A suspect named Samuel Michael, who was recently arrested and put in the custody of a task force fighting criminals operating along the waters in Nigeria, has revealed that his syndicate that specializes in trafficking arms and hijacking Nigeria-bound cargo hired a vessel to perpetrate their crime.
Michael, who is also referred to as Logistics Officer, among the crew on board MV Naomi Corlet, betrayed no emotion while dishing out the details of his syndicate's escapades.
Other suspected criminals in the Lagos coastline have been arrested by the operatives of the task force, just as a special operation by the Nigerian Navy is currently flushing criminals out of the nation's waters in the Niger Delta.
According to Michael, MV Naomi Corlet was hired in Cameroun for a period of six months to enable his gang to have enough time to maximize its use for their nefarious operation. He specifically named one Charles as the person in charge of facilitating the vessel.
He said Charles is well-connected and has influence among the top officials of the federal government including an unnamed member of the House of Representatives and a prominent lawyer.
Said Michael: "The vessel anchors at Calabar port from where we usually take off and move down to Badagry, Lagos State, where we have a depot of sorts. We offload our cache of arms at Badagry and return to the water for operation. It is through Badagry that arms enter Nigeria.
"There are other locations across the country where the arms are kept. What I am saying is that only about 20 per cent of the arms stay in Lagos while others are scattered in different locations across the country, especially the Niger-Delta."
Michael said he had participated in both hijacking and arms trafficking on four occasions with each operation fetching him what he referred to as "good money". He said he was on his way to yet another operation in Cotonou, Republic of Benin capital, when the long arms of the law caught up with him and other members of his gang.
He said that would not have been arrested had the vessel not developed a mechanical fault which forced it to a halt. He said he called someone at Apapa who could fix the problem and the person brought a power-generating set to the spot but got the shock of his life when he entered the vessel and saw traces of hard drugs.
Another source in the task force narrated: "The person became suspicious, given the fact that the gang members were at first reluctant in allowing him into the vessel. They eventually allowed him because they were in dire need of his service at that point in time.
"So, when the person saw the traces of cocaine inside the vessel, he kept quiet and subsequently stumbled on some live cartridges. Because of the fear that they might harm him and throw him into the sea, he did not show sign of shock.
"But he tricked them that the generator could not function until he returned to Apapa to bring a certain component. This was what helped him out of the place. By the time he got to Apapa, he contacted somebody who alerted us."
Michael disclosed that his gang was eagerly waiting for the engineer when, suddenly, through their monitor, they discovered that they had been surrounded by members of the task force. This development, he said, brought untold apprehension and forced them to throw some boxes of arms in the vessel into the sea.
Michael further said: "I was apprehended on October 13, 2012, in a vessel named Naomi Corlet which we wanted to use to hijack a vessel carrying AGO on the high sea. The person who chartered the vessel is one Mr. Charles.
"When we were apprehended by security personnel some ammunition and gallons of petrol were found on board the vessel. Apart from our sponsor, Charles and Ademola other known buyers of the stolen products are Ebere, IK and Abedo."
Why we moved into the creeks - Naval chief
The new chief of naval staff, Vice Admiral Dele J. Ezeoba, yesterday said the navy was in the creeks primarily to flush out criminal elements from the sector as mandated by President Goodluck Jonathan.
The president had, while swearing in the new service chiefs, ordered them, especially the chief of naval staff, to end all illegal activities in the sector including oil theft. Speaking exclusively to LEADERSHIP, Ezeoba said he was leading the invasion of the hideouts of the oil thieves to show the seriousness his leadership attaches to the presidential directive.
"The president and the commander-in-chief, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, has mandated us to put an end to oil theft, which is one of the greatest threats to our economy, and there is no going back. We are invading their hideouts in the Niger Delta region and whoever stands on our way will face the full wrath of the law. Next week has been declared a week against these unpatriotic elements amidst us and nothing is stopping us from carrying out the mandate," he said. "In pursuance of Mr. President's mandate to the Nigerian Navy (NN) to do all it can to stamp out the prevalence of illegal maritime activities, particularly crude oil theft, illegal oil bunkering and piracy in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, the Nigerian Navy will be conducting a major fleet evaluation. The exercise codenamed Exercise FARANTA, meaning 'hunting' in Hausa, from Sunday to Saturday this week in the Bight of Bonny. The aim of the exercise is to intensify the ongoing naval operations in the Niger Delta region with emphasis on Bonny Akasa-Escravos axis (an area notorious for crude oil theft) up to the extent of offshore oil platforms at Bings and Bogi.
"The exercise will enable the Nigerian Navy to assess its operational capability with a view to identifying gaps and taking necessary measures to fill such gaps for enhanced operational readiness. The synergy of this effort will ensure full mission accomplishment across the threat spectrum with specific emphasis to immediately end all criminal activities in the Niger Delta region. The scenario painted with the exercise is consistent with the contemporary maritime challenges in the country."
The ships and helicopters taking part in the exercise are NNS Thunder, NNS Kyanwa, NNS Nwamba, NNS Obula, NNS Bimtu, NNS Zaura, NNS Makurat, NNS Andoni, six gun boats, Augusta Helicopters 07, 08 and 09, two Nigerian Army section and one NAF maritime patrol aircraft.
The naval chief, who spoke through the spokesman of the navy, Commodore Kabiru Aliyu, called on all stakeholders in the marine sector to cooperate with the naval authorities. According to him, "those who have legitimate reasons to be on our waters have nothing to fear because we are not after them, but those who steal our oil, those who are pirates and other economic saboteurs of our country are in trouble".
He disclosed that two other military services, the Army and Air Force, will be involved even as the NNS Thunder, the ship that would lead the operation, is billed to berth at the Bonny Akasa Escravos early this morning. He said the team would not return to Abuja until sanity is fully restored in the region. He later gave the exclusive photo of the NNS Thunder to LEADERSHIP.