Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that recent donation of 20 patrol and communication vehicles by the Lagos State Government to Operation AWATSE, was a boost to the ongoing fight against pipeline vandalism by the military
Prior to October 2014, pipeline vandals and their ilk held sway in areas like Fatola, Arepo, Awawa, Elepete and Ibafo in Ogun State; Ishawo, Monkey Village, Ogogoro Island, Igando, Ikorodu in Lagos State.
It was such a well oiled operation that ran seamlessly with these pipeline vandals becoming a law unto themselves. At the Ishawo creeks, they even created a republic codenamed ‘The General’s Republic’ with a flag hoisted to mark the land as theirs.
Undeniably, they ran a pipeline vandalism and oil theft syndicate that denied the nation of petroleum products worth billions of naira through their illegal activities in the creeks and mangroves.
Their modus operandi was to dig boreholes two kilometres away from the pipelines, then vandalise the pipelines to siphon the products illegally. These products then run into the already dug boreholes, from which they now scoop into kegs and drums and sell to the buyers both within Nigeria and to neighbouring countries at lower rates.
That reign of terror lasted well up to 2014 when Operation AWATSE, an operation aimed at curbing the menace of pipeline vandalism, was set up as Joint Task Force (JTF), which was tasked with the responsibility of protecting the pipelines.
The JTF comprises the Nigerian Navy (the primary body), the Nigerian Army, that Nigerian Air Force, the Department of State Services and the National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
Codenamed Operation AWATSE, an Hausa word for ‘Scatter’, it was primarily set up in October 2014 by the Nigerian Navy (NN) to stop the incessant siphoning of Petroleum Motor Spirit (PMS) from vandalised Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation(NNPC) pipeline, which had become a norm in Lagos and environs.
Given the trackable success it recorded, the operation was taken over by the Defence Headquarters and its initial mandate, which was the protection of NNPC pipelines and infrastructure along 72km stretch of pipelines from Atlas Cove to Mosimi Depot, was expanded to include security of Epe and Ogun Waterside in Lagos and Ogun states respectively as well as anti-kidnapping, anti-robbery and related criminal activities.
It lived up to its name by dislodging the notorious pipeline vandals, who once held sway at Lagos and Ogun states creeks, illegally siphoning and selling stolen petroleum products, also terrorising and raping the residents.
And from all indications, Operation AWATSE, has really come to stay. This is because despite all the challenges the personnel face ranging from the unfriendly terrain to collusion by residents amongst others, the Lagos State Government recently boosted their efforts.
Thus, in a bid to ensure internal security on the inland waterways and creeks, the Lagos State Government, penultimate Tuesday, donated 20 patrol and communication vehicles for the ongoing fight against pipeline vandalism.
The vehicles were donated to enhance their operational capability and were inaugurated at the Western Naval Command (WNC) in Apapa, Lagos.
At the inauguration were the Flag Officer Commanding, WNC, Rear Admiral Sylvanus Abbah, who also doubles as the Force Commander for the operation; the General Officer Commanding, 81 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major General Enobong Udoh, who doubles as the Deputy Force Commander and the Air Officer Commanding, Logistics Command, Air Vice Marshal Remigius Ekeh and the Commander Nigerian Navy Ship BEECROFT, Commodore Okon Eyo.
The governor’s take
Before the handing over, the Lagos State governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, who inaugurated the patrol vehicles at Western Naval Command (WNC) in Apapa, Lagos, said it was to enhance the effectiveness of the ongoing operation in ridding criminal elements off the waterways.
The governor who was represented by the Commissioner for Special Duties, Mr. Seye Oladejo said, “It is heartwarming to note that the enhanced security profile on our inland waterways, due to the eagle eyed approach of the Nigerian Navy which has resulted in the reduction of sea piracy, hijacking of merchant vessels and kidnap of persons.
“The 20 units of patrol vehicles being inaugurated today can only serve to increase the effectiveness of logistics management in the deployment of service personnel in the fulfillment of the mandate of Operation AWATSE to ensure internal security on our inland waterways and for the lives and properties of our people and investors especially as we explore the vast opportunities for investment in the maritime sector. This is to ensure adequate provision of security across the state including the hinterland and riverside communities.”
He also commended the Flag Officer Commanding, WNC, Rear Admiral Slyvanus Abbah, his officers and men for professionalism and approach in synergising with the government and other security agencies.
He added, “Our administration will continue to support all security agencies operating in Lagos State to ensure that we continue to provide adequate security for the lives and property of all residents and investors in the state.”
Defence Minister’s appraisal of Operation AWATSE
Earlier, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin, in his welcome address, while appreciating the state government for its unflinching support to the Nigerian Armed Forces, gave an appraisal of Operation AWATSE.
Represented by Air Vice Marshal Olusoji Awomoju, who is the Chief of Training and Operations, the CDS said the state government’s support was geared towards ensuring that the nation’s territorial integrity and land resources were protected.
He said: “As one of the states through which refined petroleum products are transported to other parts of Nigeria, the incessant siphoning of Petroleum Motor Spirit from vandalised Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation(NNPC) pipelines became a norm in Lagos in the past.
“Accordingly, illegal dealings in the product thrived, with attendant negative implications on the revenue generation capacity of the nation. It was therefore with a view to curbing pipeline vandalism and illegal dealings in petroleum products, especially in Ikorodu area by vandals that the Nigerian Navy conceived and launched Operation AWATSE on October 4, 2014.
“However, the operation was taken over by the Defence Headquarters. Additionally, the initial mandate, which was the protection of NNPC pipelines and infrastructure along 72km stretch of pipelines from Atlas Cove to Mosimi Depot, was expanded to include security of Epe and Ogun waterside in Lagos and Ogun states respectively as well as anti-kidnapping, anti-robbery and related criminal activities.
“Operation AWATSE had brought sanity to its area of responsibility especially Majidun, which was a notorious transit route for criminals to other parts of riverine communities in South-west Nigeria. Currently, troops have dominated areas such as Festac, Ijedodo, Isawo, Majidun, Arepo, Elepete and Imagbon which hitherto, harboured criminals and cultists.
“It is however, pertinent to state that this feat was largely facilitated by the continued support of the Lagos State Government especially through the provision of Operation MESA vehicles; Opeartion AWATSE had no dedicated vehicle. It is therefore, heartwarming to state that it is through the support of the Lagos State Government, that the 20 Toyota Hilux vehicles were acquired to enable Operation AWATSE consolidate on the gains made so far.”
The FOC’s appeal
Like the proverbial Oliver Twist, the FOC, Rear Admiral Abbah, while expressing his appreciation for the much needed vehicles, further appealed to the government through the Defence Headquarters, to also look into donating more swamp buggies, aircrafts and drones for the Navy, Army and Airforce to enhance the efficiency of operation AWATSE.
Noting that while the donation of the patrol vehicles have taken care of the land component in the fight against pipeline vandalism, he said the swamp buggies and boats will take care of the non-navigable parts of the creeks and mangroves, while the aircrafts and drones will provide aerial coverage.
On the ongoing operation he said, “Operation AWATSE has come to stay and I believe what we are enjoying in Lagos today is as a result of the collaboration between security agencies in the history of Lagos State. We have been experiencing peaceful coexistent between the locals and the criminals know they cannot operate in environment.”
Abbah also thanked the officers and men of Operation AWATSE for their cooperation, urging them to keep up the spirit. He said, “The civilians are your brothers and your job is to protect them. To the media and the public, if you suspect anyone not looking like a military personnel, please report to the nearest military formation around so that we can arrest the situation.
“The vehicles are kitted with communication gadgets so be rest assured you can sleep with your eyes closed and we are ever willing to serve you 24 hours.”
To whom much is given, much is definitely expected and with this support from the Lagos State Government, the onus now lies on the military forces to put them to good use for which they were provided.
L-R: Air Vice Marshal Remigius Ekeh, Major General Enobong Udoh, Rear Admiral Sylvanus Abbah, Lagos Commissioner for Special Duties, Mr. Seye Oladejo and Air Vice Marshal, Olusoji Awomoju, during the inauguration of 20 patrol and communications vehicles donated by Lagos State Government at the Western Naval Command (WNC) in Apapa, Lagosâ€¦recently