Combating oil theft, pipeline vandalism and insecurity in the Niger Delta, Operation Delta Safe and the journey so far

The dynamic security needs in the Niger Delta region has been seen as the justification for various strategies adopted by military to protect oil infrastructure in the region.

The Joint Task Force (JTF) deployed to the Niger Delta christened Operation Pulo Shield was terminated in June 2016 and renamed Operation Delta Safe.

The Joint Force, hitherto headed by the Army was assigned to a Navy officer invariably for better policing of the predominantly maritime terrain of the region.

According to pioneer Commander of Operation Delta Safe, Rear Admiral Joseph Okojie, Operation Pulo Shield whose mandate was to shield oil installation was restructured to provide security for the entire region.

Okojie at his maiden interaction with the media at the Headquarters of the Joint Force in Yenagoa noted that the expanded mandate of the force across nine coastal states of the region required maritime expertise.

Then Acting Director, Defence Information, Brig-Gen. Rabe Abubakar, on Nov 18, 2016 announced the appointment of Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman as a new Commander for the JTF to replace Okojie.

Abubakar had explained that the change became necessary to “inject new capability to contain the prevailing security threats and provide the much needed stability in the region.

The joint military outfit was understandably reorganised in 2016 at a time of renewed agitation and insurgency occasioned by incessant attacks by Niger Delta Avengers.

Oil production figures had nosedived to about 900.000 barrels per day (bpd) from above 2 million bpd prior to 2016.

The reduced crude production volume and dwindling crude prices at the international market triggered the recent recession and associated foreign exchange shortages.

Shortly after assumption of office newly deployed Commander of the Joint Military Force, Suleiman, said new strategies are being introduced to improve the ongoing operations to contain attacks on oil facilities and troops.

Suleiman had on December 10, 2016 said that the military was in the region to protect oil facilities and check criminality.

He said that some of the new strategies he introduced to strengthen the joint military operations against renewed militancy and agitations in the Niger Delta region were already yielding results.

 

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TROOPS LED BY THE COMMANDER OF THE JOINT FORCE REAR ADMIRAL APOCHI SULEIMAN (SECOND LEFT)

INSPECTING AN UNDERGROUND STORAGE PIT AT ONE OF THE ILLEGAL REFINERY SITES IN WARRI SOUTH LGA DURING A RAID.

 

“In my short time of assumption of duty on Nov. 16, 2016, I have tried to sustain and improve on the pace which has yielded some successes.

“Just a few days ago troops in Cross River encountered militants in a gun duel around Ikang axis and arrested one of the militants and recovered large cache of arms and ammunition.
“I must commend the efforts of my predecessor Rear Admiral Joseph Okojie, and will fall back on my experiences as Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) at the Central Naval Command in Yenagoa.“ Suleiman said.

He said that the Operation under his command would not condone unprovoked attack on the military by communities under its area of responsibility.

“The last attack on the military men on duty killing some in cold blood is regrettable and condemnable and when our men went after their killers there was public outcry.

“This is a note of warning that any community that attacks our soldiers should be ready for the consequences, we shall not tolerate any community that habours criminals, we are not here to invade any community, but we are after criminals.

“Any community that habours criminals has lost its immunity, any further unprovoked attack shall be resisted with every resource at our disposal and we shall remain within our mandate,” Suleiman said

As part of the wider operations to safeguard the region, Operation Delta Safe extended its activities beyond protecting oil facilities and extended its operations to the nooks and crannies of the region.

The joint military outfit on July 3, 2017 subsequently raided firearms making facility in the region where various calibres of light firearms are manufactured.

Suleiman said that troops uncovered the armes manufacturing camp in Arhavwarien community in Ugheli South Local Government Area of Delta.

He said that in a sting operation to mop up arms and stem its proliferation, the troops approached the local arms makers and placed orders for some single barrel guns.

Briefing newsmen on raids, Col. Al-Hassan Grema, the Commander, Sector 1 of the JTF, said that three suspects were arrested after a shootout during the raid on the local arms hideout.

“Three principal suspects were arrested following shootout with the suspects.

“Items recovered from them include 13 short barrel locally made guns, five double barrel locally made guns, 10 locally made pistols.

“Others are, three live cartridges, one empty cartridge and two rounds of 7.62 mm special ammunition,” Grema said.

Looking back, Brig-Gen John Agim , the Acting Director, Defence Information recently said that oil production, according to Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has risen to an average of 2.5 million bpd.

 

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LARGE STORAGE FACILITES FOR STOLEN CRUDE AT THE ILLEGAL REFINERY UNCOVERED BY

TROOPS OF OPERATION DELTA SAFE DURING AN OPERATION TO STAMP OUT ILLEGAL REFINERIES.
 

The Defence Spokesman attributed the rise in oil output to the strategic approach of the joint military force deployed to the Niger Delta region.

He recalled that prior to the establishment of the outfit on June 24, 2016; oil production had dropped to 900,000 barrels daily.

He said that the joint force had pursued its mandate in line with the strategic directive of Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin and made modest achievements in restoring peace to the hitherto restive region.

“Some of these achievements include; enhanced safety of lives, rise in crude oil production, recovery of arms and ammunition, seizure of stolen crude, destruction of illegal refineries and arrest of oil thieves.

“Others include successes achieved in prosecuting cases, profiling of suspects and persons of interest and conduct of in-theatre operations. The hitherto incessant attack on oil and gas infrastructure has abated.

“Attacks on gas pipelines further reduced the nation’s power generating capacity. As at when the force was activated on June 24, 2016, oil output had dropped from 2.2 million barrels to 900,000 barrels per day.

“It is gratifying to note that as at May 2018, the production level is averaging 2.5 million per day while NNPC management recently affirmed that pipeline vandalism had dropped significantly,” Agim said.

He explained that the Joint Force had cleared the Niger Delta region of identified militants’ camps, whose activities threatened national security while the threats have been effectively neutralised.

Major Ibrahim Abdullahi, JTF Spokesman said that from activation of Operation Delta Safe in June 2016 till July 2018 has conducted 16,807 patrols, recovered 1,477 arms of various calibres and 23,483 ammunition.

Also seized were 24 ocean going vessels, 1,601 boats, 198 barges, 258 outboard engines, 133 tanker trucks, 349 vehicles, 95 generating sets and some 6,958 sundry items facilitating illegal activities.

A total 1,819 illegal refineries, 6,027, 13,663 drums and 17,300 jerrycans were destroyed during the period under review.

Abdullahi explained that the Joint Force recently introduced ‘metallic operation’ involving the use of swamp buggy heavy equipment to destroy the oil distillation sites.

He said that the special equipment deployed by the troops crushed  the items used at the camps and made them economically not feasible for the illegal operators to restart operation.

MR MORGAN GABRIEL, TEAM LEADER, LEAGUE OF AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT STUDENTS (LEADS AFRICA)

BESTOWED ITS AFRICAN PATRIOTIC PERSONALITIES AWARD ON COMMANDER OF THE JTF, REAR ADMIRAL APOCHI SULEIMAN
 

“The JTF has been carrying out massive metallic operations using swamp buggies against illegal refineries all over the joint operation area.

“This new strategy was recently deployed by Commander of Operation Delta Safe, Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman, in our operations in April 2018 and it makes it difficult for them to reassemble and resume operation after raids,” Abdullahi said.

Speaking on the effect of the repositioned military a community-based group, Niger Delta Peace and Development in June 2018, applauded the JTF for stability and addressing restiveness in the area.

James Julius, the Chairman of the group, said that the enhanced security in the region was responsible for a rebound in oil production.

The community leader noted that the effective operations of the JTF has checked renewed agitations that reduced oil output before 2016.

“The present Commander of JTF, Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman, 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.

“For the past eight months for instance, there has been no reported incident in the region,” he said.

He said that the Federal Government had shown commitment to repositioning the region as the oil and gas hub of the nation, noting that insecurity scared investors from the region in the past.

Julius said there was an urgent need to change the perception of international investors that fled the region as a result of militancy and sustain the interest of investors coming back in droves due to the prevailing peace and security.

Collaborating the views canvassed by Julius, the General Manager, District, Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC)  during a visit to JTF, on May 12, 2018 commended the Joint Force for curbing restiveness and providing a peaceful atmosphere for uninterrupted oil production.

NAOC management had said that the operations of troops against militancy and oil theft, had stabilised the operations of the oil firm and reduced incidents of oil theft across its operations in Rivers and Bayelsa.

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THE TROOPS LED BY THE COMMANDER OF THE JOINT FORCE REAR ADMIRAL APOCHI SULEIMAN (LEFT)

INSPECTING THE SITE DURING THE OPERATION
 

NAOC had on March 22, 2013 shut its activities at oil fields in Bayelsa, from which it produced about 40,000 barrels of crude oil daily, over high incidence of oil theft.

NAOC had stated that it was losing about 7,000 barrels of its crude production daily to oil thieves in Bayelsa, a development the firm described as unsustainable, necessitating the shut down.

 

African university students on July 25 applauded the leadership of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta for providing security for increased oil production.

 

The students under the auspices of League of African Development Students (LEADS Africa) bestowed its African Patriotic Personalities Award on Commander of the JTF, Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman.

 

Speaking at the investiture ceremony in Yenagoa, leader of the group, Mr Morgan Gabriel noted that the operations of the JTF was crucial to the economic growth and development of Nigeria and the African continent.

 


MR MORGAN GABRIEL, TEAM LEADER, LEAGUE OF AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT)STUDENTS (LEADS AFRICA) PRESENTING AN AWARD FOR TROOPS OF OPERATION DELTA SAFE TO DEPUTY FORCE COMMANDER OF THE JTF, BRIG.-GEN.  IFIOK OBOT

 

He said that the organisation traced the recovery of the Nigerian economy from the recent recession to conducive operational environment due to enhanced security leadership provided by Suleiman.

 

Responding, Suleiman noted that the award coming less than two months when the JTF received a similar honour was a morale booster to him and the troops.

 

“This is a call for greater commitment to duty and the results of our operations are being noticed even though we work behind the scenes.

 

“We shall remain dedicated and resolute in our fight against oil theft and criminality in our area of responsibility,” Suleiman said.

After two years of its activation Operation Delta Safe, Mr David Ebiya, who resides in Southern Ijaw, LGA in Bayelsa said residents in the region feel safer and urged the military to sustain the existing peace.

 

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