Suspected pirates are paraded aboard a naval ship after their arrest by the Nigerian Navy at a defence jetty in Lagos August 20, 2013. Commodore Chris Ezekobe, naval commander at the NNS Beecroft, a Lagos naval base, said the four had hijacked the barge and its crew on August 14 on the eastern edge of the Nigerian coast, near the port city of Calabar. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye (NIGERIA - Tags: CRIME LAW MARITIME)

Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
A coalition of Niger Delta groups yesterday maintained that the recent protests against the Joint Task Force (JTF), a special security outfit fighting criminalities in the region, was a case of highly placed oil thieves wanting to continue their sabotage of the Nigerian economy.

While defending the Operation Delta Safe (OpDS) led by Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman, the peace advocacy groups under the aegis of the Niger Delta Peace and Development (NDPD)  vowed to unravel the identities of the big time oil thieves behind the protests.

Mr. James Julius, (Rivers) Chairman of the coalition, alleged that the protest was a sponsored fight against the successes recorded by the JTF under Suleiman and his men in the region, noting that the outfit was restoring peace and reducing criminality in the region.

According to the coalition, the existing peace in the region was due to the efforts of the military, which it said had brought the recent renewed agitation and attacks on oil infrastructure under control.

“The military high command got it right and Suleiman, being an operational officer who spends most of his time in the creeks, has brought his naval tactics to check militancy. For eight months, there has been no reported incident in the region,” the group argued.

It appealed to the Niger Delta people to resist the temptation of becoming a tool of blackmail and accessory to oil theft and support the peace moves of the federal government aimed at repositioning the region as the oil and gas hub of the nation.

“Under his watch, the Operation Delta Safe has uncovered an illegal arms manufacturing factory in Arhavwarien, Ughelli area of Delta State and recovered assorted weapons  including 28 guns, cartridges and military equipment.
“Our people who engage in arms struggle must see that we cannot achieve anything by violence; we need to lure investors who once operated here, that the investment climate is right for them to return.

“Available data shows that since enhanced military operations began in the region in 2016, troops of the Operation  Delta Safe, have recovered 1,389 heavy arms and 20,352 ammunitions.

“Additionally, the Force has seized 105 tanker trucks, 228 other vehicles and 610 pumping machines as well as 76 generator and 5,842 other items used in facilitating illegalities.

“Suffice to state that part of the Force’s efforts to deny criminals any freedom of action involves the destruction of their safe havens and the items used in perpetrating illegalities

“The Force has in this process destroyed 1,437 illegal refineries, 795 wooden cargo boats, 3,872 metal surface thanks and 1,019 plastic tanks, 13,129 drums and 13,343 Jerry cans,” the group maintained.