Emmanuel Addeh writes that last weekend’s bust of an arms manufacturing syndicate and several other successes recorded in the last few months by the Nigerian military fighting crime in the Niger Delta may have set the tone for calmer times in the region
Ordinarily, the primary duty of the Nigerian military is to repel external aggression, rather than engaging in long-term intensive internal security operations within the country.
But as Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara implied in a remark a few days ago, “the country seems to be in a perpetual state of emergency,” a development that has prompted the deployment of soldiers for special operations all over the nation.
The Joint Task Force, Operation Delta Safe, one of such deployments in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region has evolved in the last few years, both in nomenclature and tactics, as it were.
From the death of Operation Pulo Shield (OPS) which earlier succeeded Operation Restore Hope (ORH) and now to the birth of Operation Delta Safe, (OPDS), the job of the outfit has always been to tackle vandalism, oil theft, illegal crude oil refining, kidnapping, sea robbery and all other forms of criminalities in the region.
And it was in carrying out these responsibilities that the military, just a few weeks after killing OC, a dreaded and wanted leader of kidnap ring in the Niger Delta, told the public that it had again successfully encountered and bust a gang which specialised in the illegal manufacture of firearms for suspected criminals.
While the bigger issue of violent agitations may have reduced considerably due to the seeming success of a political solution, the supply of deadly weapons to miscreants remain a major headache for security agents
So, in a major sting operation last weekend, the JTF Commander, Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman disclosed that soldiers attached to Operation Delta Safe, stormed an arms manufacturing factory in Arhavwarien, Ughelli, Delta State and recovered several assorted weapons including 28 guns, cartridges and equipment.
Suleiman said the successful raid followed intelligence reports of an arms manufacturing gang in the area, which was supplying deadly ammunition to cultists, sea robbers, militants, armed robbers among other criminals.
The Commander who jointly addressed the media along with the commanders of the land, sea, air and other components of the special security outfit, said that 18 persons were arrested in connection with the various crimes committed in the region.
The JTF disclosed that the raid was conducted after some of its intelligence officers placed an order for a large batch of the weapons manufactured by the key suspects identified as Isiyaku Ochuko, Ese James and Elvis Philips.
During the operation, according to Admiral Suleiman, the suspects opened fire on his men, before they were overpowered and apprehended by the soldiers.
“Items recovered from them included 13 short barrel locally made guns, five double barrel locally made guns, 10 locally made pistols, three live cartridges, one empty cartridge and two rounds of 7.62 millimetre special ammunition,” Suleiman said.
The JTF boss added that since his resumption last year, he had succeeded in reducing crimes in the region, stressing that the “waterways are now calm.”
Commander of the land component who doubles as Sector 2 Commander, Col. Moses Garah, while parading the suspects, noted that the military was still on the trail of a major suspect in the illegal arms manufacturing business in the Niger Delta.
“We are on his trail and we will soon get him. These weapons are mainly used by cultists and also in times of communal clashes as well as robbery and other violent crimes. We ordered for the red guns while we were preparing for the operation and they prepared them for us,” Garah said.
The military also said one Mathew Okafor, 50, had been arrested for trading in the well-heads and other oil equipment accessories belonging to an oil multinational.
In another operation, one Nkwe Godspower, 42 years, whom the military described as an “oil bunkering kingpin”, it said, was arrested and is currently in the custody of the JTF.
“Items recovered from him during the arrest included 10 cheque booklets belonging to different banks, an international passport, five different identity cards and a sum of N1.1 million,” the JTF disclosed.
The military said all the suspects would be handed over to the appropriate authorities for prosecution after interrogation.
Before then, five suspects had been arrested in connection with the theft of well-heads and blowing up assets owned by two oil companies operating in the Niger Delta.
A well-head comprises valves and assorted adapters installed at the top of an oil or gas well to manage the flow of the product and control the pressure of the production well.
The troops said the suspects used dynamites in their operation, resulting in the breach of the oil and gas facility located at Tebidaba –Ogboinbiri – Brass pipeline in the outskirts of Imgbiba community in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.
While Ayebemi Dressman, Inimotimi Abule and Epemege Frank were apprehended for blowing up the pipeline, Bibowa Anemi and Ngoriduwa Gomogo were arrested for removing the oil well-heads and using them for illegal bunkering.
The senior naval officer who was once the Flag Officer Commanding, Central Naval Command in Yenagoa, said his men acted on a tip-off in most of the operations.
He stated that the operation was carried out in a hideout at a fishing camp along Isogbene where three of the suspects were arrested.
During a similar operation, troops deployed in Beneside location in Ekeremor Local Government Area of the state also apprehended two suspects allegedly responsible for sabotage and theft of well-head and six actuator devices.
He disclosed that the tools belonging to one of the international oil companies led to the disruption of the operations of the oil company, adding that the well-head is currently under repairs.
He revealed that in another development, troops deployed at Omuku Forest in Rivers State, acting on a tip-off responded and engaged some suspected armed kidnappers in a gun duel leading to rescue of the victim and death of two of the kidnappers.
Also, Suleiman said a raid conducted at a pirate’s hideout at Elema, Rivers State led to the recovery of several items used for illegal bunkering business.
“Although, no arrest was made during the raid, several items were recovered. The items include: 23 rounds of 7.62mm Ball Special ammunition, one generating set and 40 Horse Power Suzuki speed boat engine amongst others,” he said.
He commended members of the public for supporting the effort to protect oil and gas infrastructure, deter and prevent militancy, sea robbery, crude oil theft and other forms of criminality.
The Commander also appealed to members of the public to “provide timely information to troops in order to get rid of notorious criminals from the region.”
In an interview, Dressman, one of the suspects said he was working with one Mr. Salvation, who also runs an oil and gas facility, and had not paid him for six months, prompting him and his co-suspects to embark on stealing and destroying the facilities.
That operation was sequel to the killing of four suspected sea robbers along the waterways of Awoba, Rivers State.
A separate raid by the troops also led to the discovery of boats used by the suspected sea robbers which were destroyed on location.
“Troops of Operation Delta Safe (OPDS) ambushed a gang of sea robbers along KM-45 AWOBA waterways in Rivers State. During the ambush operation, four robbers met their waterloo.
“Items recovered include: 2× AK-47 rifles, quantity 3× AK-47 magazines, quantity 22 ammunitions and one speed boat mounted with one 200 Horse-Power engine,” the JTF said.
It added that soldiers on another operation along Bayelsa waterways acting on information, raided a sea pirates hideout along Forupa-Lobia waterways.
However, Suleiman, who until his appointment in November last year, was the Director of Development at the Defence Headquarters, said the military would not relent until crimes in the region were reduced to the minimum.
The former Flag Officer Commanding, Central Naval Command, who relieved Rear Admiral Joseph Okojie, last year added that the much needed stability in the region was being achieved.
“We are achieving the mandate of this operation. When you look at it, recently the oil production has risen, the Trans-Forcado pipelines are working on well and the creeks are now safe for legal activities.
“The region is very safe for investors to do business, it is very safe. It is the safest as far as the nation is concerned right now. The Niger Delta is safe for investment,” he said.
Suleiman added that under his watch, criminals will not have any leverage to operate and applauded his men for revving up their resistance against the criminals.