suspects were arrested at the scene of the illegal activity.

The commander stressed that the illegal bunkering dump was yet to be set ablaze, in line with the Joint Task Force’s (JTF’s) mandate, in view of its closeness to residential buildings and the NPA.

Olabanji said: “Our mandate requires us to destroy the site in situ, but we cannot do this because it will degrade the environment and affect residents, as it is situated in the heart of Port Harcourt.

“Our plan is to move them to a safe location for destruction. Preliminary investigation has already begun to unravel the sponsors of the facility. The 13 suspects will be handed over to relevant authorities for further investigation and prosecution.”

The commander also warned against sabotage of oil and gas installations by oil thieves, while assuring that the JTF would not rest, until it rid the state of illegal bunkering activities.

He declared: “Let it be known that the army will not and will never tolerate illegal bunkering in our area of responsibility.”

Olabanji also called on the members of the public to provide the JTF with timely information which could lead to the arrest of oil thieves and pipeline vandals.

The Navy was to discover more a few days ago. This was barely two weeks after the personnel of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS), Pathfinder, Rumuolumeni, Port Harcourt destroyed many illegal bunkering and refining sites in Rivers State.

The naval personnel, who had been combing the creeks of Rivers State to prevent the activities of the illegal bunkerers and refiners, were offered N600,000, which was rejected, with four suspects subsequently arrested.

Commander of the NNS Pathfinder, Commodore Shuwa Mohammed, spoke with reporters in Port Harcourt, after taking them round on aerial and land surveillance of the sites of the newly-discovered artisanal refineries in Rivers.

He stressed that the arrested suspects would be handed over to the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), for further investigation and prosecution.

During the aerial surveillance, many artisanal/illegal refineries, hidden under the mangrove forest, were sighted, with the environment polluted.

There are over 33,000 creeks in the Niger Delta, of which the NNS Pathfinder is saddled with responsibility of monitoring activities in more than 1,000 of the creeks and waterways.

The commander said: “While earlier setting ablaze one of the illegal refineries in Rivers State, four out of the fleeing oil thieves came back and offered us a bribe of N600,000 to leave the refinery. They were immediately arrested.”

Mohammed also stated that the mop-up was aimed at ending the colossal damage done to the environment by activities of the oil thieves, who he said through their acts of sabotage, had been puncturing pipelines to obtain crude oil illegally.

The commander of NNS Pathfinder, who was represented by the Base Operation Officer, Commander Chidi Ejiofor, declared that there would be no hiding place for oil thieves and pipeline vandals in Rivers state.

Mohammed said: “The mop-up ordered by the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral Ibok-Ette Ibas, is part of a series of operations lined up to end incessant crude oil theft and pipeline vandalism in Rivers State.

“During the aerial surveillance, many new illegal refineries were sighted, which prompted troops’ mobilisation.

“In the course of our operations, an illegal refinery with 15 storage metal tanks, loaded with 145,000 litres of stolen crude oil, was set ablaze in Buguma, Asari-Toru LGA of Rivers State.”

The commander of NNS Pathfinder also stated that more than 50,000 litres of illegally-refined diesel, stored in ten cooking tanks, was also destroyed.

He noted that a metal badge and dump, with the capacity of storing thousands of litres of petroleum products, were also destroyed during the raid.

Mohammed maintained that more operators of the illegal refineries in Rivers state, who had been fleeing the sites of their illegal activities, upon sighting the naval personnel, would soon be apprehended and prosecuted, to serve as a deterrent to others.

He noted that in spite of the renewed efforts by the naval high command to stop oil theft, sensitisation was key, in order to end the illegal activity, rather than destruction alone.

The commander said: “It is difficult to maintain 24-hour presence in all the creeks and oil facilities, especially considering the shallowness of some of the creeks, making them near impossible to patrol.

“Sensitisation and government partnership with communities will greatly help put a stop to attacks on oil and gas installations, which not only affect everyone, but degrade the environment.”

Mohammed also assured that in spite of the challenges being faced by the naval personnel, the mop-up operation would continue, until all the newly-discovered illegal refineries were completely destroyed and their operators arrested and prosecuted.

Observers are of the view that if the security agencies can keep the heat on the oil thieves their days will be numbered, not just in Rivers but the entire Niger Delta.

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