By Emma Amaize
ASABA- CHAIRMAN of the Delta State House of Assembly Committee on Peace and Security, Hon, Michael Diden, aka Ejele, has disclosed the risky combats of the committee with oil pipeline vandals and kidnappers, who severally opened fire at members to hinder efforts to rein them in.
Hon Diden representing Warri North constituency, however, said that the committee in conjunction with men of the 19 Battalion, Nigerian Army, Koko, the State Police Command and vigilante groups, were able to pursue heavily armed oil bunkerers from one community to the other in the state to bring their illegal operations to a halt.
His words: “There were even cases of shoot-outs by these vandals to scare our task force on anti-pipeline vandalisation and kidnapping from apprehending them.” The House Committee on Peace and Security had set up the sub-committee, November, last year, to complement the efforts of security agents in the state.
He revealed: “With our early intervention, we were able to chase the vandals from Adeje/Okwo-Edjeba communities with the help of the Adeje local vigilantes. They were unable to load from the point.
“This same group of vandals, two months ago, relocated from there to open another point, along the same major trunk, but this time at Okwotolor. We were still able to forestall their activities, again with the help of the military,” Hon. Diden said.
Shootout at bunkering den
He said that sometime in February, this year, it was a tug of war at Aja-Osoro / Ubgoritseduwa communities in Warri South council area “when we went on a joint team with the 19 Battalion to raid the community, where illegal oil bunkerers were into local refining of petroleum products.
“They carried out cooking of crude oil; some of these camps were fortified against external invasion. They even have sophisticated arms with which they tried to fend us off, but if not that we went with well- trained soldiers and superior weapons, we would not have been able to dislodge the hoodlums.”
The chairman asserted: “In that raid alone, over five cooking camps were destroyed, even as we forestalled the community from further tampering or siphoning crude oil from the wells at Okpomani Oil Field.
“It did not end at that, four months after, the committee’s task force in collaboration with the Conoil surveillance workers at Okogho / Ubaleme Field stormed the hideout of oil thieves, who are specialists in the siphoning of crude oil into waiting vessels for local refining. We destroyed the hideouts of some sophisticated syndicates and brought their decades of oil theft activities to a halt.
“Several of their operational tools (instrument) were seized and destroyed.
“It is worthy to mention here too that the almost weekly seizure and burning of petroleum products on our waterways have led to the purchase of many locally made, heavy duty boats by us to keep the waterways safe and discourage nefarious activities of vandals.”
3 petroleum tankers intercepted
He further said, “Between July and September at Okwo-Oro, along Sapele-Warri road, three petroleum tankers were intercepted by the Land Patrol Team of the House committee and handed over to the police command in the state, even as the task force recovered the ones that were illegally ferrying finished products (kerosene/petrol) to the northern part of the country at Adeje/Okwo-Edjeba communities.”
NDV learned that that the committee, inaugurated, November, last year, also went into action immediately, in the first quarter of the year, because of the serious threat of oil thieves and kidnappers at Sapele, Jesse, Oghara and Morogan, Effurun, Ughelli and riverine communities of Omadina and Aja-Ogolo communities in Warri South council area, Oria-Abraka in Ethiope East, and Ebrumede in Uvwie council areas of the state.
Though, prone to many hazards; the group launched continuous surveillance on oil sites, installations and pipelines and took the task head-on to their hideouts. The task force comprising field officers cutting across the three senatorial districts of the state joined forces with the security agencies to get rid of kidnappers and illegal oil bunkerers.
Oleri illegal oil market smashed
The committee also made a remarkable inroad when it burst the booming illegal oil product market at Oleri, which boosted the Labour Market at Udu and fuelled oil theft and vandalisation of trunk lines at Emadaja, along Ukperhere River and Oghior-Otor-Udu trunk line.
The committee has also given the Udu-Owhrode/Orhuwhorun gas line full protection as it swung into full stream production, while the Oteri line trickles in.
Clipping the wings of kidnappers
Besides oil thieves, the committee was also on the heels of kidnappers at the oil city of Warri, Ughelli, Sapele, Mosogan, Jesse and Orero-Okpe communities since April. Its successes in the rescue of over 12 victims, including a teenage girl, Alima Rivina, Deacons of the Heaven on Earth and Mountain of Fire Churches, the wife of committee’s chairman, Mrs. Light Diden and a host of others were due in large part to the prompt responses from men of the Nigerian Army, DSS and Police.
Some of the leaders of the kidnapping syndicate and vandals were recently swooped-on by a crack team from the state police command and surveillance squad from the committee, led by Austin Opubor, Mabiaku Omassan and Abraham Obaruine. The suspects were trailed to their various hide-outs where they were arrested with mobile phones of the victims.
Giving striking details of the arrest of one of the suspects (names withheld), they said: “Immediately we got report of the kidnap of the victims, we mobilized our personnel to the field because we believe that the police cannot achieve it all alone without the support of other stake-holders.”
It was learned that the kidnappers, whose ages ranges from 18 to 22 years move about with assorted weapons such as pump action, locally made pistol, shot gun and AK 47 rifles held the communities to ransom for months with traders closing their stalls before nightfall.
“They were brutal and wicked in their operations, they rape their female victims with impunity, but their rascality has been contained,” a police source said.
One of the suspects, Sinfianu, presently in police custody, lamented that his escapades were cut short by the committee.
Residents applaud committee
A resident, Tobore Kemute, believes that the regular presence of the committee on the streets of Asaba, the state capital, with a retinue of security agents, has helped in giving the criminals much cause for rethink.
“Surveillance of known black spots has also helped in nipping the activities of these criminals in the bud, “he added.
Another resident, Barrister John Ogbemi, stated: “We have witnessed several years of kidnapping, both at nights and in broad day light. They have inflicted pains, sorrow, agony and tears on residents. But recently, statistics in the state have shown that record of kidnapping and vandalisation of oil facilities have changed.
“Social life, particularly night activities have returned to Asaba. The committee which was set up to compliment the effort of other security operatives has made us proud.”