By Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
The newly redeployed Commander, Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta, Rear Admiral Suleiman Apochi, at the weekend handed over to his successor, maintaining that he had made illegal oil bunkering difficult for militants in the region.
Speaking during a ceremony at the JTF headquarters in Igbogene, outskirts of Yenagoa, Apochi, who listed one of his major achievements as the astronomical increase in crude oil production from 900,000 to over two million barrels per day, stressed that he was leaving the security in the region better than he met it.
During the change of baton, which saw him hand over to Rear Admiral Akinjide Akinrinade, Apochi, who has been redeployed to the Defence Headquarters, Abuja, said the JTF also succeeded in taking out several militant camps as well as their leaders during his 30-month stint as the Operation Delta Safe (OPDS) Commander.
He said: “We were given a mandate which was essentially to protect oil and gas infrastructure and prevent militancy, crude oil theft, sea robbery and any other form of criminality within the Joint Operations Area (JOA).
“We worked within the confines of our mandate and ensured that those people who were perpetrating illegal bunkering did not have the freedom to commit the crime and have made crude oil business theft very unattractive, meaning there was no space for them to operate.”
He said that when he took over, militancy was rampant, noting that the menace had been reduced considerably due to the effectiveness of his men.
“When we came here, there were issues of militancy all over my joint operations area and diligently we have taken out the major camps.
“I can count very few that I remember. One of those major ones was Karowei in Ekeremor, the Bakassi Strike Force in Cross River, Lobia 1, 2, 3; Oluasiri, Etim Ekpo in Ukanafun in Akwa Ibom and the Azuzuama set of militants. Today, those camps have ceased to exist.
“We tracked down Don Wanney and eventually because of the pressure of our operational activities, they ran into the hands of another security group that eventually took him out. That camp in omukputo is no more,” he said.
In his comments, the new Commander, Rear Admiral Akinrinade, said he would give priority to intelligence gathering and constant consultations to resolve conflicts.
“I was chairman of the Special Operations planning set up by the Defence Headquarters. It was a strategic initiative from DHQ to assist the OPDS then in 2017.
“My strategy will be more on intelligence gathering efforts to tackle all forms of criminality and criminal networks and at the same time, I intend to do a lot of community conflict resolution.
“I encourage the commanders at all levels to sensitise their personnel on implication of every illegalities.
The OPDS command will show no mercy to any individual who is involved in any form of illegality,” he vowed.