By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
Barely four months after the Joint Task Force on Niger Delta codenamed Operation Restore Hope destroyed no fewer than 500 illegal refineries along the Orashi River at Mbiama, a border settlement between Rivers and Bayelsa States the operators of the illegal refineries are again back in business.
Security operatives from 5 Battalion of the Joint Taskforce on the Niger Delta backed by two helicopter gunship and a gunboat had sometime late in February launched an attack on the base at Mbiama believed to the hub of the illicit business off the East-West road straddling the state of the Niger Delta destroying seized adulterated fuel and equipment used in the illegal trade worth over N15million.
The military operation in which the operators of the illegal refineries were put to flight Vanguard gathered was in line with the mandate of the outfit to rid the region of crude oil theft as well as the rising cases of kerosene explosions in the delta.
But few months after the military operation which completely destroyed operations at the sprawling base located in the dense jungle tucked away from the prying eyes Vanguard investigation revealed that the operators of the trade had since regrouped and carrying out their nefarious trade.
Signs of the resurrection of the illicit but booming trade around the Mbiama flank could be noticed some distance away on approaching the Mbiama Bridge through the bellowing smoke in the sky.
This reporter who travelled through the area noticed several barges and wooden boats referred to as Cotonou boats berthed along the bank used in conveying their illegally refined products.
Interestingly, a police check point could be sighted some distance away from the route leading to the sprawling camp hosting the illegal refineries.
A source from the area who spoke anonymously said the illegal operators who fled the area in the wake of the military attack are back to business.
“There is no way the security operatives can feign ignorance of what is going on there. As you can see the smoke from that forest is a confirmation that it is again business as usual for these illegal refineries operators,” he said.
Attempts to get the comment of the Spokesman of the Joint Task Force, Lt. Col Timothy Antigha proved abortive as his line was not going through but a source said intelligent report at their disposal indicates that illegal refining had again commenced in the area.
He however assured that the security outfit would leave no stone unturned until the area is completely rid of the illegal business