WE are used to the intriguing stories of seized oil vessels disappearing or security agencies conniving with their owners to grant them passage. Few years ago, some generals lost their commission over the issue.

The latest news in this area is no relief either.  The Joint Military Task Force, JTF, held two vessels belonging to two retired generals for alleged illegal bunkering. JTF Commander, Major General Sarki Bello, refused to release them. The owners started pulling strings.

A puzzling twist was introduced to the saga when the Managing Director of Tim Afrique Services, Captain Bob Timonodi, at a press briefing, alleged Major General Bello refused to release the vessels because he wanted a N50 million gratification. General Bello denied the allegation, insisting the vessels were involved in illegal oil bunkering, as laboratory tests of their contents proved.

Bello also explained he could not have asked for bribe since he had no powers to release a seized vessel.

More puzzles ensued.  When the JTF handed over the case to the Port Harcourt office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the EFCC released the vessels, saying there was no proof of illegality against them.

Did the EFCC consider the result of the laboratory test? Is the EFCC verdict not an indictment of the JTF and Bello? Was EFCC interested in the offence the vessels committed that resulted in the alleged demand of N50 million bribe to release them?

This matter calls for an independent investigation. There have been many reports that theft of the nation’s oil and gas resources in the Niger Delta is a normal fare.

Gratification is cited as the reason for the unchecked criminality. Security personnel in the region are accused of complicity in oil theft. The raging controversy over the seized vessels provides another opportunity for the authorities to get to the root of oil theft.

“It is the base for the proliferation of illegal weapons in the troubled region. As we are quite aware, proceeds from illegal bunkering are used to procure weapons and those behind it use it to empower their boys for territorial control,” Bello said about illegal bunkering.

There is enough evidence that General Bello arrested the vessels. The major contradictions rest on why EFCC released them. Afrique Services had a court order asking JTF to release the vessels, the order was ignored and JTF did not appeal.

Accusations against Bello are too heavy to be taken lightly.  An independent investigation can clear the issues and restore public confidence in the security personnel in the Niger Delta.

Oil and gas are key products that service the economy. Government should not miss this chance to check the theft of these resources. Billions of Dollars are reportedly lost to thieves annually and the resulting insecurity that the money promotes in the region remains a national headache.

It would not be enough to allow this matter to be forgotten. The military and the civilian authorities should collaborate to resolve this matter: public resources worthy billions of Dollars are at stake, and so is a general’s fledgling career.


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