Coalition of youth leaders from the Niger Delta have alleged that under the gleeful eyes of Commander of Operation Delta Safe (OPDS), Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman and his men, influential oil barons and foreigner are siphoning the nation’s crude oil with “fake voucher from the NNPC.
Addressing a world press conference in Warri, Delta state on Friday evening, under the auspices of Niger Delta Ethnic Nationalities Youth Leaders Council, the leaders said the JTF has failed in its mandate to rid the region of illegal oil bunkering.
The Leaders who were drawn from various ethnic nationalities in the region including those Ijaw, Etsako, Yoruba, Ogoni, Efik, Yala, Benin, Owan and Qua, Anioma, Ibibio, , Esan, Oron, Isoko, Bekwarra, Edo, AfighIwaadEket and Urhobo, alleged that that under the watch of the JTF Commander, Niger Delta environment is being bastardized daily by illegal bunkerers who are purportedly being protected by soldiers.
According to them, the illicit trade started at the time of oil boom in the 70s, but the trend became worsen because security agencies who ought to have nipped it are now deeply involved with some other cabals in the business.
The group lamented that the Joint Military Task Force (JTF), code named: “Operation Delta Safe” created under the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration in 2003 to curb oil thieves among other sundry security issues in the Niger Delta, “now encourages illegal bunkering activities in the region”.
They said all the JTF does is to go about blaming its adverse effects on the pauperised oil bearing communities, whereas they are the ones “aiding and abetting the major culprits”.
“The economic sabotage being perpetrated by the JTF under the command of Rear Admiral Suleiman Apochi in the name of securing the nation’s crude oil facilities has informed the Youths Presidents of the various ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta to jointly address this (Friday) world press conference, a statement read during the briefing said.
“The said illegal bunkering activities are taking place in our terrains which have hitherto destroyed our biodiversity. Therefore, we are in a better position to tell the world who and who is actually involved in it, the statement added.
Signed by President-General of the body, Pereotubo Oweilaemi, Esq., who doubles as Ijaw Youth Council (Worldwide) President and Capt. Bassey Hensaw, Secretary-General of the body on behalf of other 18 Niger Delta Ethnic Nationalities Youth Presidents, the youth leaders alleged that the JTF was collaborating with some powerful forces and foreigners to steal crude from the nation’s oil asset.
“There are high level illegal bunkering activities in the region being carried out by some powerful forces in the Country in collaboration with foreigners”, they said.
The group hinted that oil tankers are coming to the region with “fake voucher from the NNPC to load crude oil with the gleeful eyes of the JTF.
“The lost in crude oil outputs daily to the illegal bunkering activities are as a result of these foreign invaders, the youth leaders alleged.
According to them, everyday the JTF has been accusing the local communities of oil theft but to our chagrin, it has not spoken about the high level illegal bunkering activities of these economic saboteurs in the high sea which the military is aware of.
“We make bold to say that the military Joint Task Force is part of the cabals that are sabotaging our economy”, they reiterated.
Continuing, the youths leaders queried, “if the security forces are not offering protection/escort services to those allegedly responsible for oil thefts then why movements of vessels with those stolen crude have not been detected?
They also asked, “Why is it that vessel movements of the oil thieves occurs unnoticed in the region despite heightened activities in large scale illegal bunkering in the midst of an increased security presence?
They mentioned some flash spots where these illegal activities are taking place in the Niger Delta saying, “in Rivers State, the coastal fringes at Bonny and Bille are being identified as illegal bunkering spots where the crude oil trunk lines are being punctured by these saboteurs to pilfer away the black gold.
“Also in Nembe in Bayelsa State and other coastal communities across the region are being flooded with the illegal bunkering activities with an identified trunk lines that have been pigeonholed by the oil thieves to siphon the oil.
“It is disheartening that foreigners can enter the nation’s coast without entry permit to carryout illegal activities yet the security agencies keep aloof to these day time robbery”.
IYC’s president, Oweilaemi who read the statement said that the purpose for which the Task Force was created has been defeated since it has failed to secure the nation’s oil facilities.
He said that the Federal Government has been wasting billions of naira on the security agencies to protect the oil facilities in the region but what the government gets in return is steady lost of crude oil outputs daily to saboteurs.
The leaders said it is unacceptable for the federal government to keep servicing the JTF with tax payers money in spite of the broad day robbery of the oil outputs, with no single high profile arrest of the illicit oil barons.
“It is risky for the nation and a waste of the taxpayers’ money for the government to keep the present security personnel in the region”.
They therefore demanded the immediate removal and probe of JTF and its Commander, alleging that currently, there is “federal Task force” that have been mediating with the bunkerers on behalf of the JTF.
“We demand that Rear Admiral Apochi should be removed from his vintage position having comprised his office. We have it on good authority that the security agencies have recruited some miscreants who called themselves as federal Task force to be mediating with these bunkerers on behalf of the JTF”.
Reacting to claims that they are being sponsored by an oil company to push for the removal of the Rear Admiral Suleiman from office, Oweilaemi denied the claim, saying that the issue came to it head because the JTF only scapegoat poor youths in the region who are also engaged in oil theft and leave out the influential merchants from Abuja and Lagos who, he claimed, sponsor the illegal activities.
They maintained that Nigeria is currently in grave danger to external invasion because JTF had been allegedly allowing foreigners access to the shores of Nigeria to transact this illegal business.
“There is need to overhaul the security architectures in the region especially now that elections are fast approaching.
“Niger Delta region is not secure from external invasion because illegal immigrants have been entering our coast to transact this illegal business with their Nigerian counterparts.
The youth leaders however demanded that the security of the oil facilities should be handed over to host communities in partnership with security agencies.
BigPen Online recalls that allegations against JTF became public last week after a coalition of Niger Delta Civil Society activists and the Niger Delta environmental protection group led by Tochukwu Ohazuruike, accused the JTF boss, Suleiman of being neck-deep in illegal activities especially in the oil sector.
The group which staged a mass protest in Abuja demanding the immediate removal of the naval Officer as the Commander of the Special Task Force (STF) in the Niger Delta had alleged that the military chief was aiding and abating oil bunkering, vandalism of oil facilities as well as stealing in the area.
All effort to get the spokesperson to the JTF command, Major Ibrahim Abdullahi, to comment on this report proved abortive but the JTF Commander, Admiral Apochi Suleiman while refuting the allegations levelled against him in a telephone interview last week had challenged those accusing him of wrongdoings to show proof.
According to him, he had already put his response in detail and was forwarding it to the appropriate authorities, saying he had no skeleton in his cupboard.
I’m not bothered about the allegations they have raised because I know the source. It is Aiteo, Benedict Peters.
“It’s you people that have been covering that man, Peters Benedict who is in Ghana. He’s a fugitive. He said the STF should guard his line, OML 29. He’s the man who’s sponsoring every illegal activity in Nigeria on behalf of some groups of people, he’s the one sponsoring any illegal gathering in Nigeria.
“He’s a fugitive. Recently, he wrote me a letter that he wanted men of the Nigerian Armed Forces to come and guide his line and I told him that ‘why do you want Armed Forces when we have task force on ground?’ I told him ‘you are covering up something and I’m going to expose what you are doing and he told me that I don’t know him, so if I like I should go.’
“That he’s telling me he needed Armed Forces to protect him and I’m telling him another thing.”
Meanwhile Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company had since in a rebuttal denied the claims that it sponsored the recent protest by youths calling for the sack of Commander of Operation Delta Safe (OPDS), Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman over unabated illegal bunkering activities in the Niger Delta region.
The Nigeria and Africa’s energy firm said Aiteo group and its Chief Executive, Benedict Peters was not the masterminds behind the serious allegations levied against the JTF boss by the people of the oil-rich Niger Delta region.
Aiteo said that any attempt by the embattled Admiral Suleiman to suggest Aiteo’s involvement in the activities of those who undertook the protest or indeed any other related activity is a distraction designed to fail.