The military-styled Operation Delta Safe established to checkmate oil sector-related criminalities in the Niger Delta has come under fire in spite of its achievements in recent times. JOY EMMANUEL reports on the travails, despite the achievements of its commander.
It seems that militancy, pipeline vandalism, oil bunkering, sea piracy and other crimes common in Bayelsa state and other parts of the Niger Delta region are gradually fading away within the last two years that Rear Admiral Suleiman Apochi assumes the headship of the operation Joint Task Force (JTF).
The operation, according to investigation, covers the whole of the South-south region including Abia, Ondo, and Imo states.
Blueprint investigation further reveals that before its inception, significant results were not recorded as piracy, kidnapping, bunkering, and all sorts of criminalities fought back strongly. This continued until 2017 when Rear Admriral Suleiman began to lead the affairs of the task force otherwise known as Operation Delta Safe.
Known for his unique disposition in the riverine areas while at the same time carrying out several operations in the creeks with his soldiers in times past, his effort helped at producing more results in the fight against sea robbery, militancy, crude oil theft against which the operation was formed.
Rear Admiral Suleiman is known for his often swift reminder of ODS mandate which Blueprint learnt is, “To protect oil and gas infrastructure, deter and prevent militancy, sea robbery, crude oil theft and other forms of criminalities within the Joint Operation Area that could impact negatively on the economy of Nigeria within the Niger Delta”. This attitude to service, many believe, has helped him towards achieving so much within the space of time he took charge of the operation.
Despite his acclaimed lofty achievements, hundreds of youths from the Niger Delta region had in August 2018 stormed Abuja to protest the alleged wrong doings of the task force under his command.
In defence, he however denied the allegations and rather accused the chief executive of Aiteo, an oil company, Mr Benedict Peters, of masterminding the protest. The protesters, who accused Suleiman of being neck-deep in illegal activities especially in the oil sector, demanded an immediate removal of the naval officer.
It is nevertheless on record that since Suleiman took over, no fewer than 300 illegal refineries have been destroyed in the series of operational activities which has aided uninterrupted flow of oil production which was around 900,000 barrels per day; but today, the country’s oil production has increased to 2.2 million barrels per day because of the significant progress recorded in the fight against pipeline vandalism, militancy, and kidnapping, among other problems of the region. This has encouraged huge achievement as over 300 illegal refineries, 156 locally manufactured boats, 1,085 surface tanks have been destroyed. Additionally, 15 barges, 10 tanker trucks, 31 vehicles, 45 speed boats, 16 outboard engines, 41 pumping machines, 15 generating sets and 76 other items have been impounded, raiding a firearms making facility in the Niger Delta where various calibres of light firearms were made.
Rear Admiral Suleiman, who recently received award of excellence ‘Garkuwan Mattassan Arewa’ Icon of Societal Transformation Award from the Northern Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) in Yenagoa, noted, “When I took over more than two years ago, militancy and vandalism had cut oil production by about a third.”
He said it was heart-warming that such revered association acknowledged all the works he and his troops were doing to stabilise the Niger Delta region in accordance with the mandate of the ODS. He said, “The award is a wake up call to do better. With this award, we have to sustain the tempo of our operational activities to continue to bring to bear on the illegalities here so that the environment remains very secure for the businesses here to thrive.”
Part of the demand of the northern youths when they called on him at the JTF headquarters in Igbogene Bayelsa state was to give advice on how to tackle the challenges in northern Nigeria with regards to many achievements in the Niger Delta, but he said, “The scenarios are not the same and what we are doing here might not be able to curb what is happening in the north. The environment determines whatever one does, but what I would advise is that whoever is conducting any operation anywhere and anytime must remain committed to the mandate of that operation. Whatever we are doing here might not be exactly the same with other environments.
“Let me tell you the secret. I am a specialised, trained officer and metric situations are part of what we are being trained for. If I go to a place, I try to adapt strategies to the problems of that environment.”
In 2018 after protest against rear Admiral Suleiman, a committee was set up by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisikan, to investigate the veracity of the allegations but the panel’s findings and recommendations reveal that the protest was false, and was described as criminality fighting back.
Again, a coalition of peace advocacy groups from the nine states of the Niger Delta faulted the protest against the performance of the task force in the region, saying the protest was sponsored by oil thieves.
Niger Delta Peace and Development, a non governmental organisation said the identities of the oil thieves involved in the Abuja protest will soon be made public, saying it is a misrepresentation of the existing peace, security and positive results recorded by the men of Operation Delta Safe against those involved economic sabotage, oil bunkering and vandalisation of oil facilities.
Comrade James Julius, who is the chairman of the groups, in a statement alleged that the protest is a simple case of sponsored fight by oil thieves against the successes of the task force against the Rear Admiral Suleiman and his gallant men fighting in the Niger Delta region.
Julius, who said the leaders of the Abuja protesters against the commander and men of the JTF should be investigated and their origin investigated, said the existing peace in the region was due to the efforts of the military, adding that the activities of JTF brought the recent renewed agitation and attacks on oil infrastructure under control.
He said the Rear Admiral Suleman-led JTF had policed the Niger Delta region effectively, resulting in the reduction of attacks on oil installations to the barest minimum.
“The present commander of JTF, Rear-Admiral Suleman has been achieving results and has proved to be a round peg in a round hole. His deployment at a time there was renewed restiveness was apt and strategic.
“The military high command got it right and Suleiman, being an operational officer who spends most of his time in the creeks, has brought his naval tactics to check militancy. For eight months, there has been no reported incident in the region,” he stated.