Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa has said that oil theft is a threat to national security and responsible for the proliferation of arms in the Niger Delta. He said militants who engage in oil theft use it to finance their operations, recruit members, and buy arms and ammunition.
Mr. Dickson said this in Yenagoa on Friday when he received the new Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Central Naval Command, Yenagoa, Rear Admiral Sidi-Ali Usman.
The governor expressed concern about the rising incidents and sophistication of illegal bunkering, sea piracy and pipeline vandalism and condemned the negative impact of the crimes on the nation's economy. He said the criminals sustained their operations over the years through the proceeds from illegal bunkering activities.
"What is going on is more of a threat to national security than even the loss of revenue that everybody is shouting about," Mr. Dickson said.
"Let me tell you that all the violence, brigandage and criminality that we experience in the Niger Delta states, particularly Bayelsa where I know more, have their roots in the activities in the creeks.
"It is from there they have easy funds to recruit followers; it is from these activities of crude oil theft and illegal refining that people are able to sustain such large numbers of youths and put them into various cult groups.
"What is going on has a direct effect on the proliferation of small and light weapons because they need an army of youths to protect their territories, to be able to withstand the onslaught of legitimate security personnel," he added.
Oil bunkering and pipeline vandalism has been on the rise in the Niger Delta leading to huge loss of revenue by the Nigerian government. Oil majors in the region have shut down or threatened to shut down some of their operations because of the vandal's activities. President Goodluck Jonathan has also set up a committee made up of some state governors and ministers to look for ways of solving the problem, which persists despite the hundreds of billions of naira spent by the government on the amnesty program for militants.
Mr. Dickson also warned cult members who rejected government's plea to have a change of heart, as his administration would not hesitate to bring them to justice.
"For those who have defied the Cultism Proscription law, in spite of the olive branch we have put forward and arrangement for their renunciation and eventual integration, but still want to go ahead with cult activities, I am sounding a clear note of warning that this government will not succumb to blackmail or propaganda.
"This government will work with security agencies in this state to ensure that those who violate the laws of this state and country will be brought to book," he said.
He called for maximum cooperation from the security operatives, especially the Nigerian Navy, to achieve the administration's policy of zero tolerance for violence and criminality.
Mr. Dickson described the establishment of the Central Naval Command in the state as strategic, considering its maritime nature. He said the navy had a crucial role to play in policing the waterways.
While commending the former Flag Officer Commanding, Rear Admiral Olutoyin Johnson, for serving the state creditably, he assured his successor of government's continuous support.
Mr. Usman, who assumed duties about three weeks ago, has already gone on a familiarisation tour of formations under his command.
He stressed the navy's determination to combat oil theft and other criminal activities in line with the Federal Government's mandate.