By Samuel Oyadongha
Yenagoaâ€”Four persons involved in crude oil theft have been arrested by the Joint Task Force in the creek of Bayelsa State.
Recovered from the suspects were 25,000 litres of stolen crude oil, three giant wooden boats, three Yamaha outboard engines and hose pipes.
The suspects, who hailed from Delta and Bayelsa states, were nabbed in three separate operations around the Clough creek, Benisede and Tunu oil facilities in the deep swamp of Ekeremor and Southern Ijaw local government areas of the state by men of the 102 battalion of the Joint Task Force.
But the suspects, identified as Jebina Hitler, Ebiakpor Felix, Matthew Gabis and Enaimokie Jordan, said they were only boat drivers (errand boys) contracted to deliver the impounded consignment by their sponsors.
They explained that this was their first operation, adding that all their life they had been commercial boat drivers.
Parading the suspects before newsmen at Amassoma, the Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Anthony Lega Odey, said the suspects were nabbed by men of his battalion last week in a renewed crackdown on illegal bunkerers.
According to him, some of the suspects were caught in the act, while others were nabbed in the creek in the course of transporting their loot.
He added that some of the suspects nabbed around the Tunu oil facility were moved to the battalion headquarters to avert likely negative reactions from the natives.
â€œThe two suspects we arrested at Tunu, we could not keep them there because of possible reactions from the citizens. So, we decided to move them to Amassoma here in order not to jeopardize operations.
â€œSome of these arrests were done at the well heads, that is why we were able to recover the hose,â€ the battalion commander said.
Odey, who described their action as economic crime, said the suspects would be handed over to the relevant authorities on conclusion of investigations for prosecution.
In his remark, the Sector 2 Commander of the Joint Task Force Command in Bayelsa, Col. Victor Ezugwu, said though the task force had sent warning signals to community heads to prevail on their youths to dissociate themselves from alleged economic sabotage, the task force will intensify its activities to check the worrisome tide.
Col. Ezugwu said â€œthe military intelligence unit and the State Security Service (SSS) have mounted surveillance over those identified as sponsors of the illegal activities.
â€œWe have also discovered that when we pursue them, they cause dangerous spills along the waters with the crude. We have sent pre-warning signals to communities to talk to their subjects. But if they persist in the act, we will also intensify our patrol and arrest those involved.â€
Col. Victor Ezeogu noted with concern that communities in Nembe, Brass, Ekeremor and Southern Ijaw in Bayelsa State have witnessed high increase of illegal lifting of crude and selling to some ships along the nationâ€™s high sea. â€œThe tracking of the sponsors of the illegal business is a challenge but we will surmount it.
The SSS and military intelligence are on their trail. They (suspects) have given us the identities of their sponsors. And we are tracking them,â€ he said.
Responding to questions from newsmen, the Joint Media Campaign Coordinator, Lt. Col
Timothy Antigha, said activities of the JTF has given confidence to multinational oil companies operating in the Niger Delta, saying militancy and illegal bunkering have reduced considerably in the region.