Nigerian Military demobilizes 1,423 illegal refining sites, arrests 567 suspects – DHQ

By Chimezie Godfrey

The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) Abuja, says the Joint Task Force South – South Operation Delta Safe (OPDS) demobilised about 1,423 illegal oil refining sites and arrested 567 suspected criminals in 2021.

Director, Defence Media Operations Brig-Gen Benard Onyeuko who disclosed this in a statement also noted that the JTF SS OPDS achieved this great feat through both kinetic and non-kinetic operations within its large JOA spanning the entire Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers States. Others are the southern parts of Ondo, Edo, Anambra, Imo, Abia, Akwa Ibom and Cross River States.

He revealed that the OPDS which recently received a boost from the Federal Government through the office of the Chief of Defence Staff is poised to further enhance its achievements recorded in 2021.

According to him, the OPDS has made tremendous efforts to actualise its mandate within the period under review. The JTF has conducted several operations to ensure safe and peaceful operation of the O&G Industry as well as security of people in the area. Some of these activities include protection of Oil and Gas Facilities, Anti-Crude Oil Theft Operations and Clearance of Militants’/Pirates’ Camps as well as non-kinetic conflicts resolution.

These achievements, he said, include the demobiliation of several illegal oil refining sites and arrest of suspected criminals, among others within the South-South zone and beyond.

He said,”The JF conducts static deployments, escort duties and patrols around major oil and gas facilities within the JOA. These deployments and patrols have drastically reduced third party infractions on such facilities. As part of efforts to sustain the drive towards protecting oil facilities, the JTF SS OPDS partners with key oil industry players to save the crude oil pipelines from activities of criminals.

“The partnership has so far yielded successes in the areas of curbing pipeline vandalism. It is therefore, desirable that operational capability of the Force be continuously enhanced so as to sustain a stable security environment in the Niger Delta in general and the oil and gas infrastructure in particular.

“Anti-Crude Oil Theft Operations.  The anti-Crude Oil Theft (COT) efforts of the JF during the period in consideration has led to the demobilization of about 1,423 illegal oil refining sites (each of which contains many camps), over 4,929 storage facilities and 536 large wooden boats, popularly called ‘Cotonou boats’ among others.

“Also, 13 ships laden with crude oil cargo, 9 barges, 137 trucks and other types of vehicles conveying illegally refined products were arrested. Additionally, about 40 million litres of crude oil and 67 million litres of illegally refined products mostly AGO were recovered from the criminals.

“In the process of conducting these operations, 567 suspects were arrested in connection with various crimes. The suspects and exhibits have all been handed over to the appropriate prosecuting agencies for prosecution. While some of the arrested suspects have been convicted, others are still undergoing trials in various courts of law. Nonetheless, the JTF will sustain its anti-COT efforts until the crime is totally eliminated or reduced to the barest minimum.

“Clearance of Militants’/Pirates’ Camps.    During the period in focus, the JF conducted several clearance operations. The objectives of the operations were to get rid of militants and pirates/sea robbers taking refuge in the JOA. 

“In all, about 51 such camps were completely destroyed while 153 assorted weapons as well as large number of various calibre of ammunitions were recovered from the criminals. While the NN is tackling the piracy issues at the high seas, the JTF is appropriately handling the backwaters.  

“At present, due to the sustained clearance operations on sea robbers/pirates and other criminals’ camps within the JOA, the number of sea robbery and pirate attacks in Nigerian waters as well as the Gulf of Guinea respectively, have drastically reduced.

“For instance, in 2021, there were 28 reported cases of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea which forms part of Nigeria’s waters while within the same period, only 4 attacks were recorded in Nigerian Waters. Nonetheless, the JTF SS OPDS would maintain the tempo of clearance operations on pirate camps in order to sustain the current gains.”

On non-kinetic conflict containment and resolution efforts of the joint task force, he said in support of the protection of O&G infrastructure in the JOA, the JTF SS OPDS has continued to effectively utilize the non-kinetic conflicts containment and resolution mechanism.

According to him, these include using the appropriate legal and judicial instruments, Civil Military Cooperation CIMIC mediations efforts to resolve mostly Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) related disputes between host communities and O&G companies as well as involving media campaigns by way of radio jingles to sensitize members of the public on the ills of illegal oil bunkering and refining activities.

He equally pointed out that one of the most effective non-kinetic approach to conflict containment and resolution effort is the observance of human rights and resolution of conflicts through the judicial processes.

“It is important to note that the JF has always adhered to court summons, injunctions and other judicial processes in the resolution of conflicts.

“The OPDS Legal Unit has successfully defended various cases in court during the period under review while others were amicably resolved out of court.

“This approach has tremendously contributed to the peace that is being observed generally in the region today. We hope to reinforce and sustain this effort having realised its effectiveness,” he said.

Brig-Gen Onyeuko disclosed that within the year 2021, the JTF SS OPDS has amicably resolved about 54 Corporate Social Responsibility-related heated disputes involving oil companies such as; SEEPCO, SPDC, AITEO, NECONDE and NAOC among others, with their host communities.

According to him, the employment of non-kinetic instruments has contributed immensely to averting breaches against Oil and Gas infrastructure by host communities which has thus, significantly contributed to providing a conducive environment for O&G businesses to thrive.

He added that due to the level of trust and confidence that both the O&G companies and the host communities have reposed on the OPDS, the JF has minimal cases of human rights abuses which could mostly arise from confrontations with troops by aggrieved parties.

Brig-Gen Onyeuko expressed appreciation for the support granted to the JTF by the CDS, and the Service Chiefs that has immensely contributed to their achievements in 2021.

“While counting the JTF remarkable achievements in 2021, I will not forget to acknowledge the tremendous support and encouragements always received from the CDS, Gen LEO Irabor, the service chiefs as well as other heads of security agencies that contribute personnel for the operations of the JTF.

“We sincerely thank them all. I wish to also thank every stake holder, the general public as well as members of the press, for being there for us as we try to protect the interest of our dear country Nigeria.

“Similarly, may I appreciate the efforts of the gallant troops as well as all other security operatives who have continuously shown commitments in their assigned responsibilities towards our journey to nation building.

“I urge them to redouble their efforts in order to enter the new year 2022 with high morale, zeal and renewed vigour to accomplish the tasks before us,” he said.

He warned all those perpetrating illegalities by way of crude oil theft, illegal oil refining and pipeline vandalism within “our JOA and their collaborators, to have a rethink over their actions which constitute economic set back for our country and health hazards to all of us.

“The OPDS has emplaced measures in conjunction with other relevant stakeholders and agencies  to deal with such criminals more decisively than ever.

“In this regard, all commanders under the JTF SS OPDS have already been directed to go after and effect arrests on all persons involved in the aforementioned crimes.

“Accordingly, members of the public are please enjoined to patriotically oblige the JTF information on such bad eggs. Meanwhile, all law abiding persons are encouraged to go about their lawful businesses with assurances of protection from the JTF.”

The Joint Task Force (JTF) Op DELTA SAFE was activated on 24 June 2016 to replace the defunct Operation PULO SHIELD (OPPS) to stem security challenges that threaten the Niger Delta as well as the Oil and Gas industry, which is the main economic pillar of the nation. The restructuring of the Joint Task Force was geared towards the realisation of its mandate, which is ‘To protect oil and gas infrastructure and deter militancy, sea robbery, crude oil theft and other forms of criminality within the JOA that could impact negatively on economic activities in the Niger Delta’. In a similar vein, the JTF OPDS was renamed in June 2021 to JTF SS OPDS while retaining the same mandate.

The broad mandate given to the OPDS is as a result of the noted nexus in sundry crimes in the Niger Delta, as most crimes have direct bearing on the wellbeing of the Oil and Gas Industry (OGI) as well as the people. Accordingly, the JTF maintains synergy with the industry operators in the attainment of its mandate, and this has led to appreciable successes in providing a conducive environment for the operations of the OGI. During the year 2021, the Joint Force has recorded some remarkable successes. This press briefing will therefore, cover operational activities of the Joint Task SS OPDS from Jan – Dec 21, within the Joint Operations Area, with particular focus on the major operational activities and achievements as well as non-kinetic conflict containment efforts of the Joint Force.

The terrain of the JOA is swampy, water-logged and crisscrossed by network of rivers and creeks. Due to the nature of the terrain and the need to reduce fatigue on troops, operations are mostly intelligence-driven. To effectively tackle the security challenges in the area, the OPDS is made into a multi-agency organisation comprising elements drawn from 12 different security agencies which are; NA, NN, NAF, DIA, NPF, DSS and NSCDC. Others are NCS, NIS, NCoS, NDLEA and EFCC.

The JTF leverages capabilities as well as information generated and shared by the aforementioned agencies in conducting operations aimed at attaining the JF’s mandate. OPDS has conducted wide range of operational activities within the period under review and has achieved successes.