The Joint Military Task Force codenamed "Operation Pulo Shield" yesterday announced that a series of intelligence reports on the activities of oil thieves and operators of illegal refineries in the Niger Delta region showed the use of communities as a human shield for a massive attack on oil pipeline, movement of stolen crude , refining and shipping of oil in the region.
According to the JTF, communities visited in the Southern Ijaw and Ogbia local government councils of the state showed high level of complicity and involvement of the traditional heads and institutions in the provision of cover to oil thieves in their domain with the discovery of high volumes of stolen crude and refined products stored within the indicted communities.
The spokesperson of the Joint Military Task Force, Lt. Col. Onyeama Nwachukwu, yesterday spoke with LEADERSHIP in Yenagoa on the weekend military operation against illegal refineries and crude theft at the Igbematoru community of Southern Ijaw local council area in Bayelsa State. He said a report of recent military actions against such criminal acts showed a new system of theft with the active participation of the communities along the creeks and waterways.
Nwachukwu said though no suspect was arrested in the military operation in Igbematoru, over 700 drums of illegally refined products were discovered stored inside the community and the people of the community condoned such criminal acts. "If the military had set ablaze the stolen products, the communities would have been razed down. The leaders and people of these identified communities should know that they are the ones suffering and not the oil thieves."
According to the JTF spokesperson, the military had in the past held a stakeholders' forum in which community leaders and local council chairmen were asked to advocate against illegal oil theft but it seems they are neck-deep in it and may have failed "but we will step up our advocacy as an institution and hope that the traditional rulers and council leaders will speak out against the terrible acts of crude oil theft".
On the alleged harassment and indiscriminate beating of fishermen and indigenes of the Igbomatoru community by soldiers during the weekend military operation, the JTF denied such claims and insisted that those accosted during the operation were persons discovered to be conveying stolen crude inside canoes.
"Some are crying wolf that we beat up fishermen in the community. Did our men arrest any person? If we had beaten up people and engaged in indiscriminate action, some suspects would have been with us. But most of those our men attempted to arrest dived into the waters."
Meanwhile, the JTF operating in the Niger Delta said it was recording successes in the war against crude oil theft and illegal bunkering in the region.
Brig.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, commander of the 2 Brigade and Sector 2 of the JTF, said this in Port Harcourt yesterday at the inauguration of a six-block residential quarters for senior officers of the task force.
Buratai said the JTF, through its aggressive intelligence and commitment, had uncovered, arrested and prosecuted many illegal oil-bunkering suspects and thieves in the Niger Delta.