Following the achievements of the past three phases of Exercise Crocodile Smile, the military in conjunction with the police and sister agencies, yesterday launched phase four to cover both land and water channels, especially the creeks in the South-west.
The exercise is targeted at flushing oil thieves, kidnappers, pipeline vandalism, illegal dealings in petroleum products and stealing crude oil in such a way that destroys the eco system.
This is coming as the military has clamoured for a special tribunal to ensure speedy trial of suspected oil thieves given the challenge by the delays in the criminal justice system.
The Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command (WNC), Rear Admiral Oladele Daji, who was the special guest of honour, made this disclosure in an interview with reporters at the end of 81 Division of the Nigerian Army's training day for the exercise held in Ikeja Cantonment, Lagos.
The exercise, which will start from November 8 to December 23, will be held simultaneously in 2, 6, 81 and 82 Divisions of the Nigerian Army.
The FOC said: "Similar exercises were conducted in the past years and this is therefore another opportunity to consolidate on the gains achieved in our internal security operations by clearing identified critical threats, particularly those along our waterways and hinterlands.
"The two basic objectives are training and operational objectives. The conduct of the exercise will feature aspects of civil-military cooperation, media, psychological operations, rules of engagement and the observance of international humanitarian law in the conduct of the joint operations.
"It is therefore my hope that the strategic end state of the exercise and training will achieve the theme of the training which is 'inter-agency cooperation: imperatives for efficient joint operations'."
"This will assist in carrying out the myriad of internal security responsibilities especially those that concern the protection of lives as well as critical national assists against warranted attacks and sabotage."
On the need for special tribunals dedicated for oil theft, Daji noted that judges were bedeviled by excess workload which has led to delays in adjudication of criminal cases and by extension seen arrested suspects on bail returning to commit same crimes over again.
He said: "Judges are human beings. They have so many cases and we cannot keep a suspect in detention or awaiting trial indefinitely. So, you see they are granted bail, they return to their criminal ways within that intervening time.
"We have had cases where we arrested the same set of people two or three times over. It is a problem that needs all stakeholders to address. That is why we are clamouring for special tribunals for quick dispensation of justice.
"It will go a long way to serve as deterrence to criminally minded people especially oil thieves. Crude oil theft or pipeline vandalism is economic sabotage and poses environmental security issues.
"As these pipes are broken, hydrocarbons get back into the ground and it takes billion of years to decompose. To make use of that soil for any productive venture, you need to do cleanup which does not come cheap.
"Take what is happening in Ogoni as example. The money being spent to cleanup that area would have been used to develop the communities and make them vibrant economically."
Asked if there were plans by the military to incorporate host communities in its fight against oil thieves, Daji said the military cannot do much in that regard.
"There is a limit to what the military can do. It is the responsibility of our political leadership. Various agencies of government have roles to play. Ours is to deter criminals and fight any aggression against our country.
"Even at that, you will agree with me that the military cannot declare war. It is the political leadership that take that decision and we execute."
Earlier the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, who was represented by the General Officer Commanding, 81 Division, Nigerian Army, Major General Olu Irefin said the exercise will be conducted across the South-west regions of Lagos and Ogun States.
He said: "Part of the objectives of the exercise is to improve troops and relevant security agencies operational capacity as well as strengthen cooperation and synergy in tackling common security challenges confronting our nation."
The first phase of the exercise was done in 2015 and yielded great successes, which included the degradation of the activities of militants, destruction of kidnappers' dens, rescue of kidnapped victims and destruction of cultists' camps among others.
The successes recorded however pushed some criminal elements to other parts of the country, thus necessitating the continuous phase of the exercise.