The Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, at the weekend moved to stem the tide of clashes between oil bearing communities in the Niger Delta and the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) detailed to secure oil installations in the region, visiting Nembe, where the youths were up in arms last week over alleged complicity of the military in large scale oil theft.
Kachikwu, who had taken a lead role in the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s efforts to pacify the region during the resurgence of militancy in 2015 and 2016, met with community leaders and youths in Nembe over their concerns and gave a firm commitment that the federal government would take urgent steps to address them.
Last week, protesting youths and civil society organisations from the region took to the streets of Abuja to ask for the removal of Rear Admiral Suleiman Apochi, the Commander of the JTF, Operation Delta Safe, who they alleged was culpable in the growing theft of oil.
They specifically fingered the JTF for been culpable of repeated breaches on the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) which is a 97-kilometer – 150,000 barrels per day capacity pipeline that takes oil to the Bonny export terminal from oil fields in the region.
Kachikwu, who said the government was worried about the development and its impacts on the environment and economy of Nigeria, told the people at the weekend that an end would be put to the unwholesome practise.
He said reported cases of theft and haulage of crude oil from the Niger Delta despite its waterways been heavily militarised was troubling. Apparently gobsmacked that large crude carrying vessels could easily pass through existing security corridors in the region’s waterways untroubled, Kachikwu said he will take back to Buhari what he found out for a quick proactive action to be taken.
The minister didn’t state the kind of actions that would be taken by the government, but he said the country’s security chiefs and National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj-Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd.), would be briefed on this with an intention to find a good solution to it.
According to him, the development was unhealthy for the economy of Nigeria and environment of the Niger Delta. He said it also signified the JTF had been infiltrated with bad eggs who could be working with the oil thieves.
He said: “I am here to see what is going on and how we can stop it. We will continue the tour, you can see we’ve been flying around with helicopters, trying to see where these points are.
“We are going to take words back to the headquarters to see how we can meet with the defence chiefs, and National Security Adviser. I will take words back to the president in terms of what the experience has been here.”
According to him: “For the fact that vessels can actually come through the security corridors and pick up oil is even much more troubling. It may not have been oil, it may have been arms. Something needs to be done in terms of security and environment as well as the economy of the country.”
Asked if the government would continue to rely on just human efforts to overcome repeated theft of oil in the region, Kachikwu said: “That solution is there, it is happening. The fact that you have oil production go up shows that some of those blockages have been addressed.
“It is a mixture of security efficiency and technology infusion and obviously a very consistent engagement. At the end of the day, these individuals who do this are members of the communities, they are not falling out from the sky, and so, it is consistently engaging the traditional rulers, the youths who are involved in all these to be vigilant like what they do now because it is easier to just join the practice, benefit from it and keep quite.
“When the communities gather this way, we must recognise their resilience and courage and do something to ensure that they don’t become victims.”
In his complaints to Kachikwu, Chief Noman Atonkere, who described himself as the chairman of oil and gas Nembe kingdom, as well as the coordinator of the community security team employed by Spyer Nigeria, which has an existing security and maintenance contract on NCTL with Aiteo Group, claimed the JTF had been found culpable in the act by his team.
Atonkere, stated: “I discovered a lot of illegal refineries, bunkering points, loading points all over the area of my jurisdiction. I see some vessel come in to load and go back and there is security everywhere. We who are civilian security cannot do anything because we don’t have arms and when we call there is no response. That is why we called on the federal government to assist us to fight this.
“That is why we are asking the government to assist us because the job of the JTF is to protect the assets and people. Not all JTF are bad. Some are good and some are bad.”