By SONI DANIEL, Regonal Editor, North
Barely four years after Niger Delta militants denounced violence against the state and accepted an unconditional amnesty, the perpetrators of the twin evil of oil bunkering and kidnapping for ransom, are back to work even with greater steam and sophistication, Saturday Vanguard has learnt.
The late President Umaru YarÁdua declared amnesty for repentant militants on June 25, 2009, paving the way for the return of a large cache of weapons by militants and the relocation and reintegration of the former warlords from the vast creeks of the Niger Delta region to the society.
However, indications emerged yesterday that kidnapping and bunkering, which had significantly died down in the wake of the general pardon to militants, had resumed in earnest in most parts of the creeks.
Findings by Saturday Vanguard revealed that the attempt by the government to compensate major warlords in the region with mouth-watering contracts running into billions of Naira for the protection of pipelines was responsible for the renewed level of attacks and oil theft in the Niger Delta.
A top security expert in the Niger Delta told Saturday Vanguard that the award of multi-million contracts by the Federal Government to selected former Niger Delta militant leaders for the protection of oil pipelines was responsible for the resurgence of the new wave of criminality in the area.
The source, who has been working with other security agencies in the Niger Delta for many years, pointed out that most of the Niger Delta warlords who got the oil pipelines surveillance jobs betrayed the government by not taking care of their foot soldiers who were part and parcel of bunkering, kidnapping and destruction of oil facilities before the ‘accepted amnesty’.
The Source said, “The real problem is that the militant leaders whose companies were used in getting the lucrative contracts have not taken care of their supporters, a situation that has led to anger and muscle-flexing currently brewing in the Niger Delta.
“Apart from that, the award of the jobs to persons who understand the creeks more than anyone else is like paying an armed robber to protect your house.
“That is why these people who claim to have renounced militancy are picking and choosing where to steal oil and who to abduct because they now have a licence directly from the government.
“Although the Federal Government is aware of the brewing crisis of confidence between the ex-militant leaders and their supporters, there is nothing the administration can do to eliminate the problem, especially as some of the warlords have fled the country after drawing huge sums of money without executing the pipeline contract.
Another competent source told our correspondent that the government did not want any confrontation with the militants so as not to cause any disaffection between them, especially as the crucial election year draws closer.
One of the warlords and a top politician in the region, are reported to have fled the country after withdrawing over N2 billion from an account that was opened for the management of a pipeline contract given to one of them from BayelsaState.
The militant is said to have refused to return home to account for the money even after being informed of his mother’s demise.
Security agencies are however more worried that despite their surveillance across the region; militants in the Niger Delta have continued to abduct foreigners from oil and cargo-laden vessels coming to the country via the vast creeks.
The security agencies are currently trying to wrestle an Indonesian, who was seized from a ship off the BonnyIsland in RiversState about a month ago, from unrepentant kidnappers, who are demanding the payment of N20 million ransom.
“Only a few days ago, we succeeded in freeing two Russians and another foreigner but we seem to have hit a brick wall in the case of the Indonesian, but we are on top of the matter,” the source said.
The problem of bunkering and kidnapping has become so intractable that the Senate on Wednesday called for death penalty for the offence.
Senate President, David Mark said he would not hesitate to append his signature to any law that could recommend death penalty for oil bunkerers as he regretted that Nigeria had lost so much revenue in recent times due largely to illegal oil bunkering, adding “oil theft deserves capital punishment.”
Mark said that the law must have a huge punishment for those who steal our oil to serve as a deterrent to others.
“The Bill must also ensure that the current rate of oil theft in the country is minimised to the barest minimum.
“It seems we are having a bad name internationally because of the rate of oil theft in the country. Oil theft deserves capital punishment.
“If it is the public wish, I will endorse a death penalty for oil thieves, if it will stop oil theft and bunkering. It is an unusual situation so it deserves an unusual remedy and drastic punishment, the Senate President said.”