The Task Force Team constituted by the Nigerian Maritime And Safety Administration Agency (NIMASA), to checkmate the menace of attacks on vessels on the nation's waterways, recently arrested four suspected members of a dreaded gang of vessel hijackers on both the Nigeria waters and neighboring West African countries' waters.
But to the great surprise is -- the suspects displayed an unrepentant and nonchalant attitude towards their arrest, bragging instead.
In their confessional statement, it was observed that the war against illegal bunkering and attacks on vessels on the nation's waterways by the federal government, may never be won unless urgent and stringent measures, beyond mere political statements are taken to checkmate this worrisome trend.
This is because two of the suspects identified as Bless Nube and Sola Sam, alleged that key players in the political and government corridors were their sponsors. Aside this alarming revelation is the temptation of the huge amount each member of the gang gets at the end of a successful vessel hijack.
According to the 27-year-old Bless, who claimed to be the commander of the dreaded syndicate, " I have nothing to hide again. I am the gang's commander and I am second to none in terms of hitting targets. Even Wazo, earlier arrested, is my boy and he can attest to what I am saying"...
He kept mute for a while and when he continued, he said, " I can't remember how many operations I have led, I have lost count of the number of vessels my gang hijacked".
I made N10 Million from the last operation
He confessed to have led his team to several operations some of which took place in the African continent's territorial waters. One of such hijacks took place in Lome, the capital of Togo,involving the vessel, MT Energy Centurion. Hear him: " The last vessel we hijacked was in Lome, Togo and I made N10 Million from that operation". To the amazement of all, he revealed, " that particular operation was sponsored by some powerful people in Nigeria whose names I will not want to mention... Some of them are even in the Presidency.
Government Officials are our informants
He disclosed further that some top government officials usually gave his gang information on vessels before it struck. " We do not work in isolation. We have a network of ministries' workers. What they do is to give us information on the location and content of the vessels to be hijacked. After furnishing us with the information, they would make part payment and after the hijack, they would pay us the balance.
"Once we complete the assignment , we would inform the pointsmen who thereafter, contact the cabal that takes charge of the hijacked vessels. We usually meet at a designated point on the high sea, from where they would offload the contents from the hijacked vessels and thereafter, deposit them in various oil facilities for distribution by oil marketers.
"We are not directly involved in the sale of the product. We only assist to convey the product to the designated point by acting as escorts in case of any confrontation. My gang has about 3000 various weapons which are kept in different parts of the country", he stated. But he did not say where the weapons were precisely.
We kill during hijack
He likened the operation on the high sea to a theatre of war, saying "at times our victims are killed in the process. This is usually when the crew members try to put up resistance", he said, adding that sometimes,the crew members who were armed opened fire on the gang thereby leading to a shoot-out, during which some of them were killed. " So far we have about 1250 trained pirates across the country. And the truth is, no successful vessel hijack operation takes place in Africa without the knowledge of my gang."
Piracy is a lucrative business
Asked why he had not left the illicit business for a genuine one, he said he was carried away by the huge amount of money made on each operation which usually runs into several millions of naira.
"The code name for piracy is COJA and it is very lucrative just as it is dangerous because one may be confronted by security agents in the process, or even get arrested as I am now. But it will be difficult for the president to win the war. If he must win, then he has to look inward. Lagos state for instance, is a major coastal place where we meet to discuss on our next target . So, government must first search its big men if it is serious in winning the war".
I begged to be enlisted into the gang- Sam
Also arrested was Sola Sam, who claimed he was tempted to join the gang because of the huge amount of money they received. Preliminary investigation revealed that Sam was initially the gang's errand boy.
"But I had to plead with them to enlist me into vessel hijacking when I saw the money they made on each operation. Whenever they were sharing their loot, they would give me just a token. So, I begged them before Bless agreed to enlist me into the group", recalling that "his first operation with the gang fetched him the sum of N2.7 million, out of which he bought a new car."
I was deceived -Olu Ade
On his part, the third suspect, 28-year-old Olu Ade, claimed he was deceived into joining the gang.
Hear him, " It all happened in November 2011, when I was called to carry out repair on the engine of a vessel in Ondo state. But on reaching there, the gang members told me their plan and I could not go back because I was scared they would kill me.
"They took me into a vessel and I watched them arrest the crew members on board. We thereafter, discharged 2000 metric tons from the vessel named MT ROSTARS. After that, another vessel came to receive the product. The receiving vessel's name was CLEAN. After the transaction, we moved to Ondo State and lodged at Wazo's house to collect the money for the transaction and at the end I was paid N1.8 million"
On receiving the money, Olu travelled to Lagos state from where he intended processing a visa to study in Ukraine. But he was reportedly swindled.
Crime Alert gathered that they were arrested in a hotel in Festac Town, while planning for another operation in Cotonou, Benin Republic.
Arrested at last
Bless and members of his gang have been having sway for a long time until they were arrested in a hotel in Festac Town in Amuwo odofin Local Government area of Lagos. Bless as gathered was in the company of some sex workers in the hotel when he was apprehended.
The gang as gathered, was at the final stage of its preparation for an attack on a vessel in Cotonou before they were arrested.
The first person to be arrested as gathered was Sam. He was reportedly lured to Lagos, on the pretext that there would be a meeting prior to the operation. Unknown to him, the call was made by a security operative. Next, was Mike, who reportedly called Sam on his mobile phone to know his whereabouts. He was again lured to a designated place in Lagos, only to fall into the arms of the security operatives and thereafter, Olu.
The gang confessed that the foiled operation was contracted to them by a top player in the oil industry for the sum of N16 Million.