A former Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Adekeye, in this interview, speaks on how he fought oil thieves in Warri area of the Niger Delta to a standstill.
Rather than equipping the military, the Federal Government is said to be awarding contracts to militants to secure oil installations. Critics say that is why the military is incapacitated?
The government, with due apology, may have their information on why they think militants are best suited for the job. But my experience on the field is such that if a man has been doing a bad business for such a long time and you think he is born again and you now give him a task, what about his colleagues with whom he was doing the business before, are they ready to give up? Can he fight them? I also think the fight against illegal bunkering is not just a military battle, it is everybody’s. We must
take a holistic look at it. The oil companies, the communities where the oil companies operate, everybody is benefiting from it. After that, the second tier. Those in political positions, local and
state governments, they all get involved, one way or the other.
But there seems to be insider collaboration in this oil theft; that is why it is thriving.
You are right. I commanded three operational bases in the Niger- Delta: Calabar, Port-Harcourt and Warri. I fought oil theft there and it was successful at that time.
What method did you employ that made it effective?
Let me use Warri for example. When I got there in August 1999, the whole security system had collapsed. I was not even sure of getting to my office from house because firing could happen at any time. I went on the offensive, intelligence wise. I discovered that most of the fighting was being fueled from illegal theft of petroleum products. It was now a responsibility for me to, if I had to restore security, fight that as well. If my major task was to restore security there, then I had to fight the source of funding. At grave risk to my personal safety, I had to go various places where pipelines were being breached, where they were stealing crude. I dressed as one of them, I didn’t smoke because I don’t smoke and I was able to identify all the places. Now with the forces I had on ground, I knew I might not be able to face the boys because everywhere you had the pipeline being vandalised, there were well-armed boys around you.
That means they outnumbered you.
Of course they were better armed. Unfortunately, these pipelines were guarded by uniformed men. If I had to fight them, that means I was going to fight both the well-armed militants and the uniformed men together. ‘We can’t just fold our arms’, I told my men. ‘We have been sent here to come and do a job’. We asked ourselves, ‘What is the aim of all these militants which of course was to get all the
petroleum products stolen and transfer to the market’. If that is the case, the most important thing for them is to get to the goods and the market becomes an individual’s problems. So we decided to be impounding the barges the moment they are fully loaded where there would only be few people on board. And with that, I killed the operation in Warri and environs because, before they knew it, we had
impounded more than 20 barges. In a day, we could impound up to five, at times eight. When they got fed up with that, they went by road using trucks, we started impounding the trucks too as soon as we discovered their new method. In fact there was an occasion that we had to engage the police in a shoot- out. The police said it was under them, we said no, the truck was carrying illegal crude and you were with them. In fact, one of the trucks, in the course of pursuit, drove into mud and the driver ran away; it was the next morning that we had to come and tow the truck away. You know the Odi operation was supposed to be replicated in Warri, but by the time the Odi operation was going on, we had already weaken the militants here in Warri such that by the time we went for the operation, we did not kill a single soul and we removed everybody, well over 500, from the island, we even cooked for the children. From the proceeds of illegal crude, a lot of other illegal activities are going on, like the profit of illegal crude is used to buy arms. Now that oil theft has become very lucrative, virtually everybody,
including those who want to go into politics, go first into it. That is why I think all the people involved
should be probed.
That is if the people are arrested?
You need the courage to do that. I said it earlier that one of the reasons this thing is going on unabated is because we are not probing the source of our income. I know of a young man who didn’t have any inheritance, no tangible source of income bought three Jeeps same day. We got wind of the source of his business which of course was illegal, we destroyed it and he eventually sold the cars and was back on the streets. If a single outfit like my FOC could do that, why can’t the nation pick up people because
we know those who are doing it?
The navy initiated and built a ferry just as the air force also had a bomb detecting robot. What is the state of those projects now?
What is robot? It is just equipment you operate without you physically controlling it. Drones are robots. And they are fantastically effective. We have been using them before to monitor the pipelines, militants’ movement, etc. If that is the case, I think it should be good enough for the market, and if there is a market, the issue of funds will not be a problem, but it must be good enough to compete with other ones available. For the ship, I had a market in mind when I mooted the idea. We had sea port symposium in Nigeria in 2006 which we combined with the navy golden jubilee celebration. Unfortunately many of the participating countries didn’t have ships of their own and that was when the idea of ship- building came to mind. Nigeria was already a big economic base at least for the West African coast; if we were able to go into ship- building, there is every possibility that there would be some market for us. I started getting some of our ships to be repaired, but, first of all, I took our engineers to shipping yards to show them how to strip off the ship and things like that.
Of course they succeeded in stripping one and building it back. Our chief of naval engineering then is now the deputy governor of Bayelsa State. I asked him, ‘What have these people done that we cannot do?’ His reply was, ‘We have not been tasked’. And I replied him that they were tasked with immediate effect. This means from concept we already had a market. We had a management that would be managing the funds. We were already talking to people about it. I had spoken to governor of Lagos then because they were trying to expand their water transportation by increasing their ferries and the governor had agreed to buy 30 from us, because, apart from buying it here, the cost of maintenance would not be a problem. I went to NIMASA which was trying to empower some communities in Niger Delta by giving them ferry and NIMASA was willing to buy five from us.
So you can imagine Nigeria
navy building 30 to 35 ferries on the Nigerian water, you can be sure that some neighbouring countries will be coming to buy. And of course we would have achieved the strategic aim of getting people to use the water transport more. The aim was to achieve three pronged-objectives: Projection of our dockyard as a strategic defence equipment, establishment and to spread our expertise to the West African region. Before I came in, most of our shipping activities were contracted out and our engineers were just sitting idle. But the Nigerian Navy cannot operate without its engineers because we are on board ship together, in battle and so we cannot afford a demoralising engineering like that; that is why I was giving them those tasks. By the time we finished building the ship; our aim was to go on patrol of some West African countries with brochures for them to see some of the things we could do.